On the morning of May 27, 2017, I woke up and couldn’t remember if I get out of bed with my right foot or my left foot first. This triggered a crisis in my mind that left me paralyzed in bed. Right or left? Left or right?
What was the impetus behind this podiatric enigma? I hadn’t the slightest clue. I realized that I had never once woken up and deliberated on which foot should lead, nor had I any intimation as to which foot usually led when I woke up. But there must be a dominant foot that I led with every morning. The body is a muscle with rigid memory. This worried me further and bolstered my crisis. What other everyday aspects of my existence was I ignorant to? How little did I know of myself?
I tried to simulate the movement of getting out of bed. I thought if my body could convince my mind that it was doing what it did every day, it would acquiesce and fall back in line again—allowing me to get out of bed and go on with my Saturday. I shifted my left foot under the covers—the quarterback rearing his arm back with no intention to release. I rolled my foot over to better position it to hit the floor, felt my toe touch the edge of the mattress, and froze. I yanked my left foot back and I squirmed in bed. I now had to pee.
It had to be the left foot. The floor is on the left side of the bed. The right side is tucked against the wall. It would make sense to follow the momentum of the roll, land and lead with the left, follow with the right, and walk.
But not necessarily. I’m right-footed, right-handed, right-dominant in all physical aspects. I have embarrassingly little dexterity in my left foot. I could see myself rolling to the left side, letting the left foot dangle off the bed slightly, then hit the ground with the right foot first.
I could taste morning breath in my mouth. There was a half-drunk glass of water on my bedside. I took a sip and swished the water around, trying to eradicate any traces of the pungent layer of sleep in my mouth. I swallowed the water and my bladder rippled. I wasn’t sure how much longer I could hold it.
Perhaps I could go back, way back, and solve the mystery and empty my bladder. Tying my shoes. I must have been around four or five when I learned. I remember it came naturally, one of the few things in childhood in which I excelled. I thought I was a prodigy because I could adroitly get both shoes laced and knotted quicker than any other boy in kindergarten. I did it faster than Austin Kemble, and he was the first to learn all of the numbers, the alphabet, the colors—he could even pronounce the word tertiary. Nobody was sharper than Kemble, but I could tie circles around him.
So which shoe did I always tie first? The left, of course. I tied left to right, same as reading and writing; it was logical. But getting out of bed was different. There was no logic or structure to getting out of bed. There was no line or path to follow. I could get up and go left, or right, or left-middle, or right-left, or I could go straight, back, up, down. I had infinite possibilities when getting out of bed.
Memory was no help. I would have to get metaphysical if I wanted to get out of bed.
Left the stove on low overnight when I was nine and the next day my family evacuated the house. We called the gas provider to inspect the house before we could go back in. It took four hours for the guy to show up. Dad was pissed and chewed me out in the front yard. He went back inside after fifteen minutes of waiting. Mom, Emily, and I stayed outside the whole time. I sometimes wonder what dad did while he was alone in there.
Left a can of Dr Pepper in the freezer at my grandma’s house on Christmas when I was fourteen and it exploded. It soaked the cartons of ice cream but it gave us an idea and we all had Dr Pepper floats that Christmas.
Left side is port side. I learned that when we went on a sailboat charter on Lake Michigan and mom told me an easy way to remember it is that left and port both have four letters and have similar sounding endings. Mom and I stood on the bow. Emily vomited over the starboard edge. Dad steered the boat.
Left Emily crying on the floor in her room when she told me I was the only person she could trust and she was pregnant and her boyfriend wouldn’t answer his phone and she was too young to have a baby and she was too scared to tell mom and dad and she didn’t know what to do but she wanted her big brother. I was angry—at her, at her scumbag boyfriend. But mostly, and the reason I couldn’t find any words to say, I was annoyed that my younger sister lost her virginity before me. I felt like a loser.
A hot pang darted through my urinary tract.
Ninety degrees make up a right angle. It had to be about ninety degrees in my room, the bottoms of my feet were sticky with sweat, my legs wouldn’t stop bouncing and every time they rubbed against the sheet the friction was slowed by the layer of sweat on my legs. I was becoming a blob of sweat and melted flesh.
Bill of Rights, human rights, right to an attorney, To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice. It must be the right foot.
“Right now we’re experiencing some changes, and part of those changes involves cutting back on our team.” That was six months ago.
Right then I had to pee.
I stood over the toilet and loosed a penetrating stream of urine. The sound thundered throughout the bathroom like a fire hose hitting a brick wall point blank. As my stream slowed, I realized that I had gotten out of bed and I didn’t know which foot I had led with. I severed my stream. I still had more pee to go, but I didn’t know which foot and I couldn’t stay out of bed.
In bed, I pulled the covers up to my chin and wiggled my feet. Left foot, or right foot? Right, or left? Dust particles floated in the air. Sunlight shone through my blinds and lit up my room. I looked at the clock. It was twenty-two minutes past noon. I was right where I had left off.
Riley Winchester’s writing has appeared in Ligeia Magazine, Miracle Monocle, Sheepshead Review, Across the Margin, and other publications. He lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan.