But … We Were Wearing Matching Shoes

Her name was Laura. Dressed in matching mint green scrubs top and bottom, she brought out the white papers that moments before, had been clipped in a clipboard clasped in my clammy hands while I scratched on them with a germ-covered pen.

The white surgical mask was itchy on my face. I didn’t like breathing in my recycled breath, making the mask wet. I can’t stand a wet face.

My head throbbed. My body radiated heat through my denim shirt and white tank top, yet I was freezing. I had gone out to drop off some copies of a magazine to the organic store I interviewed for a story, then decided to do some shopping while out. My reality aligns beautifully when the book store is located beside the art supply store.

The symptoms hit me like a Mack truck. One minute, I was reading the back of Jeffrey Deaver’s The Steel Kiss, and in the next the shelves are whirling and the words are blurring. I felt the heat rising inside; the vertigo twisting my stomach into nausea.

I put the book down on a completely different shelf than I had removed it, and took off to the parking lot. I had been caring for my stepdaughter for the past two days as she recovered from a 103.3 flu-induced fever. The doctor had informed us she was highly contagious, and warned to watch for symptoms as I had been exposed to her more than her two sisters or her mom, my wife of four and a half months.

This is craptastic.

My head pounded as if a hammer was beating my temple. I sat in my car, searching Google for the nearest immediate care center. I had a busy week scheduled after the weekend, meetings and deadlines to meet as my freelance writing business was picking up and doing very well. I had scheduled myself about 60 hours of work, and nowhere on my calendar had I written in “lying in bed with the flu.”

Finding my target, I set out to get tested and hopefully a Tamiflu prescription.

maskAt the counter, the check-in woman smiled and asked me to sign in. I explained I needed a mask as I suspected flu. She handed me one, and I asked her which way it went, blue-side or white-side out. She didn’t know, looked at the back of the box and told me white side out. She handed me a clipboard. Since it was my first time there, I had a litany of forms in which to scrawl my life story.

I complied, and returned the clipboard to her with my I.D. and insurance card. Since the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing marriage for samesex couples, I was finally able to marry Amy, my soulmate. We had been engaged for months, waiting on this decision before planning our wedding, as I insisted upon a “real” wedding with all the legal-binding consequences. After our dream wedding, my wife added my birth daughter and I to her union insurance like every other normal family has been able to do. It was the best insurance coverage we had ever had, and was saving my family so much money.

My insurance card, therefor, has my wife’s name on it. We hyphenated our last names so we could each match our children’s last names. Her birth children being Coulters and me and my daughter being Anglins, we changed both of our last names to be Anglin-Coulter.

The check-in lady ran the insurance, and I paid my co-pay, then sauntered back to my chair to slump and despise my surgical mask some more.

I watched as my forms were carried to the back, then Laura, in her mint green scrubs, brought the flapping papers back to the check-in lady, pointing and saying something about them being confusing. I couldn’t hear the check-in lady’s response, but watched as she pointed at the forms. Laura’s face screwed up and crunched in confusion, her eyebrows pressed together in a way that looked like two caterpillars kissing on her forehead.

Can I please just get tested, get my prescription and leave?

Laura opened the door at the side of the room, and called for me by my first name. I stood and smiled, then remembered she can’t see me smiling through my stupid itchy, surgical mask.

Her mouth formed a tight, thin line forcing the wrinkles around her lips to pronounce. She stared at me a few seconds longer, then dropped her eyes to her paperwork and made notations I couldn’t see.

I entered the holding area and started to lay my keys and phone down in preparation for weighing, but Laura asked that I take a seat. I sat.

“Your form was very confusing to me,” she said.

“Confusing?” I said.

“Yes, I didn’t understand why you were listing ‘Mary’ as your name in some places and ‘Amy’ as your name in others,” she said.

“Amy is my wife. I listed her under the spouse section. I’m on her insurance,” I said.

Laura stared at me. She looked to be in her late fifties, and was not well practiced at keeping her expression neutral.

I continued, “We decided to keep both of our names and hyphenate so we match our children.”

Her mouth formed a tight, thin line forcing the wrinkles around her lips to pronounce. She stared at me a few seconds longer, then dropped her eyes to her paperwork and made notations I couldn’t see.

“Any allergies?” she asked. Her tone sounded curt.

“Not to my knowledge,” I said.

I dropped my eyes to the floor. I could feel the tension from her thicken and surround me. As if the mask wasn’t suffocating enough.

She was wearing grey and white Sketchers with white shoelaces and a bit of light blue detail, the exact same tennis shoes I was wearing. Amy had bought them for me for Christmas. They have memory foam on the inside and are as lightweight as paper on my feet, perfect for my days shopping and walking around the neighborhood. I wonder where Laura got her shoes.

I looked up at her. She had a gold cross pinned to her nametag. She glanced up and noticed me studying her, and took a small step back.

She asked me to put my arm on the table, and wrapped my arm to take my blood pressure. She lightly pressed her stethoscope to the crux of my elbow, keeping her eyes down. I did too, and looked at the pink polish on her nails. They were done professionally. I liked the cotton candy color. She made a few more notes and picked up her paperwork.

“Follow me,” she said. She did not make eye contact again.

I followed her to my designated exam room, thinking it strange that she didn’t take my weight and height, but I didn’t want to have any more conversations with her, nor did I really want to know how much I weighed.

The nurse practitioner came in to confirm a flu test was warranted, then sent Laura back in to do the test. Without words, she pushed a Q-tip into each of my nostril holes. I gagged and coughed. She handed me tissues, then left. Pulling the mask down, I wiped the water draining from my eyes and blew my nose.

I texted Amy. My concerned wife had been blowing my phone up wanting an update on my condition.

Flu confirmed, I awaited Walgreens to fill my Tamiflu prescription. I sat in a chair near the window willing the headache to subside so I could make the drive home, texting Amy for the third time that she did not need to come and get me.

My thoughts lingered back to Laura and the immediate care center. I wondered whether she had noticed we were wearing the same shoes.