Three years in, this conversation shows no sign of ending.
No matter the meanderings or dead-ends or cul-de-sacs at which we arrive, there are a never-ending supply of detours in the forms of “yes, but” or “and, also” to get us back on track (or is it off track?) in our determination to try every path afforded by deep insight, mindless observation or the discovery of some story left untold.
If there are brief blips in the conversation—if she crushes on another man or becomes too annoyed by someone I’m dating—the acceleration that follows more than makes up for lost traction.
As the conversation never truly abates, we have no choice, it seems, but to bring it with us when we have other things to do. We converse as I cook, we converse as we write, we converse when we have sex—generally to the amusement of others who may be present—and we converse as I go about housekeeping and errands.
Three years with Cody underfoot, I might have thought we knew pretty much all there was to know about one another’s thoughts and habits.
One morning, she was pursuing a point with me when I interrupted to say that I needed to shower before heading to an appointment. My departure would necessitate a pause in the conversation, so she followed me to the bathroom to talk as she joined me in the shower. I listened as I lathered and rinsed her body before turning to my own. I soaped from top to bottom, as usual, and leaned slightly against the tiles, standing on one leg as I scrubbed the sole of my foot.
Cody watched as water cascaded around her neck. “Oh my God, I can’t believe you still do that,” she said.
“And I can’t believe you still don’t,” I replied, putting down the scrubber and reaching for a pumice.
“But Jefferson, it makes no sense to wash the bottoms of your feet! Look.” She stomped in the water racing to the drain. “See? You’re standing in water. Your feet are automatically clean. That’s just ridiculous and redundant.”
I made a point of washing carefully between each toe. “It’s a part of your body that comes in contact with the floor, with your socks and shoes. You don’t always wear socks with your Chucks, so you should take special care of your feet.” I held my foot to the stream of water leaving her body, stood on the opposite leg and began to clean my other foot.
“But that’s absurd,” she laughed. “No one does that. You’re absurdly concerned with your feet.”
I stopped and turned my leg. “Well, I do have nice feet, don’t I?”
She splashed me. “You’re ridiculous. Now, what were we talking about?”
I pumiced my heel. “DeLillo, trauma theory, Zac Hanson,” I prompted.
“Oh, right! Baby Zacky, he’s so cute. But seriously, okay, so when Tower Two fell . . .”
That night, Cody reported to her cousin Reynolds that I stubbornly continue to wash the soles of my feet. Reynolds, a fastidious gay teenager, laughed.
“But Cody, did you tell him? No one does that.”
“I know, I told him! Maybe it’s a Southern thing.”
“Could be inbreeding,” Reynolds mused. “Did he have shoes growing up? He might be overcompensating.”
The next morning, Reynolds mentioned to his mother that “Cody’s special friend” washed the soles of his feet when he showered. Cody’s aunt, a well-put-together Manhattanite, scoffed.
“But why would anyone do such a thing, Reynolds? If you’re in a shower, your feet are automatically cleaned.”
“That’s just what Cody told him, and yet he insists on washing them with his hands.”
“With his hands?” His mother grimaced. “Disgusting!”
Reynolds and Cody often enjoyed making fun of his mother’s overreactions. When Reynolds reported his mother’s response, Cody repeated the story to her younger sister. Michelle, a suburban teenager who showers twice daily, once in the morning, again before bed, dropped her jaw.
“Well, our aunt is crazy. But who washes their feet? I mean, come on, that’s gross.”
“It’s so unnecessary!” Cody exclaimed.
“I know!” her sister agreed. “Maybe he has to do it because he’s old. Does he have disgusting old man feet?”
“I don’t think so,” Cody thought. “They just look like, I don’t know, feet.”
Cody began to wonder if maybe taking such care of one’s feet was a special concern as one aged. That evening, as her mother made dinner, Cody mentioned my showering habits. “You don’t wash the soles of your feet, do you, Mom?”
Her mother looked up. “Well no, I don’t think I ever have. The only time my feet are washed like that is when I get a pedicure. But of course, I’m not the one washing them.”
“Well, naturally, those women are paid to wash your feet. It’s their job. Probably some health code thing. But in the shower, your feet are cleaned automatically, right?”
“I never really thought about it,” her mother replied. Cody mentioned that she had asked Reynolds and Michelle about this, and neither of them washed the soles of their feet either. Nor did Reynold’s mother, the sister of Cody’s mother. “And you say Jefferson washes his feet? Soap and water?”
“And some stone thing.” Cody sighed. He says it’s normal. I’m sure it’s not.” She paused. “Is it?”
Her mother thought as she stirred a sauce. “Hang on, just a moment.” She wiped her hand on a paper towel and reached for her phone. She pushed a button. “Hi Mom, it’s me. Yes, just cooking dinner, pasta. Can I ask you a quick question? Do you wash the soles of your feet? . . . Yes, in the shower. Or I guess the bath.” She looked at Cody for confirmation. Cody nodded. “Well yes, that’s what I thought, too. They get cleaned automatically . . . Oh, no reason, just something on television. Okay, look, I need to finish dinner. I’ll call afterward. Love you, too.” She hung up.
“So Grandma doesn’t wash her feet, either?” Cody asked.
“No, she doesn’t.” Her mother placed the phone on the counter and returned to her sauce.
“Huh.” Cody watched her mother’s face, lost in thought. “So, do you think I should ask Dad?”
Her mother furrowed her brow. “No, let’s not. I’m wondering: what if it’s just my side of the family? Maybe your father shouldn’t know about this.”
“Oh my God, Mom!” Cody raised a hand to her mouth. “Were we supposed to be washing our feet, all this time?”
Her mother looked at her. “I really need time to think about this.”
Cody related this story the next time we showered together. I shook my head, clucking my tongue. “Someone should do a study,” I said, offering my pumice. “On the phenomenon of the dirty-footed family.”
Cody stomped her feet near the drain. “Ridiculous,” she asserted uncertainly.