Occasionally, you discover something about yourself that you never dreamed possible. Throughout your whole life, you had never thought about the possibility that you could be this thing and even if you had, you would have scoffed at the idea.
Today, I found out I am a contortionist.
Like most self-discovery, it came at a time of great distress. I had been dragged to a local chapel for my in-law’s family pictures. While I would love pictures of me to look like a cross between Brad Pitt and Ryan Gosling with just a splash of Morgan Freeman (I envy his freckles), I usually turn out looking like the lovechild of Danny Devito and some creäture you would find living under a bridge. This does not make me a huge fan of having my picture taken. Maybe if I had a bag over my head it would be okay, but based on my experiences, photographers usually ask you to take those off.
With the full family there, we found ourselves jamming 23 bodies onto a small stage. I reluctantly took my spot on the second step up, prepping myself for a blinding light that meant another photographer had successfully captured my full troll-like visage.
We were all having a grand old time, me standing uncomfortably close to my brother-in-law, the five kids under the age five fussing, complaining, and trying to run away. For a second, I thought about following their lead and trying to jet out of there, but I knew full well that my wife would catch me and, with some sort of freakish strength that can only be conjured up when one is furious at their husband’s escape attempt, drag me back kicking and screaming.
All the while, our photographer did his job. First, he aligned the children just so. Then he began positioning Grandmother, the matriarch of the family, and the two eldest couples around her. Next, he repositioned the children as they had moved to a spot they were not supposed to be. The rest of my generation was placed followed by another repositioning of children. Apparently, children have trouble sitting in one place for longer than six seconds.
Then he came to me.
“Could you step down?” he asked in a way that implied I certainly could step down.
I took a step and was immediately greeted with a stool to the groin. After repositioning the stool in a way that would allow me to have children in the future, I finished my step.
Somehow, my feet had ended up facing two separate directions. I stood there, one foot pointed north, the other south. I wiggled my left foot, trying to get it to at least point northeast, but to no avail.
My feet were doing the foot equivalent of the splits and I had no recourse.
For a professional gymnast, this would be no big deal. I am pretty sure I have seen Olympic gymnasts turn their feet in a full 360 and act as though nothing was the matter. For a person with the flexibility of a 95-year-old arthritic in a full body cast, though, I am not used to being contorted in this way.
Carefully balancing so as to not fall forward and suffer another stool-related injury, I watched him take his spot by the camera. This would all be done soon.
That’s when the newborn baby started crying.
It was like a tornado siren had been set off in the room. The mother stood up and walked, soothing the child back into silence. Silently, I wondered if he was crying because his feet were also being bent in a way that seemed unnatural and a bit like a cruel science experiment.
She sat back down and he was again ready to take a picture. One flash went off and then the crying picked back up. I began to sweat. The stool was in front of me, taunting. “Hey, go ahead and fall over,” it seemed to say. “Your feet sure would feel relieved and I promise I won’t hurt your groin!”
She sat down again just in time for us to attempt to keep my niece’s finger out of her nose. There was something very interesting in there that she desperately wanted to get to. I would guess it was a booger, but I’m no doctor.
“Okay, here we go!” the photographer said. He began tossing a poor Curious George into the air hoping to keep the children interested. My niece ignored the monkey and headed back for her nasal cavity.
As the camera flashes lit up, I tried my best to smile. Fortunately, a grimace and a smile look fairly similar. With a bit of work on Photoshop, I’m sure I would look like a million bucks.
After what seemed like an hour but was probably only five minutes, he announced that we were done. I practically shoved my wife off of the stool, hoping that my feet were still attached to my legs.
Miraculously, they were. I had survived a bizarre sort of foot torture that would cause event the bravest of men to shudder. All this time, I had assumed I wasn’t flexible, but I was far more elastic then I had ever dreamed possible.
Maybe I would direct this new-found talent towards a career as in the circus. I could jam my feet into awkward and unpleasant positions to the delight of many. People would come from far and wide just to get a glimpse of the Amazing Elastic Ankles. They would cheer and ask to have their children’s picture taken with me.
I would, of course, decline. There’s no way they would let me keep the bag on my face, and no one would want a picture of a Danny Devito-monster combo who happens to have flexible ankles.