It has been a year since our exodus from Florida. Overall, we’ve managed to survive in Mississippi, and my husband has thrived in the job that brought us here. Despite this milestone, I’ve had to confront another reminder of how I still don’t belong here, and likely never will.
Over the past three years, our peripatetic life has led me to slack off on keeping up with medical appointments. I finally got around to updating my four-year-old eyeglass prescription after Thanksgiving. More recently, I took advantage of a free cholesterol screening at the Kroger pharmacy — provided in conjunction with National Heart Month — to salve my conscience about not having had a physical since late 2013. I learned that the circulatory system in my upper extremities is similar to that of a turnip.
But before I got to the fun part of undergoing the actual procedure, I found myself again having to explain my existence in Mississippi to a native. The middle-aged, bespectacled man conducting the screening, who addressed me as “young lady” — never mind that I am just about pushing 50 — was pleasant enough. But I steeled myself for the now all-too-familiar line of inquiry that would feel like an interrogation about my legitimacy as a U.S. citizen in the Deep South.
“So how do you pronounce your name?”
“There aren’t too many people with that name in this part of the country.”
And so it began. I found myself volunteering that it was the surname of my husband, and that he was born in New York City.
“Well, if you moved all the way down here from New York, this must be some culture shock for you.”
I clarified that we previously lived in south Florida, while conceding that the demographics were nevertheless markedly similar to the New York metro area.
“Oh, yes, a lot of people from other places retire to Florida. It’s a real melting pot. Not like here. Mississippi is straight-up redneck,” he cheerfully intoned as he snapped on a pair of latex gloves.
I smiled indulgently, and, feeling some odd obligation to placate him, I attempted to demonstrate my prior experience with rednecks, revealing that my family had lived in West Virginia for a time during my childhood. This did not necessarily seem to be the right response.
“Well, they’re different, too. I guess each place has its own thing.” Had I insulted him by lumping West Virginia and Mississippi together?
With that illuminating chit-chat out of the way, it was time to get to the matter at hand. He asked me to try to warm up my fingers to ensure a reliable flow of blood; the small clinic room was chilly. I proffered my right hand. He swabbed the tip of my middle finger with disinfectant, and then pressed his retractable lancet against it, piercing it with an abrupt staple-gun sound. That’s when things got really awkward.
The tiny flesh wound failed to yield a blood sample large enough for his electronic monitor to analyze. No amount of squeezing or massaging would hasten the bloodletting. “I’m sorry to be playing with your finger like this. I suppose your husband might not like that,” he joked.
I had no words. I could only cringe. If this man had a fingertip fetish, I didn’t want to know.
He finally gave up, encircled my molested finger with a Band-Aid, and turned his attention to my left hand. I flailed it vigorously, hoping the second attempt would go better, as he very unhelpfully shared that he’d recently seen a gentleman who had uncooperative appendages on both sides. He repeated the process, and less squeezing was required this time. I was rewarded with another Band-Aid.
My results were mixed, but it was reassuring to see that his follow-up recommendation on my paperwork was “enroll in health improvement program” rather than “go directly to the emergency room.” With that, I went on my way, stifling any urge to salute him with both bandaged fingers.