“Ee-ew! What’s wrong with your toes?” The sneery-faced girl scrunched up her nose into, well, into a sneer. Her voice was just the right timbre to draw the envy of large, braying barn animals -had there been any around.
Instead, she and I were part of a different sort of farm, one at which children gathered for instruction in reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic. The sunny rays of late spring shone between us; upon her freckling nose and unkempt hair, and likewise upon my sandal-shod feet with their exposed toes.
I wiggled my posterior phalanges innocently. The movement drew an encore exclamation from my tormentor. “Ew! They’re so weird! Stop it!” Feigning repulsion, she ran away.
I considered following. Had I been of a different personality, the thought of continually chasing her might have occurred to me. Being myself, instead, I looked down at my flat, splayed toes in shame. I tried placing one foot over the other, but could see how that would hamper movement.
The toes returned my scrutiny innocently; though, to my new perspective, they had somehow morphed to resemble dead slugs or ugly bits of log. I had always known my toes were a little different, of course. They didn’t look precisely like my mother’s, or my father’s; though they did resemble my sister’s and brother’s somewhat.
Given that small scientific sampling, I’d concluded that everyone must have some toe issues. Mine weren’t all that odd.
The bell rang, signifying the end of recreational outside time for schoolchildren. I returned inside, a small germ of doubt forming inside my innocent mind. Little was I to know how important my foot fringes would prove later in life; how much of that life they would come to affect.
Of course, they had a few problems in childhood beyond immature condemnation. Those poor, flat slugs jostled against each other too freely inside my shoes. The second and third toe’s unusual length, coupled with the movement, caused them many an ingrown nail pain.
My grandfather, from whom I inherited the flatness, was a podiatrist. He’d look over my feet with the air of a great scientist. Invariably, he’d comment, “Should’ve taken out that first knuckle when you were a baby.”
In response, I’d study my elongated digits. Were they so out of place? Were they so wrong, that they needed tampering with? Editing? Removal?
It wasn’t until my teenage years that my feet became more obvious, and brought again to vocal scrutiny. Most of that was due to an unreasonable social silence I received from peers for most of my childhood. It was like they could sense my feet were different. Perhaps I kicked a soccer ball differently at recess. Maybe the pigeon-toedness of my walk was more pronounced than I’d imagined.
That was when I would recall another way the affronting basal extremities had interfered in younger years. Fearing the extreme way I thrashed my legs inwardly at some moments, my parents had agreed to purchase and shoe me with special footwear. My toes were hidden beneath covered fronts, fronts so obscuring that one could not easily tell the right from the left. Thus split and kept from each other, my gait was altered to tilt more outward, more normal.
As I was saying, however, I could not hide the abnormalities from fellow teenagers. They walked brashly round the high school campus; showing me that, yes, my anatomy was not like most other’s. Most female feet were attractive and small; with cute, curling toes of descending length.
Again, I viewed my primate-like offerings. “Love yourself,” my mother admonished. But, what was to love about my obviously abnormal feet?
I tried. “I can write with my feet,” I told some friends. I even practiced. The parlor trick was somewhat amusing, but ultimately served to repulse most listeners. No one wants to hear about feet touching pencils and paper, if one wants to hear about feet at all.
I began hiding my shoe size, disguising my walk, and curling my toes when viewable. I pretended to be like those with smiling, happy leg-ends. I mimicked the way they moved. Hopefully, my defects would somehow conform and truly be like everyone else one day.
Eventually I got married, to a man with smaller feet. “They’re so fuzzy,” I commented.
“All men have hairy feet,” he responded. He was normal.
I knew all women did not have my anatomy. Silence was golden. Though I’m sure he could see the size; odd, webbed second and third toes; and bath mat-like nature of mine, he never admitted repulsion. He never admitted love, of course; no closet foot fetishes. Instead, I felt he ignored their presence and focused on what had a better appearance.
Perhaps he, too, hoped they would simply change to different parts if avoided.
Maybe because of their insistence on extending farther than they naturally ought to, this was a defect that could not be overlooked. It was one that began to affect my life, including our married life.
“So you feel your feet are causing problems?” Our counselor queried, concerned. “Do you find yourself picking objects from the floor with your simian second-toe spacing? Are your children trodding on them; not giving you the space you need? Have you ever felt like harming your toes?”
I remembered my grandfather’s wishes to shorten the offending toes. I had to admit, “Yes.”
The good news is that I was referred to a hormonal replacement podiatrist. It’s ongoing news, really, since I’ve come to realize I will always have different feet than more foot-functional humans. But, the initial treatments have helped.
“Oh, I just love your nails, Heidi,” a woman comments to another. We’re at an ongoing outdoor recreational time; a social gathering of neighborhood women. The person she is complimenting happily displays the toenails that drew attention. They sit in even rectangles atop curling, descending toes at the ends of perfect, petite feet controlled by slim, even-stepping legs.
I glance at mine. My toenails still retain most of the strengthening polish I have to douse them with, else they break and peel. They grace my flat, elongated, obscurely-shaped foot profile. The feet are large for a woman, and point inwards the way my knees do.
I can’t fight genetics blessing me with thin nails. I’d rather have oddly-long toes than agree to surgically alter them. Perhaps my shoe size helps my balance -especially when I forget to focus and trip over my pigeon-toed gait.
And, should the world ever be captured by alien invasion and our arms pinioned uselessly to our sides, my apelike toes will come in handy for untying the bonds of my fellow prisoners.
If nothing else, they’ll be able to write a plea for help.