What’s worse than stubbing your big toe? Stubbing your little one. I’ve done the research.
While big-toe stubbings have been numerous through the years, commonplace even, and have led to a permanent moratorium on Teva-type sandals and open-toed shoes in general, and a ban on ever riding bicycles in flip-flops, or running the jackhammer barefooted, it is mishaps with pinkie toes that bring the most pain, and an involuntary cringe upon remembrance.
It had been a quarter-century since a fascination with the round wooden underside of the mail boat Spanish Rose, in dry dock at the R & B boatyard in Spanish Wells, led to a misstep on the concrete stairs adjacent to the ramp and a neat dissection of the right little toe. A pink filet of tender flesh hung open to the sky — at a sushi bar one might have assumed it a dainty serving of ahi — until blood filled the room. Relief was just a hop, skip and a jump away, and the next few days were spent confined to the lounger reading bad magazines. Trips to the loo were delayed until I really, really had to go.
The toenail never grew back; in one swift motion, I’d done more damage than 40 years of ski boots have, and it remained the most shudder-worthy moment of my various toes’ careers, a Hall of Fame flapper, until a black night in the middle of this January past. The profound irony of the recent accident is that it happened because I was doing the right thing.
After a big day of work and a cursory dinner, I flopped onto the bed — just a quick rest, mind you — and promptly passed out. Waking hours later, revolted by the fuzzy sweaters that had grown onto my teeth, I dragged myself outside to the deck to brush them. A waning half-moon cast ribbons on the water, a freshening wind blew 30 knots from the east, gusting forty, and I remember thinking, as I turned back inside, last deed of the day done, that tonight was a good night to not be on a small boat at sea.
I could already feel the welcoming pillow. A gust caught the right half of the shutter-style door, slammed it closed in front of me and I grazed it, already descending into sleep. Missed it with everything, except for the little toe, which bent backwards unpleasantly. I went to sleep unsettled.
In the morning the thing was like a miniature grape Popsicle, misshapen, not a part of me. I crammed it into a sneaker, climbed up the ladder and crabbed around the roof installing shingles. The next couple weeks, gimping around with a grimace-smile, I did my best impersonation of a horse-kicked cowboy.
I’ve been informed, my whole life, of the unattractiveness of my feet. As children, brothers and sisters would hoot with malicious glee at the sight of my straight-across toes, the little toe on the exact plane as the big guy, straight across, as if sighted with a level. One of my least-favorite nicknames: “Castle Toes.” I still hear the echoes of cruel laughter.
Bemoaning this deformity with some coworkers as the discussion turned to body parts to not be proud of, a charming young French-Canadian woman, otherwise quite attractive, jumped from her chair and whipped off her shoes and socks: “Oh my god! I thought I was the only one! I’ve been maligned my whole life for my feet! Look!”
Indeed, here was another Castle Toes. If anything, her little toes appeared longer even than her big toes. Maybe we were related. It didn’t make me feel any better. I told her she had beautiful feet, and great courage for sharing them.
My partner, whose feet are long and slender and graceful, makes do with the simple sobriquet, when addressing me, of “Troll Feet.” It’s enough to make one shuffle off, crouched over, to the nearest bridge and hide under it.
After reflection, though, I think of all the wonderful places my ugly appendages have brought me, and don’t feel so bad about the situation. Form should always follow function. Anything else is frivolous. So what if my dawgs are underdogs? They always come through with little complaint, or at least none that are heeded – until now.
Darn toe just kept getting bigger and a deeper shade of purple. Pretty soon it needed its own shoe. You could pick me out easily on the sidewalk for a while there. It’s not every day you see a guy with two shoes on one foot. Felt like I had a swim fin flapping around out there.
Back in the hills, after intensive icing, the swelling subsided, or at least got under control, and I went back to just two shoes altogether. Started feeling so good I thought I’d reconnect with my old life and ways of feeling better, and went skiing. This didn’t work so well. By the end of the day, every turn was an explosion of pain and a meat cleaver would have been welcomed.
This wasn’t healthy thinking. I love my little spatulate toe, even if it looks like it belongs on a monkey. I love monkeys. It is a good thing, we are told, to recognize unconstructive thoughts; for this reason, I am forbidden from ski boots until they feel like they should, like cozy bedroom slippers. When they don’t feel just right, alpine ski boots can be the greatest plastic coffins since kayaks. Real torture chambers. If your feet ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. And after all, in the wilderness and on the street, comfort is king.
Sean can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.