November 8, 2016
I broke my toe in the spring. It was the middle of the night, and a chair was not where it was supposed to be, and the next thing I knew I was seeing stars, just like in the cartoons and what the computer calls “special characters” were coming out of my mouth, just like in the cartoons. And among the stars were visions of my dance classes and morning walks and all the things I do to say sane and healthy, plunging away from me like a receding train.
Stay sane and healthy, or fool myself that I am?
Maybe it’s the same thing.
It was early spring and it was mucky, and the only shoes that didn’t make me yelp were a pair of dilapidated Finn Comforts that I once bought for a ridiculous amount of money at what I call the Fascist Shoe Store. When you walk in they tell you everything that’s wrong with your feet and your life and what you need to do — not to make all of this better — but just because they say so. Do not ask me why I was in there.
Anyway, the FCs are okay but rather floppy and not as comfortable as their price suggests. They’re sandals, the kind with straps across the front that you can adjust with Velcro. Ideal for a broken toe, and paired with a thick sock, adequate for early spring. And they’re red, because my feet are huge, and bright colours are always on sale in my size.
And as I secured the Velcro over my knobbly toes, which, had somehow all contrived to swell and huddle closer to their wounded neighbour, I thought back to a time about twenty years ago when I went shoe shopping with my mother in what was then the Women’s College Hospital Shoe store. They sold orthopaedic shoes, and they also sold dressier shoes for people who have foot problems. My mother didn’t just have foot problems. She had monster feet. Her toes were twisted and cramped, her metatarsal arch sunken, her heels perpetually dry and swollen. It wasn’t her fault, but she was ashamed of them anyway.
And as I stood there, urging her toward the bank of sandals with Velcro straps and away from the relatively dressy shoes with their patent leather and rhinestones I realized that I was not alone. There were at least four other women there, with matching frown lines, whispering to their mothers: Mum; those will just make the problem worse; it’s these you need. And the mothers reached back for the pretty shoes like children in a toy store.
And all of us frowning daughters were wearing low-heeled shoes with wide toes, because damned if we were going to get our mothers’ twisted feet. I suspect we were all, in our secret hearts, hoping our dancing days might still begin.
But what I and those other frowning women did not know, is that the monster feet come anyway. The bunions, the callouses, the toes drawn back as if in horror of where they’re inexorably going.
And last spring, as I fastened my Velcro I made a little grunt of accomplishment and pointed to the nicely lined up straps in a gesture that made me feel possessed. Another kind of monster feet looked back at me.
This is what my father used to do, after his stroke. He used to point to his accomplishments, closing a door, setting a cup on the table, fastening the Velcro straps on his shoes, which he wore with black socks just like mine. My father was a brilliant man who ate everything you were supposed to eat and exercised every day, and kept his mind active. And then one day, he couldn’t any more.
And I had to admit that my cognitive abilities had been dealt a blow at the same time as my toe had, and at my age, I didn’t have enough brain cells left to hide it any more. On that particular day, getting the Velcro to line up was an accomplishment worth grunting for.
The toe took so long to heal. I hobbled around and jammed my hip and neck in the process. But finally, it got better. And I went back to wearing the kind of wide and supportive high-heeled shoes they are making nowadays for us tired daughters, and I went back to my dance classes, feet on relevé and mind in denial, where it belongs.