Monster Feet

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.




Of Swimsuits and Serendipity

October 25, 2016

This is an old post — as you’ll soon see. For some reason I just didn’t feel like blogging over the summer.  But here it is.  Maybe it will make us all think of warmer days …

It was May and we were exhausted, and we went to Picton for the weekend, to a lovely inn with a hot tub. I had never been in a hot tub before. I’m not the public bathing type. And swim suits don’t work on me, any more than I work at barbecues or frisbee games or beach parties.

I realized this as a teenager, before nerdy was chic and charming. At the start of Grade Nine we were directed to purchase a number of items, and once I had the binder and pencil case and pens and three-hole punched paper as well as the belted blue Crimplene romper and track shoes, there was no money for a swim suit. But there was a sort of all-in-one sleeveless body stocking you could get for what seemed a reasonable amount of money and I got a light blue one.

When this schmatte got wet, the horror of seeing what I already knew was happening below the neck swathed in near-see-through blue nylon was enough to make me swear off swimming forever. I began to pretend — to put it delicately — to a greater degree of maturity than I had actually attained at the age of thirteen — in order to avoid the swimming unit of our gym class.

When it looked like our teacher, who also taught health, was not going to accept the doleful, “heavy, heavy flow” excuse any more without a doctor’s note I came up with “the cat peed on my bathing cap,” which I assure you was true.

Such is my dislike of bathing suits that I didn’t own another one until I was engaged. And that — continuing along the degrees of development theme — was at the age of 42. My soon-to- be husband bought me a sporty little striped number which didn’t look bad. That was before I really came out to him about how I hated water and beaches and so many things other people enjoy. I wore it once in fourteen years, and now all the elastics are pulling out of the leg-holes and the whole thing sort of crumbles when I try to put it on.

Knowing about the hot tub, I started searching for bathing suits on the Internet. Life has improved. Geek is chic, and shopping discreet. And I actually found one I liked. And — because I’m not quite up to speed on the whole online shopping thing — I was all set to go to the store and try it on.

And here’s where the serendipity comes in. Because I began to realize that bathing suit ads were appearing on the periphery of my screen all the time. I might be searching for a really really good definition of say — “paucity” — and I’d find a bathing suit ad.

Okay. This happens. For the privilege of using Google for free, you have your searches monitored, even your email monitored, and ads appear based on the words you use. I know this, but I sort of forgot and immediately thought, “It’s meant to be!” I must go to Simon’s at once and pick up one of those suits.”

Is this a pre-digital response? Do people thirty years younger than me think “bot” before they think “God”? Do they even believe in serendipity the way I do? Or is there some kind of digital serendipity they believe in — as in, “I was just thinking of you when I got your text.”

For the most part, serendipity is kind of a dangerous concept. It’s responsible for a lot of bad dating decisions, for one thing. As in “So what if he’s a bastard, I ran into him in my own coffee shop and we ordered the same thing.” And when you’re as neurotic as me, it’s just as easy to believe in bad luck as it is in good luck.

But I’m attached to the notion of serendipity, even a kind of agnostic serendipity. It’s nice to think there MIGHT be a force out there, knowing better what I need than I do myself and seeking to connect me with it.

I often tell people, for instance, that if we’d used an Internet dating site my husband and I would not have met. Invoking chance is one of those hideously self-satisfied couple things I promised I’d never do. Like going to an inn or sitting in a hot tub.

In Picton we went to Books and Company, where I found a copy of Dr. Doolittle, which brought me such joy to find because for some reason I’ve long forgotten, I had been thinking I needed one. Books and Company, wonderfully, mixes new and used books. I thought about how much of the pleasure of book shopping — particularly used books — has to do with finding things by chance, and noticing how that collides or harmonizes with what’s going on in our lives.

And I thought about how belief in serendipity might just be a forgivable bit of narcissism that helps to navigate life’s uncertainties. And so what if whoever designs Internet ads is exploiting that to sell bathing suits?

Speaking of which, I didn’t have time to buy a bathing suit before our trip, so we ended up shopping for one in Picton. I said I didn’t want to go into the shop but my husband pulled me by the sleeve and plonked me in front of a rack of suits. And what should I see but the one I’d been searching all month, and it fit, and I wore it in the hot tub.