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Innocence is bliss, or so it goes. Before the summer when I was five, I was caught up in a cloud of innocence, something that you and the people who love you build to protect you from the realities of the outside world. I've always known that the tiny nail-less stubs sticking out from the front of my feet can hardly be mistaken as toes, yet at that time I didn't really care. They were a part of me the same way that the sun is a part of the sky. Every day we look up and see it and feel it and soak up its warmth, but we never really sit down to think about or appreciate it. Its just...there.
But during that summer I realized that my toes weren't something inside me, they were outside, visible, sticking out of my feet for anyone to see. It was the second year that I had gone to camp, we ran across the lawn to embrace our friends, our tiny 5-year-old figures bouncing up and down across the unnaturally green grass. My best friends remembered me, of course. And the others, they remembered me at some level as well.
“Are you the girl with no toes?” They would ask, laughingly, wondering if the rumors they had heard were lies or if it was merely their imaginations that were deceiving them. I could only nod and look down at my feet. They seemed surprised. I realized that just because I wanted to be remembered I didn't want to be remembered because of that, but that is how it often happens, you stand out because of your differences and people remember you because of things that you'd rather not have or be. Strangely, that same girl tried to hang onto me, wanted, for some reason to be my friend. She had tried to be on my team during sport, sit next to me during music, and when we went to the pool she had wanted to lay her towel down next to mine. I edged away from her with an unfamiliar feeling of dislike that I hadn't had before. And on the grass in front of the waterfront everyone was showing off their colorful swimsuits and that girl placed her towel in front of mine, well, I remember keeping my feet in my shoes until the very last moment, hiding my bare toes inside my shoes like the other kids hid inside their towels when they were changing, so that when I finally shed them they stood right by the ladder at the 4-feet-deep sign at the side of the pool.
Over the school year the feeling had lessened a little to be replaced by the one where I wanted to be like everyone else. Everyone else had had flip-flops, and although in one dimension or another I knew that for me they weren't practical, I wanted them too. My mother obliged, taking me to some store that had cardboard boxes full of 2 dollar flip-flops. I picked out loud ones with pink and orange flowers scattered all over the bottom. My mom tried to talk me out of it, probably thinking that once we had gotten to the store I would decide that in fact I didn't want them and go back home, but I held firm. She bought them for me and I took them home and immediately put them on, starting to walk around hoping, most likely, to prove her wrong. I could put them on but the minute I tried to move they would flop right off, my hopes to be just like everyone else scattering in all directions just like my colorful new shoes.
The next few years followed in a similar manner, self-consciousness, embarrassment and most importantly just a little bit of self-confidence starting to play starring roles in my life. In second grade, my class had put on a dance performance which was based on Greek Myths or something in our school's gym for grades kindergarten through 3. We were supposed to--no, had to dance bare footed, our socks and shoes jumbled in a messy pile at the other side of the gym. Maybe I was too embarrassed to ask if I could wear socks or maybe I had asked and the answer had just been no. In any case, I ending up dancing with my exposed toes tucked under my body as much as was possible. I remember hearing some of the younger kids talking in the front row during the performance. I just shut my eyes really tightly and when I opened them they were quiet again. I couldn't bear to look over at the first row for the rest of the show in fear that one of them would catch my eye.
Later, when people, (okay, some of boys in my grade) started to make fun of my toes, having always been a talented and convincing spontaneous story-teller, the tale of Billy Marterson developed.
“What happened to your toes?” they would ask in jeering voices.
“Well,” I would say, “the truth is, well, remember Billy?” When they shook their heads I would continue in a sad voice, “as well you wouldn't. He was kicked out when we were really little.”
“Why?” They would want to know, their sneering tones lessening a little to be replaced with carefully masked interest.
“Well, you see,” I would blush, tipping my face down towards the floor, usually to restrain from laughing, “in kindergarten, I, I had a crush on him, so during art class one day I stole his blue crayon. He, well, he had problems-- that was part of the reason that he was kicked out. In his almost crazy anger he ran over to the other side of the art room, the side that we kindergartners weren't really allowed to be in and took a saw out of that big white closet. I would think that you could guess the ending where he, well, took the saw and chopped off my toes.”
“Really?” They would ask, eyes wide, shades of shock and revulsion coloring the word.
Usually, unless they were being exceedingly obnoxious, I would laughingly answer, “Um, NO!” and continue to tell them the truth, about how my toes had been pushed up against the edges of the amniotic sac therefore preventing them to fully grow. In other words, I had been smushed. But I guess that that isn't exactly doctor language.
Over the years, I've gotten mixed reactions to my, frankly, contorted feet. There are some who teased, some who were disgusted, some who run away when I started to take my shoes off. There are those who exclaim about how cute they are and say that they wish that they themselves have them and ask in high but cautious and confidential voices whether they can touch them. I've had friends who have painted my nail-less toes with globs of dark red polish and others who still insist that I'm wearing some sort of crazy stockings. Some are convinced that they personally can teach me how to wear flip-flops, and then there are those who share my unconcerned view, and are so used to them that they see nothing unusual when they look down to where my feet lie naked on the floor.
During the summer that I was eleven, I returned to camp, this time the sleep-away version of the one that I had attended when I was five. It was my third sun-lit summer there, lovingly remembered by all the happy times, colorful photos and stubborn grass-stains that still refuse to come off of my favorite pairs of jeans. As in my past experiences at camp I was remembered and loved by those who were close to me and famous among those who were not.
It was on one of those lazy days that followed a rain where the sky was blue but the ground was muddy, and everyone was hoping for something to do but just couldn't bring themselves to do it when some random girl approached me. Later, I learned that her name was Nina, but at the time I don't think that I had ever said a word to her in my life. She had messy brown hair and an air of self-importance that she seemed to be continually caught up in. My friend and I were playing tetherball, slamming the yellow ball at each other and jumping up and down and getting more into it than the game really called for. The girl I didn't know watched us for a minute and then, as a lovely greeting said to me, “I know this might be kind of a rude question, but are you the girl with no toes?”
I think that I just looked at her for a second, wondering how much more tactless the question could be. I glanced at the floor and then replied, “Um, yeah I'm the girl with no toes, and yeah, that was a rude question.”
“Can I see?” she asked, with the air of a greedy child.
I'm almost positive that I just looked at her then, wondering who exactly she thought she was. I headed toward my bunk, my friend abusing the girl in a (voice) I was sure could hear. Although its not precisely as if I tried to stop her...
Later that summer, my friends nearly had to attach me to a bed and profusely assure me that it was a good idea to paint my toes. I agreed just to get them to shut up. Or maybe it was because I actually wanted them to do it. My first pedicure. What an event. They plonked me down on the extra bed with excited voices and a bottle of dark red nail polish. I had to be told multiple times to stop giggling and sit still so that they could finally finish the job which finally turned out to be globs of bloody-looking nail polish in the shape of toenails that looked like they were drawn by somebody who was blindfolded. Maybe the reason that I didn't grab the bottle of polish-remover was to please them or maybe it was because I actually liked my new look, my own personal spa and the attention. It was probably a mix of the the two plus some chattering girls, some messy feet and a bottle of very gloppy nail polish.
It seems, actually, as though some people have an obsession with my feet. And, get ready for it, they have names! Yes, you heard correctly; the left foot is girls and the right foot is boys. Or maybe vice-versa. Just ask bunk A-5.
It seems to me as if that summer was the one that made all the difference. I think that it was then that I realized that it didn't really matter what people thought of them, they were toes, FREAKING TOES PEOPLE! How often do you think about them? What role do they really play in life? A bigger one for me, I'm sure, than for most other people because we tend to notice people's differences rather than their similarities and normalities. That summer was when I realized that no matter what I thought about them I was always in the same situation; I could cover them and hide them and be ashamed of them as much as I wanted but I would still have them. So maybe all those specialized doctors that I visited as an infant were useless. Maybe the fuss and the girly adoring was unnecessary. Maybe the teasing and the story of Billy Marterson were uncalled for. Maybe someday I'll be able to bring myself to wear opened-toed shoes. And in the grand scheme of things, it obviously doesn't matter, but then again its not like life really revolves around each of us anyway.
You might have seen me before. I'm the one with the sign on my forehead that says “learning to accept her deformities” or something of the sort and tiny nail-less stubs sticking out from the front of my feet. I'll probably be pretty noticable...