I have a hallux abducto valgus deformity – in laymen’s terms, a bunion, and, no, it’s not because I wore pointy-toed shoes when I was young and am now reaping the utterly predictable and deserved whirlwind of my overweening vanity. Bad feet run in my family. My father gave me many wonderful gifts; his feet were not among them. The deformation happened overnight. Literally. One night, my right big toe seized with a spasm registering around a 9.5 on the Richter scale of toe woes and the next morning I woke up with a bony protuberance reminiscent of Pilot Mountain hanging off the left side of my right foot. We refer to it as ‘my knob.’
My father has a bunion on both feet set off by a matching pair of hammer toes. His feet are square, as in ‘Bob Square Pants’ square. When describing them to me, my brother Mike said, “They are like two boxes.” Dad also has toenail fungus. It happens; he’s 92. Once one of the girls dropped an earring back on the floor and it rolled under my father’s feet. I had to retrieve it. Not a task for the faint of heart.
My mother had foot woes too. Towards the end of her life, she could only wear Birkenstocks, thereby proving those Republicans who characterize Democrats as latte-sipping, Birkenstock wearing, Volvo driving elitists right in two out of three respects. She never cared much for lattes.
My husband and I were ballroom dancers back in the day. In fact, in 2003 we won Best Newcomer Couple at the CanAm DanceSport Competition in Toronto. Then my knob reared its ugly head. As it turns out, it’s hard to dance in orthopedic shoes. Not to mention the fact that it wreaks havoc with your balance. Someone once said of Fred Astaire, “Sure he was great, but don’t forget Ginger Rogers did everything he did backwards…and in high heels!” But did she do it backwards, in high heels, with a bunion? I think not. We stopped dancing and, generally speaking, I’m fine with it, just so long as I don’t have to watch dance competitions or dance shows on TV. Those leave me vaguely melancholy and embittered; I want to curse my knob and that is no good. For better or worse, my hallux abducto valgus deformity is a part of me. You can only stay mad at your own feet for so long.
My toenails have issues too, though not of the fungal variety. When I was at University, I ripped the entire nail off on my right big toe by pulling a door that read, “Push.” I don’t take direction well. I was exiting my doctor’s office at the time, so medical assistance was onsite. I exited the diabolical door a second time with a very large bandage encompassing my entire foot. The next day I tried out for a part in the chorus of the Music Department’s annual musical, Fiddler on the Roof, wearing a pair of hot pants and sporting my wholly swaddled foot. As I have never been able to sing, I was relying entirely on my dancing chops. This was perhaps an overreach. I didn’t get a call back.
Ever since my encounter with the doctor’s door and at intervals of every couple of years the toenail on my right big toe turns a ghastly bluish black and starts to lift from the nail bed. It lingers there for upwards of a month, horrifying pedicurists and spa visitors alike. Then it falls off, leaving a perfectly normal nail in its place. I’m not sure why this happens. Perhaps my right toe is where all the toxins in my body pool and my toenail bed is the portal through which they drain; perhaps it acts as Hell Mouth for my personal demons.
Not to be outdone, my left big toe has recently taken to spontaneous bruising — like spontaneous combustion only with blood. It does this for no apparent reason. I’m just standing there doing nothing whatsoever and suddenly I feel a twinge, look down and it’s black and blue. Now and then the stars align and I get both a black right toenail and a black left toe simultaneously. This happened to coincide with my last physical. I’m sitting there on the edge of an examination table, draped in something made out of paper towels, staring at my feet and thinking, “WTF?”
Our dancing career having foundered on the rock of my knob, my husband and I joined Tru Hot Yoga in St. Thomas, Ontario. It’s a good thing yoga is not competitive because, as matters stand, I can’t. At least not on one foot. The arthritis in my right toe has given rise to peripheral neuropathy, a fancy way of saying that my right foot feels like a bean bag filled with pins and needles. As for my mutinous left foot, while it has yet to sprout its own bunion, it’s clearly got one in the oven, and, by way of preparing me for that eventuality, refuses let me balance on it either.
So not only no dancer, no dancer’s pose. I’m well and truly grounded. By my feet. My father’s feet.
Our feet are twins, separated at birth. I have the exact same set of problems, complete with the most hideous half-toenail, black and deformed, you’ve ever seen on a big (or any other) toe right now. Bunions, arthritis, peripheral neuropathy. Yup, yup, and yup. Or perhaps our fathers were twins separated at birth.