When I was in college, I would walk around campus on the phone with bare feet. I’d feel my toes dipping into the soft earth and let them be warm, covered in mud and slick stone.
My toes are curled and cracked and filled with callouses. They are flexible beans on the edge of my feet that claw and balance, flex and unflex, sending me forward all muscles and ligaments, tendons and bones, thrusting me from dirt or pavement into the air, into the day, into the night. When I dance, I like to stand on my toes after heels, reaching upwards and back down, stretching and collapsing. Toes are wonderful things.
My husband cracks my toes when he rubs my feet. He pulls each joint and waits for a pop with each little bean. Then he bends them backward and I feel like they’ve been curled claws for weeks. I also paint my toes and then let the paint chip away for ten months each year. Easter-egg blue in December is more my speed.
Two months after I met my husband, I tore a nail off a big toe. I don’t remember which one now, but I remember how it came off. I was half way through a fifth of Burnet’s vodka and feeling light, warm, and free. I watched a man much stronger than me jump from the concrete pad outside of the basement to the porch above us and pull himself up on a single wood beam.
I felt strong, competent, and a little too green. I screamed that I could definitely do that too and hurled myself at the edge of the decking, lifting three inches from the ground, and landing on the tops of my feet not on air, but the pad of concrete.
I began to laugh and bleed and heard shouts of “Jane, what are you doing!” I walked upstairs, red streamers trailing from the tops of my feet. I was met with ten laughing young men and women, pimpled and pocked faces staring in disbelief. They sat me out on the deck and poured another quarter of the vodka over my mangled feet. They healed with pink scars like those irises— something I could keep.