Up until about 10 years ago I was completely terrified of feet. I wasn’t born with this trait, it was learned when I was six years old. As most phobias go, one usually experiences a traumatic event that makes the blood chill, skin crawl, and yes, toes curl, when presented with the one thing that makes their system shut down. Mine was toes.
When I was about six years old, my biological father remarried a woman with two children. Stacey was one year older than me and Angela was a year or two younger than me. Built-in sisters! How lucky for me! I learned quickly, however, that they were not interested in having a new sister.Â One-on-one we did just fine. I could play with Stacey for hours on end and then I could alternately play with Angela. It was peaceful until they got together and decided that I was “going down”.
The terror came at night. I shared a bed with Stacey and all would be well as my dad and step-mom tucked us in and said their good nights. Once the lights were out, the girls would start with ghostly sounds, you know, “ooooo” in that trembling voice, changing pitch and octaves, designed to give a six-year-old in a strange bed the creeps. My pleas of “Stop it. That’s not funny,” encouraged them to ratchet it up a notch. That’s when Stacey brought out “the toes”.
This is technically a tragic story. Stacey, a year or two before my appearance, was involved in a terrible accident. I’m not sure of the specifics but what I do know was that Stacey’s grandfather was mowing the lawn, Stacey was in the yard playing, somehow the lawnmower and Stacey’s toes interacted and Stacey’s toes lost. She was rushed to the hospital. The two toes could not be saved so they did a skin graft to cover the area where the two toes had previously lived. Underneath the skin graft you could feel two little nubs. The skin covering the little nubs was all puckered and hard. They were perfect for scaring the hooey out of a little six-year-old girl. Talk about making the most of your adversities… Stacey had it down pat.
Mostly, what Stacey did in the deep dark of the night was say to me “They’re coming to get you”. I’d tense up in preparation of the two dried up “raisins” making contact with my spindly legs. I’d stay perfectly rigid, like a victim in a horror movie hiding from her pursuer, and take the raking of her nubs up and down my leg while choking back groans of intense displeasure. It was terrifying. This went on for months of weekend visits until I wised up enough to make use of the Holly Hobby sleeping bag that was hidden under the bed. I might have to sleep in the same room with them, but at least I no longer had to share a bed with “the toes”. Whew.
My dad stayed married to my step-mom until she took her own life in 1987. I was 18 when she died. In the years between being six and my step-mom’s death, Stacey and I got along for the most part. Stacey was an “early bloomer” compared to my being a “late bloomer” so she was interested in boys way before I even gave them a thought. We didn’t hang out with each other very often, so my interaction with “the toes” dwindled greatly. They rarely came out after the first couple of years and the only time I ever saw them was if we happened to be at the swimming pool together. I know she’s married and has a couple of children now. I wonder how her kids feel about “the toes”.
It took me a long time to make peace with toes. I think the turning point was when a friend visiting from out of town suggested we do “girly spa stuff” and offered to give me a pedicure. I was 30 years old. The thought terrified me and she laughed as my face twisted in horror as I explained that no one had ever touched my feet. Or, I clarified, touched my feet without sustaining physical injury. It’s usually a precursor to any intimate relationship I’ve ever had – “touch my feet and die” sort of thing. I fought her with great desperation and only after having a couple of cocktails did I let her touch them. It was heaven. My fear of toes slowly melted away into a world of aromatherapy and pretty pink polish. I’ve never looked back.
Sometimes,Â however, I think of Stacey’s two little toes, out there lying in the lawn on a hot summer day, wiggling around looking for their owner. I hope they don’t find me first.