Unfulfilled desires are dangerous forces ~Sarah Tarleton Colvin.
Nearly four months ago I caught my little right toe on the door frame of the kitchen in the apartment where I was renting a room. I didn't just catch it actually, I sort of ran smack dab into the wooden frame without understanding why or how. A familiar pain shot through it immediately and I hobbled off into my little room, falling onto my air mattress bed, laughing and wincing at the same time. At first I thought I was going to get away with just a momentary wave of dancing stars accompanied by moaning, but within a few minutes it swelled up like a bratwurst and was beginning to take on pretty jewel colors. That made me laugh harder because only two months before I had done exactly the same thing to my little left toe. I caught that toe on the leg of my desk in the house with the Cognac 18H kitchen walls while upstairs sorting and packing my things in the so-called "Deb" room. I wrote a lot of the entries to this memoir on that desk. The desk faced into the room, catty-cornered and towards the door. My tin magic cup was sitting on top of its uncomfortably cold glass surface ever since I wrote the entry about it. On my left was a window facing the noisy main street where tractors and buses went by all day beginning at 7 a.m., and on my right was the sloping skylight window which was such a pain to clean and through which I gazed at stars at night after I had separated my bed out of the bedroom. My books stood on the shelves across from the desk along the longest wall, and another book shelf nearest the door had two of its shelves removed in order to make a type of Deb altar. A cork board stood recessed into the shelf space. There hung my pilgrim's shell, my start numbers from my marathon and two half marathons, my favorite photo of myself taken just after I returned from the Camino, the words Tat Tvam Asi underneath it, clippings of the encouraging comments printed out from readers of this website, a favorite art postcard in the corner at the bottom that exchanged places with other favorite art postcards throughout the year. In front of the cork board stood my dark green and black matcha tea cup that I had converted into an incense burner filled with sea sand in order to hold an incense stick. On the floor in front of this makeshift altar stood my improvised meditation seat made out of two of the square, rust-colored cushions from the sofa that stood in the room that no one ever sat on. Two flat pillows served as a zabuton in front of the seat, covered with a thin, dark blue fleece blanket that the Pants had stolen from an airline on some business trip, and two small throw pillows sat within hand's reach for extra support for my left knee, which never quite makes it to the floor for some reason I don't understand.
When I caught my little left toe on the desk back then, I think I broke it a bit. It was an instantaneous swelling with an angry red color that later changed to a lovely mosaic of black, purple, raspberry, and green all the way down into the foot and the neighboring toe. It made meditating a wee bit of a challenge since that was the foot that folded under the other leg and onto the floor, but once the initial stab of pain was had, the other stuff of meditation always proved far more challenging, like the breath robbing pain in my right lower ribs and the condition referred to as Monkey Mind. I did go see my doctor, who reassured me that we could delay the amputation because it wasn't gangrene after all, but did recommend a good taping, especially since I was a running on it regularly. Several weeks after, when the colors and swelling had faded, and the tape had long since fallen off from having been softened by countless showers, it would only hurt at night, and oddly enough only between the hours of 2 and 3 in the morning. The pain would come suddenly, like a pinky toe charlie horse, and I would bolt awake trying to quickly wiggle it back and forth into peaceful submission while it rhythmically throbbed. It would almost make me giggle at times; it seemed to me like some sort of Rudolf the Red Toed antenna, whose purpose was to sound the alarm in sympathy for the agony of other middle of the night furniture toe catchers.
To my great relief the right toe, which I smacked on the door frame, seemed only to be deeply bruised. When I told the woman who lived in the apartment where I was renting a room at that time what had happened and how I had injured both of my toes in such a short time and never before in my 44 years, she, a sort-of-kind-of-but-not-really follower of Sai Baba, looked up to the corner of one her eyes with a frown on her face as if contemplating something deep and then without the faintest whiff of incense induced compassion said, "There's a reason why you did that, and the Cosmos knows why. You might find out later." Now in my experience, debating with the Cosmos is either difficult or delicious, but I do admit that in that moment I silently decided then and there that if that was the way the Cosmos really works, then I wasn't so sure I liked or trusted the Cosmos at all. And so, in my true Deb way, I came up with my own interpretation of my toe injuries, sans Cosmos, which involved viewing my right little toe as if it were my very own pet chameleon. Every morning for about two weeks I highly amused myself by picking out matching socks for whatever color it had changed to. And so far, the Cosmos hasn't coughed up a clear reason for my two strangely coincidental injuries at all, except to say that perhaps the Cosmos knew I needed a pet chameleon to play with after all.
When I came back from the Camino my feet were in good shape—great even. I had suffered only three minuscule blisters the entire four weeks. I had witnessed many more on the feet of other pilgrims, some as many and big and oozy as bubbles on pancakes before they are flipped, and others far, far worse than that. My feet had kept me well, and the only secret to reveal is that I heeded the advice of experts and when my feet sent me messages I listened and acted accordingly. That's it. When I returned home they were like two miracles to me. I would often look at them from time to time and think, "500 miles, 500 miles, 500 miles!" That distance seemed unbelievable because it was so far, and at the same time even now so very short, so do-able, as if 500 miles were just the warm up and yet—it was quite something. And so it seemed appropriate that I should buy them a gift in celebration and thanks for all their support and willingness. That is what I told myself at least. And it just so happened that upon returning I had seen a pair of beautiful shoes in a downtown window that I admired and felt sure could serve this lofty purpose. And after four weeks of walking on the Camino where a woman might possibly be mistaken for a lumberjack at any moment, sensible shoes certainly would not do at all, which these shoes were not. These shoes were a pair of wedge-heeled platform sandals, with chestnut brown leather straps here and there with a metal ring (held in place by the leather straps) that lay decoratively on the top of the foot between the toes and the arch. I didn't measure their height, but they are at least 5 if not 6 inches high. They seemed the perfect shoes to adorn my feet, to honor them, and I gave them an official title, pronouncing them My Homage to Elton John, whose songs and voice from the 70's captured and spellbound me as a child, and who was certainly no stranger to the sky scraping platform shoes housed under curtains and curtains of the bell-bottomed pants of that time. God how I loved those platform shoes back then, and God how I wasn't allowed to wear them, not even for play! It was incomprehensible, especially for a precociously mature child, for it seemed to me that the only reason why it was forbidden, but never admitted to, was because my mother thought that should any part of my foot touch a shoe higher than a quarter of an inch off the ground, Humbert himself would instantly ring the doorbell asking for his Lolita. Believe me, I bought those shoes faster than you can possibly say Nabokov.
I should also mention, by the way, that I stand at 5'9". And even though I have rather nice legs, or so I have been told once or twice, you could say that I look, not to mention feel, a bit like a giraffe while wearing them. I'm proud to say that that didn't stop me from taking them out for a couple of spins on the cobbled-stone streets of Germany, however. And, although I remained standing at all times, a giraffe walking in strappy platform sandals on cobbled-stone streets does, as it turns out, result in bodily movements that one only witnesses in first time surfers. A bit deflated, I confined myself to wearing them only in the house, and often with an above the knee skirt. That worked out well until going up and down the stairs to answer the door became particularly annoying because first, I had to be careful, which I resented, and second, because delivery men began to look at me strangely which I didn't know how to decipher. I tried dancing in them, but that was also short lived due to the lack of ankle support and the likelihood of injury should I have fallen down after repeated attempts at some kind of shimmy move. In the end, and very much to my disappointment, I had to admit that the shoes came into best use for reaching things in the top back kitchen cabinets, like a pair of wearable step stools. Humiliated and saddened by my lost chance at youthful platform fun, they made their way upstairs and into the Deb room where they sat on the lower shelf of the toe-breaking desk for the last four years. I glanced at those shoes often during the last four years of writing. I hoped mice would come and move into their fat, wedged heels so that they could be used for a meaningful purpose again. I also got more blisters wearing those shoes in two hours than I got the entire four weeks on the Camino.