Feet First

Vanessa Ogle

I knew I had made it when I started neglecting my feet. My toenails had not been painted in months. The pale pink nails started to look gray, my feet sallow.

Maybe they had always been this way when natural but I just hadn’t noticed. They were, had been, always painted bright red. This was true since I was fourteen. Before then, I switched the color up. Not too much. But enough so that variety was routine. One week, mauve or a pearly shimmer. Hot pink. Neon yellow. Electric blue. White. Violet. Black.

But the day after I was arrested, home and—as punishment by my aunt-acting-as-guardian—quite literally locked in the entryway closet with a broom perched outside the door, I painted them red with a chunky old formula that had separated, the color a clumpy mess, malleable dots like mucus, with all the off-colored liquid on top. It was gross but it did the job, transforming my feet and my boredom, the color bold enough that it was workable despite the age, the decay. It was the only color I found at the bottom of my aunt’s old wooden dresser and, as it became a sort of signature for the next fourteen years, it felt a little like fate, I suppose.

Anyway, I got out of the shower one day and that was when I saw it. My feet shocked me in their ugliness. I had always had pretty feet. So pretty, in fact, I had to stop wearing sandals or even the subtlest peek-a-boo heels on the subway. Too many men had asked to suck my toes.

Those men would not want them now. How ugly were these things! And my toes, all except the pinky, had wispy hairs, long and black. How could this have happened?

There was a perverse feeling when I saw how rotten my feet looked. In fact, without the nail polish, it was plain to see that my toenails had become crooked too. It was probably from the small shoes I had squeezed myself in for years. The nails of my big toes were sideways, each leaning over, away from each other, instead of angled towards the other toes. Each nail, too, was hideous! I didn’t even notice the sharpness that had grown from each toe, a jagged upright reach. Ugly. Positively revolting.

But, I realized slowly, I now looked like all the other ladies who surrounded me. Not the really-rich. The really-rich cared. And no longer like the poor, what I had been for so long, where the maintenance was non-negotiable. I was now solidly squished into the level of upper middle class, where little self-care rituals could be forgotten. My naked and exposed feet could trod out on someone’s deck. Not their mansion, not barefoot by their pool, but my arch could sink a little on their original hardwood floors and leafy but modest Brooklyn backyard, a hodgepodge of concrete and grass, and we could sit comfortably with wine and leave our sandals off as we discussed the news and the paper and the things that we were removed from in this life—removed enough to neglect our feet and other details as we claimed this particular class.

I should have been proud. Look at me, no longer worried enough to care about my feet! Maybe I was, deep down somewhere, but mostly, I felt only repulsion. All I could think of was the ugly sandals I would now have to wear. A woman in this new world asked me to go horseback riding with her. Of course, I thought, this is why they go horseback riding—you get to wear boots! Every moment brought a new epiphany.

Yet I just wanted to go back. Have you ever felt that desperateness, the longing to reverse not just time but what it’s done to you? I shaved my toes in the shower but did not have enough strength to paint them. Tomorrow, I thought, as I rolled over in my comfortable bed, pulling up my comforter made by an allergy medicine company. Maybe tomorrow I could be me again.


Vanessa Ogle

Vanessa Ogle is a poet, writer, and educator. She received her MFA from Hunter College and lives in Brooklyn.

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