When I was in graduate school, I felt an overwhelming sense of isolation that I hadn't felt in years. Being in my mid-20s, I was older than a majority of my peers yet vastly younger than the folks who had decided to continue their education in pursuit of a second career. Overall, I felt lost for the first few weeks of classes.
When I finally encountered some people from class with whom I got along for the most part, I found out that they were going to go dancing the following night and they invited me to come.
In a rush to finally feel included, I agreed and found the best outfit I could at the time. I grabbed a skirt that hit me mid-thigh, matching black tank top, and leopard print wedges that I had gotten for a major bargain at a recent sale.
Everything fit perfectly except for the shoes that I had grabbed on a sartorial whim the previous weekend. They were my regular size but were a tad bit too tight while the next size up had been too loose. At the time, I justified spending money on a pair of wedges when I only had walking shoes to get to class because I thought they looked wonderful and assumed that they would stretch as I wore them out.
With that thought in mind, I joined my classmates downtown for a night of dancing.
When I met up with them, I found out they were also new to the area so there was confusion about where we were actually going out. One person found a place on her phone but, from the lone parking space we could find downtown, we found ourselves walking several city blocks to the club.
While walking there, I felt slight but building pains in my feet. I decided that it and the pain in my legs were the result from not regularly exercising since my last semester of undergrad yoga two years prior. I basically chalked it all up to it being my lack of experience walking around a city in elevated shoes for the first time and deemed that it wasn't that bad.
After several hours fueled from drinking, dancing, flirting, and a late night diner run, I was exhausted by the end of the night and passed out in bed as soon as I had the opportunity.
The next morning, after waking up and realizing one of my shoes was still on my throbbing foot, I removed it to find that my now engorged foot looked like it had lost a fight with a bowling ball.
Upon closer inspection, both of my big toe nails looked like the natural tips had forcibly absorbed the rest of the nail in the night, turning them completely white. Subsequently, the normally peach colored nail beds around them had turned an array of reds and purples.
Hungover, I could only surmise that the shoes had pushed my big toe nails into their beds instead of simply stretching out as the night went on. My head then told me that I had drunk so much the previous night that I couldn’t feel my extremities begging for me to help them, and then it proceeded to throb as much as my feet for the rest of that day.
The remainder of the post-hangover weekend was spent walking around as much as I possibly could in an attempt to regain circulation in my enflamed feet. This was difficult as my flip-flops offered none of the care that I needed while my swollen feet could not physically fit in my supportive closed toed shoes.
After I missed the following Monday's classes because I couldn't walk the mile I needed to go to school (my mode of transportation at that time since I didn't have a car), I hobbled toward my doctor’s office a few blocks from my apartment building.
The doctor took one look at both of my miserable looking feet and told me that he could alleviate the pressure by drilling holes in my toenails. Aghast, I asked him what the hell he meant by that. He explained that he had a soldering iron at his disposal and could burn through the nail but, judging by the depth of the nail, he would stop before it hit the sensitive tissue underneath.
Not knowing how I would have been able to walk home in my current state, I allowed him burn two small holes, one in each of my big toes.
As they oozed in relief, he examined his work and asked me if I wanted him to burn another hole in my nails because it would help them “heal faster.” I figured he might as well do it.
It may have been purely psychological, but, aside from him venturing too close into the flesh below of the last toe and me inhaling too much burning keratin, I felt better.
As he wrapped the toes up in gauze and gave me a script for antibiotics "just in case," he mentioned offhandedly that the nail would continue to grow as the healing began and not to worry if the nail fell out.
At that point, I was just happy to be able to know I could go to class the next day, so I thanked him, slid on my flip-flops, and shuffled home.
All things considered, the next few months went by swimmingly until one day I was showering and felt a bit of pressure alleviate from my left big toe. I looked down and saw that there was a floating white object in the tub amongst the soap bubbles.
As I checked out the foot in question, there was a perfect crescent moon of ridged nail halfway to where my nail naturally occurs. I picked up the fallen, gnarly nail. The top was still wholly white aside from the two perfect burn marks, yet the underneath was covered in brown crusty bits and healing yellowed streaks of plasma. All things considered, I was glad it had fallen off since it had obviously long since died off and looked absolutely disgusting.
Upon leaving the shower, I sat on the side of the tub and tried ripping off other one for a semblance of symmetry. The twin nail didn't completely yield to simple pressure and, instead, marginally lifted a bit from its bed to show some residual unhealed trauma.
Concluding that Righty still needed some more time to heal, I embraced the fact that I probably just shouldn’t wear open-toed shoes for the rest of the school year or the impending summer.
Currently, my big toenails seem to grow in thicker than they used to and, even now, still need to be clipped and filed in such a way that they don't become ingrown or slice through my tights.
The only time I really think of them now is when I look for high-heeled shoes because, at the risk of pissing off a few salespeople, I spend a lot of time to make sure I only buy 100% comfortable shoes from the start.