The thing I didn’t mention about my birthday is my toes.
Okay, I did mention my toes.
What I didn’t mention is that since I’ve lost the heels people would compliment with envy; the beauty, the stride, and the height… if I’m wearing a pretty dress I don’t know what to do with myself. Work flats don’t go with strappy dresses and boots make me look like a streetwalker. Thankfully, this is Los Angeles, so in a pinch, a pair of glittery flip flops will do the trick.
In my travels I’ve discovered a thing or two.
In Massachusetts, I’m a high maintenance clusterfuck.
In Los Angeles, I get called “busted” because I don’t paint my toes.
It feels stupid to say out loud, but an athlete may define himself by a weight class or a line drive. An intellectual is allowed to hold their identity in their ability to reason and recall. My strength, my beauty, my ferocity, and my ambition were expressed in a wickedly vast, slick salvaged, bargain basement, sky high heel collection.
It’s pre-party and only Jenna and Nikki are at the house, unpacking extra wine glasses and opening makeup cases. I’m hovering, vibrating in flux; a weird sad hummingbird tittering around my shoe based insecurity. If I have to wear flats, I should at least put on nail polish. Like looking good after a breakup, it’s less about inducing longing and more about the fact that you just can’t have any kinks in your armor. No notches that don’t bend or holes in the armpit. You can’t let the fragile parts show.
It’s only when I get on the ground that I realize I don’t think I can do this. The bending and reaching. The time it will take on one side. I realize the physical impossibility of it. No. It’s your birthday. Don’t cry.
As always, with a dumb sense of fight that can’t be cured despite an ever mounting pile of losses, I struggle to put all of my weight on my left side and prop myself up with my left elbow as I reach for the polish.
“You want me to do that for you?” It’s Jenna. It’s a simple question.
“I got it.” I smile. And I do have it. I do. I’m deftly painting my left toes almost like you might expect a girl to do. From a distance, I could fake it. You’d never know. I finish, satisfied, and then stupidly look to my right. I twist. I bend. I grope. I fail. I can’t do it. I just can’t. There’s just no way to paint my right toenails without gross bodily harm. I am kicking and screaming inside, fighting to do it, dying to do it, and I feel the tears welling up as I turn to Jenna and start to open my mouth.
It seems so simple to allow someone to help you. I know if I were seeing it from a distance I would wonder why it was so hard. Hell, even up close and experiencing it I wonder why it’s so hard. Shouldn’t it just be like letting a tall person grab a box of cereal for you when you can’t reach? But it isn’t. You were never tall enough to reach that cereal. But just yesterday, or at least, the last time you checked, you could paint your own damn toenails. Your life is suddenly full of surprises, painful puzzles you never see coming, over and over again, unexpectedly having to solve an equation that never seems to be done. You get ready to do something you’ve done a thousand times, like sit in a chair, or drive a car, or paint your own stupid nails… and you can’t. You can’t, and you don’t know how to live your life without everything you knew to do before sickness. You don’t know the first way around it. And when you finally start to figure it out, you realize that the answer is just a damn circle. A snake eating it’s tail. An answer you can keep solving for day in and day out, from the moment you wake up till your head hits the pillow, and you’ll still never be finished. Pi.
I realize why asking for help is so hard. It is because with every concession, you feel you are reneging on a piece of your humanity. In every trip I have to tell my friends I can’t take, in every part of my body I can no longer get my fingers to, I’m losing a sense of adulthood, autonomy, and self.
But Jenna is still looking at me. And she’s a nurse, she’s not dumb. She can see I can’t reach.
“Yeah,” I whisper, “Maybe I do need you to do the other side.”
And I scoot across the floor towards her. Grieving my losses while thanking whatever goodness there is left in the universe that someone is still there offering help. Because for now, whether I like it or not, I’m still solving for pi.
And today’s flavor is humble.