Life as a middle toe can be suffocating. Pressed between your four siblings day and night, listening to the loudest voices bolster and command from either side of the shoe.
“I am the largest toe, so you follow my lead,” Big Nail bellowed. “You go where I go. You move how I move. As the oldest and strongest, I am the captain of this foot.”
Despite us all being the same age, Big Nail kicked his weight around like a true heel, flaunting the position and power bestowed at birth.
“What about me?” Pinky cooed from the other end of the toe-box. “Doesn’t the smallest and most adorable deserve a say? I’m so delicate and cute. Without me, you’d all fall flat.”
“You can’t be serious, Pinky!” Big Nail interjected. “If we lost you, we’d barely miss a step. What work do you even do over there? I’m the one who carries us up hills and down stairs. You just sit there, clipping your tinny nail.”
Pinky huffed. “This little piggy is the only one who makes us all look good by comparison. Without me, you’d just be a row of oddly shaped growths.”
My siblings closest to Big Nail and Pinky repeated each of their respective messages, creating an echo chamber of exhaustion for those stuck between the right and the left.
Lost in the shuffle of noise and outgoing opinions, I was a toe without direction. How could I find my voice in the shadows? How could we escape our bickering when surroundings constantly squeezed us together? If only life could exist in the shower.
Under the shower rain, everything was quiet. Under the shower rain, everyone was happy.
The shower melted away the day’s events. We each could spread out, stretch, relax, and not think about the sweaty prison we were wedged into every time we left the house. Was space our problem? Perhaps we five were too close.
I thought about when arguments reached their highest pitch. We were shoved over or under our neighbor, pressed and stressed and searching for breath. How could we not argue when so much of our time was spent stepping over each other?
I was my own toe, just like Big Nail, Pinky and my other siblings. We each had our own shape, our own style. But instead of five unique toes working as one, we were forced into spaces that rubbed us red and pitted us against each other, competing to be the one who came out on top. It was no wonder we were always on edge.
And so this aggression continued, step by step. We argued at work. We complained at the gym. We bickered at the bakery. We dissented at Disneyland. Movements and memories lost in the squabble. I took the brunt of both sides and saw no end moving forward. This was all a toe was meant to feel and reserved my place amongst the shadows.
But then, on a day like any other on the calendar, my world changed.
The familiar woosh of sock air flooded our senses as the shoe tugged free. My siblings and I cracked our backs in relief only to be ambushed, shortly after, by the shoe’s return. We grimaced at the sudden, but not uncommon, reinstatement to our padded, tapered cell. But as I waited for the walls to smoosh, I found myself still waiting.
I waited and waited for that same old feeling that never came. This wasn’t like the other shoe. This was something different. No one was on top of me. No one was sandwiched against me. I had room. I could breathe. I could feel the outside breeze.
My siblings looked at me, and I knew they were thinking the same thing: How is this possible?
We stepped around the house, ran outside, and hopped onto our bicycle. Every moment was captured beneath us. We weren’t drowning in foam like before. We felt where we stood and in control of where we stepped. We walked tall and firm over the ground beneath us.
Big Nail laughed, and Pinky giggled. We were barefoot, but we weren’t. We were back under the comfort of the shower, but we were outside. None of it made sense. Never had footwear respected our needs or placed us in an environment that treated us like five individuals and not one. Every toe has its own size and its own shape and rather than confining us to the shoe’s dimensions, this shoe gave us the space to be ourselves.
Just as I wondered where this magical gift came from, I overheard three letters from above, “S…O…M.”
Every toe has a story waiting for a space to be told. SOM has given us that space. No matter where we travel or what activities we perform, my siblings and I strengthen under the power of our own weight, and no longer do I feel lost in the shadows.