Greek foot

His feet look strong. Rigid, you might say, sinewy. But not bony. They are feet well-used, but not calloused or dirty.

It suggests a lot of time spent barefoot. He has the sand-scoured soles and suntanned top skin of feet that spent the summer months on the beach.

Under the skin across each foot curves a pattern of athletic veins. From ball to heel, a graceful arch slopes high and tight, like the loaded spring of a catapult.

His toes spread wide at the broad, flat, flipper-like ends of his feet. They are each distinct and squared at the tip, not a one crushed against another or mangled by years of too-tight shoes. His big toe is neither bulbous and vegetal, nor stunted and incomplete, just the next step up in a natural progression from this little piggy to the next.

The toenails are clean, neat, but not meticulous, not manicured. Maintained, you might say, but not “cared for.” Not shiny. Rather, appropriately dull and masculine, but glowing at the same time with effortless, thoughtless health.

The flesh of his heel sinks in around the Achilles tendon, taut as a drawn bow. His ankles, stony and firm, yet vulnerable, look mechanical and ready. And the region just above, at the base of his calves where the leg hair starts to grow, peeks out from the turned-up cuff of his jeans like a hint, an innuendo, a suggestion.

These are among the things you’re likely to notice when you’re a college freshman, in circumstances foreign and uncomfortable and exhilarating, suddenly free to look—in fact, encouraged to look—at the world with new eyes, meeting the guy across the hall who, like you, is sitting outside the door of his room with a book while his roommate is on the phone.

White t-shirt, blue jeans, and barefoot—a classic look. With his knees drawn up to his chest, those feet are practically on offer for examination.

For as long as I can remember caring, I have not liked the shape of my own feet.

They call it a “Greek foot” when the second toe is longer than the first. The Statue of Liberty has feet like this. This fact—and the ancient Greek sculptors’ penchant for the human ideal—should be enough to comfort me, but it isn’t. Not when I have flesh-and-blood perfection across the hall to admire and compare myself to.

I can’t decide what the deformity is: Is my second toe too long, or is my big toe too short?

Also, I have flat feet. Standing, I need to shift my weight to the outer edges of my feet to raise my arches, or I might go knock-kneed.

“You dropped your arches,” my rugby team’s physiotherapist once gruffly told me. As if, by looking behind me or retracing my steps, I might find them again. She was examining me after I came off the pitch with some injury or other. I didn’t play sports when I was younger, and I had not until then found myself in a situation where my arches would be so scrutinized. So that’s how I found out.

“You can tell,” a helpful friend later informed me, “by getting your feet wet. Step on the dry pavement and step away. If your footprint has two parts, you have a high arch. If it’s one—you know—blob … you have flat feet.”

I remember clearly her neatly proportioned bifurcated footprints; my blobs.

I don’t know I was born that way, or if I did something during that match, or throughout my life, to stomp out the natural curve of my feet. But when I started wearing arch supports, I knew my physiotherapist was right, because my feet never hurt so much.

Compensating for something always hurts, at least a little. How else will you remind yourself of what you’re lacking?

I pull the cuff of my sweat pants over my heels and tuck my feet up under my legs and continue to pretend to read.


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the untallied hours

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