I am about to talk a lot about my toenails. Consider this your trigger warning.
I ran a marathon last January. It was really hard, but my recovery wasn’t too bad. My muscles were sore and one of my ankles temporarily came up with a weird new ache, but altogether, things were all right.
Then, three days after the race, the base of my big toenails started to hurt. Like a lot. And it was weird because that’s not a place I’ve ever associated with pain before. The toes themselves didn’t hurt, just the base of the nail beds.
Soon the pain ebbed and blackness started to creep up. Very clearly there was a bruise/blood under the nails and it was starting a whole thing. Said “whole thing” turned out to be two entirely black toenails.
Up until this time, I’d always felt kind of awesome for never having had a black toenail. I was pretty sure this was because of my virtuous use of shoes that had toeboxes big enough for my ginormous feet. Honestly, I felt pretty superior about the whole thing.
Evidently when you run for six hours all in a row, however, big toeboxes do not the difference make.
I have spent the past four and a half months watching the progression of my diseased toenails and freaking the fuck out of whatever member of my family was dumb enough to look at my toes. Occasionally, I’d text photos of my toes to people so they would have to discuss them with me. Because watching my toes was, like, 80 percent of my mental life and only, like, one percent of my verbal life.
I noticed at some point that each big toenail had grown a little ridge near the bottom. Every once in a while I would stub my toe and the nail would noticeably shift and I would spend a week or so convinced that it was going to fall off at any second and trying to show my toes to anyone who would look.
“Anyone who would look” in this case means “any poor sucker who let me shove my toe into their line of sight before they had a chance to look away,” i.e. mostly my family.
Just last week Alex ran over my left toe with a Home Depot flatbed cart carrying 150 pounds of shelving. The toenail survived and I decided that if that wasn’t the end, then I should probably admire its fortitude and just stop whining about it already.
Two days ago, because I am clumsy, I stubbed my toe again and there was a crack and half of my toenail lifted up, attached only by a flap of skin on the left side. I reacted the way pretty much anyone would: I texted a photo of what was under my toenail to Alex, freaked out my kids, then slapped shoes and socks on and went running in hopes that repeated footfalls would take care of the problem.
It did not. I had to detach the nail myself. Goddamn roomy toebox.
Interestingly, the toenail that was run over is still hanging in there, but now I know it has a lifespan because clearly the other one did as well.
I’m fighting every inclination I have to post a photo of my toe and nail in various states of detachment, because of course I created a photo journal of its journey, but I texted photos to three different people about the separation of me from my nail with funny captions like, “A photo of my toenail. Foot not included,” and the response was mostly, “OH GOD NO” and “I want a divorce.” Then, because I am a human capable of learning, I did not text a photo to two more people and then they asked for one because they know what is interesting in life and are reasonable people and good friends.
People are confusing and I am evidently not good at reading them.
My kids reacted in ways that are uniquely them. Katie nearly started crying and was upset that I’d even mentioned such a heinous thing to her. I think she has blocked the entire incident from memory.
Jack investigated it with his eyes and his fingers and then told me, “I think you might need surgery,” and asked me, “are you scared about this?” (Answers: Probably not and YES, YES I AM I AM FREAKED OUT ENTIRELY BY THIS.) Jack is clearly my favorite and also maybe a little bit of a weirdo.
Quinn has started walking into rooms with his eyes closed and his head turned away until I can convince him that I’m wearing shoes.
Alex says that we had a good run and that he will miss me but no one ever agreed to be married to a monster with nine toenails.
I’m curious if it will grow back enough to be damaged anew by my October marathon. And if this happens again, I wonder how many new toenails can grow? Is it like a salamander tail that will continue to regenerate? Is it like shark teeth, with additional but finite replacements? Or is it like the elephant tooth that wears away and then causes the animal to starve to death/not be able to paint her toes?
For now, I miss pedicures, because it seems cruel to make a stranger touch the foot that my family doesn’t even want to look at—even if I am an extraordinarily good pedicure tipper what with the rest of my running feet issues. I am also going to miss wearing sandals this summer. But I do get to look forward to losing the other injured toenail when it finally suffers enough trauma to decide to say au revoir to my foot. Who knows? Maybe you’ll be the lucky one to get a text on that occasion.