It seems to me there are two seasons of a man’s life. Some would suggest there are more, but they would be wrong. No one would suggest fewer, because what sort of cursed existence would have just one season where each and everything is the same, never maturing, never changing, always stagnant? The two seasons, as best I can tell, consist of the time in a man’s life where his toenails are pleasant and nice, and the time in his life when they are not. I’m writing today because I fear I have entered my second season.
There were times when I was on the giving end of the toenail jokes. Once, while on my parents’ pier with my extended Colorado family, I took morbid interest in my Uncle David’s feet. They were terrible things, just awful. Cracked and decaying, each worse than the other, somehow. After a few moments of hiding my repulsion I couldn’t take it anymore, and I asked my Uncle how old he was when his toes died. Everyone laughed, but my uncle looked at me with a particular look that I can recognize only in hindsight. That look promised me that my time would come.
Another time, my Grandma Gudie was sitting next to me on the pier, again with my cousins and aunts and uncles present. I experienced a rather unfortunate back episode twelve years ago and that event rendered my left foot mostly numb. My grandmother must not have known this. She couldn’t have known it. But, unbeknownst to me, she took one of her old, gross big toes and slowly stroked the outside of my numb foot. Everyone had a good laugh once I realized what was happening. Everyone but me.
I tell you these two tales of toenail horror because I see now what these older people were up against. It wasn’t their fault that their toenails were bad and awful, it just was. My toenails used to be an incredible source of pride. I would parade my perfect feet around town, jumping at any opportunity to remove my shoes. There were few things better than these feet, with their ideal proportions and clear, strong toenails. How I miss those days. Days when my nails held up to the abuses of everyday life without complaining, not once. Today, my toenails break if I look at them too intently. They are increasingly frayed on the edges, embarrassingly so. If I’m not careful pulling a sock on my big toenail will snag the sock and in that tug-o-war the sock will win. My toenail, once sturdy and bold, will whither and break, retreating to the edges of my nail bed as if it has no fight left. These toenails are still tolerable, but anyone can see the writing on the wall.
If my life has but two seasons, I’m sad to announce that I am through the first one and well into the second one. My toenails told me so.