And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

I’ve never been a mani/pedi sort of woman. In my lifetime, I’ve had one pedicure and two manicures, all gifts from well-meaning students. Way too many years ago, when I was in grad school, a friend pulled me aside and painted my toenails. I didn’t know why then, and I don’t know why now. But from that point on, I painted my toenails during sandal seasons because I felt like it was something I was expected to do, something I’d made a grievous social mistake by not doing, With the arrival of the robin and sixty-degree temps, a simple color sprouted on my toes. And when winter came, I shoved my feet into socks and shoes and forgot about them.

A few days ago, when it finally began to get warm, I chucked my jeans and my socks and my sneakers and pulled on capris and sandals. Then I looked down. And cried.

The medication I have to take for breast cancer recovery for the next five years causes severe joint pain. It also takes conditions like fibromyalgia or arthritis and puts them into overdrive. I have fibro. My body has become the 3-D definition of pain. I’ve lost a lot of my flexibility and in particular, my hips have grown tight. On this day, I looked down, and realized there was no way in hell I was going to be able to flex enough through the pain to paint my toenails, let alone trim them.

Prior to this, I’d asked for help from those in my home and let’s just say the response wasn’t enthusiastic. On this day, when I dried my tears, I called a local salon and asked if they could fit me in for a pedicure. No time slots were open. So I hung up the phone and cried again.

And then I grimly got out my nail clippers and my polish. I moved around the house and shrieked my way through a bajillion bodily contortions. When I was done, I wiped the sweat from my face and the new tears from my cheeks and looked at my toes.

I did an absolutely horrific job. It looked like I attacked my toes with a machete.

Tears again. I threw off the capris and kicked my sandals into the closet. The jeans came back on, and so did the socks and shoes. It was going to be a sneaker summer, I decided. And cried some more.

Later, of course, when I undressed for bed, I discovered that the polish wasn’t quite dry yet when I changed into socks and now my nails sported stuck-on white fuzzies and threads.


Today, it was warm again. And instead of tears, I got angry. It was spring. I needed to paint my toes or commit some kind of social sin I didn’t understand. Why do women have the need to decorate their toenails and fingernails? Why was this tying me in knots? I marched over to Walgreens in my sneakered feet and bought nail polish remover.

At home, I tore off the shoes and socks and then looked around for ways to apply ingenuity. I have a footstool that breaks from top to bottom into three equal pieces. I sat down and separated these and placed two so that my legs would jut out at my body from an angle. No more leaning straight over my legs. Instead, I would lean forward into the gap between my angled legs and then turn at my waist. Carefully, I scrubbed each digit with smelly polish remover. I scrubbed until my own naturally pink nails came back, clean of gummed-up botched polish and white fuzzy sock detritus.

I sat back and breathed a sigh of relief. But then I saw my abandoned polish out of the corner of my eye. I’d found a way to remove the polish without killing myself. So…maybe…

But why? Why the need to change what was perfectly fine, au naturale?

I thought back to my friend painting my nails in grad school. And I thought of how I’d done it ever since. Every summer. It was a normal life thing.

More than anything, I want to return to my normal life. Cancer-free.

Painted nails in sandal season.

Spreadeagled, I propped my feet back up at angles and I set to work. It was harder than removing the offending polish. But I moved slowly and carefully and when it hurt, I sat back and gave myself a breather before leaning forward again.

The end result? Not bad. Not perfect. But no machete in sight.

Normal. Normal life. Some days, you’re just grateful you can paint your nails.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Not bad. Not perfect. Not naked. Normal.


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