Yesterday a woman showed me how to articulate my feet, to let them discover the ground and explore the way a baby explores. To illustrate – not so much for the eyes as the skin, the cellular knowing – she closed her eyes and pressed both of my bare feet against her face. Only her nose was visible; the eyes of her face were covered completely by the eyes of my feet, that unseen spot in my midsole that seems to dial open and shut, to reach out and grow tentacles, to see, feel, absorb from the earth itself.
“Like this,” she said and pressed my feet against her face as if I were a baby.
“Assim,” she would have said in a different world, the world where my feet first touched ground, touched face, touched hands and lips. “Que dedinhos bonitos! What beautiful little toes!”
Deena wants me to write about the metaphor of separate feet. How did she put it? One’s intrinsic internal asymmetry. I have, in this injury, been thinking about where I stand and where I walk. Right now I am seeing uneven parallel bars. The different realities one walks at once. Not one. Me.
Several things are true at once for me. Portuguese was my first language. Portuguese was my third language. I am, primarily, an English speaker. I learned to walk on sand. The first time I saw the ocean, I was eleven years old. In the United States, I have a Latin Jewish family. In Brazil, I am the American cousin.
My left foot is still healing from injury and grief. In college, my left knee went out. Every injury I have had, it seems, originates on the left. I am right-handed, right dominant. My left side isn’t weak, just crying for balance. Calling for the need to walk in both worlds or, really, all of them. Tamancos and sandals, feet and wings, earth and mist.
Perhaps it was the bones of my left foot that pushed up from the bed, at age two, to point out my grandfather in a spot where Mom only saw wall. “Avô!,” they say I cried. “Avô!” Just a day or so before word came that he had died.
My left foot that pushed off after the moving van when I was four and we were on our way to Arizona for Summer Stock. Pushed off and ran and made them open the truck and unpack my dolls because they would suffocate in there.
My right foot hits the gas peddle but the left one hits the clutch, prepares for shifting gears: first, second, third, reverse; Portuguese, English; visible, invisible, imagined. How literal am I being when I tell the doctor my left sole aches?
When I was very small, the story goes, I used to help my Mom (Mamae) fold socks. I also learned to sing “Hava Nagila” but couldn’t get the words straight. I would sing, “Joaquim, tira essa meia.” Joaquim, take off your socks. In an “Ode to My Socks,” poet Pablo Neruda tells of a gift of hand knit socks that were so beautiful that, for the first time, he found his feet to be unlovable.
I was knocked off my feet this month. Stopped, grounded in the middle of a path. Stripping back shoes and socks, I am struck by the intricate filigree of bone, tendon, and ligament that supports me, and I am wondering just where we stand.
In 2005, I stunned myself by signing up to walk the San Diego Rock ‘n Roll Marathon on behalf of the American Stroke Association. This post is one of a series of reflections and Training Tales from that time. The whole series begins here.