Broken Bones: Which Ones Were They?

I’ve written before about the two times I broke my left foot (see here and here). Well, I broke another bone in that same foot many years earlier. During the winter of my 8th-grade year, I broke the fourth toe. The odd thing is that within a year, both of my parents broke that same toe in their left feet also.

I don’t recall how my parents broke their toes, but I vividly remember what happened to mine. I went barreling out of my bedroom into the hall on my way to take a shower. I wanted to watch a TV show, and I barely had time to squeeze in the shower before it started. Unfortunately, my baby brother was toddling along past my bedroom door just as I exited. I tripped over him and slammed my foot into the furnace return grate across the hall.


It swelled and turned black, so the next day one of my parents took me to the doctor. (It was usually my mother who had doctor duty, but as I recall, my father took me this time.) There was no treatment, the doctor said. “We could tape it to the other toes, but that won’t really make any difference.”

So I limped for a few weeks until it healed.

Within months, my parents broke their toes. We laughed about the coincidence—though there wasn’t much laughter until all our bones had healed.

The following year, when I was in the 9th grade, I took a Creative Writing class. One assignment was to write a story in the vein of Edgar Allen Poe—something sinister or scary. I decided to try to make something ominous out of three broken toes in one family—was it merely coincidence or was some evil striking that family?

My story wasn’t very good and has been lost to the trash bin. But I do remember drafting it. I took some literary license with the facts to “improve” the story. Writing repeatedly about the “fourth toe on the left foot” or “the piggy that got none” seemed awkward. So I decided the story should be about three broken “left little toes,” which had more alliteration, even if it didn’t match the facts exactly.

But memory is a tricky thing. Over the years, I often forgot whether my parents and I had all broken our left little toes or our fourth toes. My fictional story confused my reality.

It was only as I grew older and that fourth left toe began to ache that I could re-ground myself in the truth. If I walk too long in uncomfortable shoes, or if the weather is damp for days on end, I remember—it is my fourth toe that hurts. This past month has been rainy and dreary in Kansas City, and I have had it drummed into me that I broke my fourth left toe. The piggy that got none gets even these days.

What pains do you have now that make you remember earlier events in your life?

Posted in Family, Philosophy, Writing and tagged , , , , , .

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