Since I was 12 I’ve been in love with toe socks. They’d become the symbol for the quirky, cute, intelligent girl who didn’t quite fit in but was still gorgeous according to conventional standards of beauty. They appeared in the glossy spreads of my teen magazines, desperately read in a grasping attempt to be relevant, to gain friends. Maybe if I did these things, people would like me….
It took me years to realize there was no magic formula between the covers of Seventeen or J-14 to make me into one of the cool girls; to make me attractive to boys or other girls or anyone, even myself. So much time sneaking around with my best friend, hiding her copy of Seventeen from her mom lest she get in trouble for reading something “too old” for her; reading aloud to each other in giggling whispers; blushing at the questions about sex submitted by readers just like us, we thought.
I don’t remember where I first saw pictures of toe socks on quirky, fascinating, manic pixie dream girls; I don’t recall what magazine it was, but I remember what the picture looked like — a top-down shot of a few girls sitting in a circle, knees up, feet on the ground, toes pointing to each other, all focus on the socks. Rainbow-striped knee-high toe socks.
I fell in love instantly. Those were the socks I wanted to wear. Those were the socks that would change my life. If I wore rainbow-striped knee-high toe socks, I’d be a different person. I’d make funny jokes; I wouldn’t embarrass myself by letting my mouth run amok without input from my brain; I’d dress differently — still quirky, but fashionably quirky; I’d lose weight; I’d learn how to do my hair. I’d start making art — real art, not the shitty writing I’d been doing since I could hold a pen; not the projects assigned to me in the various arts classes taken over the years. I’d be an artist; everything I created would be beautiful and meaningful, effortlessly. Rainbow-striped knee-high toe socks would magically transform me into the type of person I dreamed of being.
My love affair with these sartorial phalange-prisons continued for years, its fires stoked by the unavailability of the object of my affection. You couldn’t buy toe socks in Hawai’i when they first became popular, and when they finally were available, none were in my size, nevermind long enough to cover my massive calves. Even then I had massive feet and thick, muscly calves, turning whatever was labeled as “knee high” into “maybe just a few inches above the ankle if you’re lucky”. They didn’t make toe socks in different sizes, or if they did the were out of our budget; I was stuck with one-size-fits-most (haha, we mean “a very few”) and then it was a matter of luck.
Perhaps it was for the best; one rarely wore socks in Hawai’i anyway and I don’t deal well with extra heat, which already made my personal style a living hell. Did I really need one more thing to make every school day more miserable? No. Better to admire the socks from afar, and dream of the day when we’d be together. Surely someday someone would make them in my size? Surely someday there’d be no more barriers for our love.
It wasn’t until I hit my late teens, early 20s that I finally found toe-socks that would fit me. Like with most of my relationships, I can’t remember clearly the day we met, what I wore, where I was. I just know it happened, and I can recall with perfect haziness the halcyon days of the beginning of our relationship. No longer did I have to pine from afar; we were together now, and all would be well.
I still couldn’t find knee-highs that would ever fit me, but that was okay. I’d come to terms with the fact that knee-high socks would always be a challenge for me and I had to be happy with the few I could get (usually solved by buying “thigh highs” and then altering them a bit).
At some point, the new relationship buzz with my first pair of toe socks faded. They kept slipping off my toes over the course of the day; wearing them meant resigning myself to adjusting them every five minutes. Also, they weren’t as comfortable as I imagined them to be, and a bit too tight at the top of the sock. I had to pull them all the way up to make sure they stayed on, but the cuffs cut into my calves. They weren’t perfect.
Thinking it was just the pair I’d bought, I went searching for a new pair, one that would fit better, that I wouldn’t have to adjust, that was as comfortable as I’d imagined. A pair that would live up to the fantasies of my teenage years. At first I thought the new pair did live up to what I expected of it, but it soon became apparent that this new pair was just as uncomfortable as the first.
This continued for a while; the search for a new pair, the belief the new pair was perfect, the realization it wasn’t, the belief that if I found a different pair things would change. Soon I had several pairs of toe socks I couldn’t wear on a regular basis and a haunting realization that the object of my affection didn’t love me back.
I denied this for many years. I still have all my toe socks, neatly put away in my sock drawer, unused except on odd occasions. This morning I put on a pair because I was out of clean socks and my feet get so cold these days; I’m wearing them now. I haven’t had to adjust them because I haven’t walked around in them, but as soon as I get up to put my coffee cup in the sink, they’ll disappoint me again.
What will it take for me to admit we’ve failed, toe socks? What will it take for me to be able to quit you?
Still I imagine that someday we can make it work. Maybe if, in my knitting adventures, I learn how to knit toe socks I can make a pair that will fit me properly, that won’t slide off my toes, one by one, that will go up to my knees. Maybe I will find a company that makes them custom for people. Maybe my feet will magically shrink. Maybe I’ll become a manic pixie dream demigirl if I watch enough movies that feature them and then it won’t matter if toe socks fit me anymore.
I hate to be a failure at anything, and relationships are no exception. I’ll keep trying to make it work with toe socks. We haven’t tried couples therapy yet, after all. There are still options. There’s still hope.
I want to believe in us. I want to believe that, someday, my toe socks won’t slide off my pinky toe, then the toe next to it, then all the way down the line until I’m looking for something to punch in my frustration.
I want to believe in a love that lasts, toe socks. Help me believe again.