When I was five years old, my favorite thing to do was to wrap my toes underneath me and teeter on the tops of them, barefoot, back and forth from one end of the living room to the other. I found it endlessly entertaining, and thrilling, too, because no one else in the family could do it (or wanted to, perhaps).
To me it felt like a special gift -- like double-jointedness or being able to curl your tongue -- and I was proud of it.
Who knows what prompted me that first time, as I stood surveying our long, narrow living room, to brace myself on the back of a dining-room chair, balance on my curled toes, and set out across 10 yards of carpet. Like a ballerina in toe shoes or a stilt-walker, I used to lose myself in the joy of covering that distance in a completely new way. I loved the rhythm of it and the solitary quality it had: just me, my toes, and the carpet.
My parents must have thought it a strange pastime, as they watched their young daughter support her entire weight on the knuckles of her feet and walk that way for hours. But they chose not to interfere, to let me grow out of it naturally. There clearly wasn't anything dangerous about it, after all, except when I would occasionally run smack into a family member as I crossed from the dining room to the living room.
By the age of 7 or 8, I had discovered tetherball, two-square, and marbles games, which kept me outside most days until dark. I imagine my parents were relieved; I wasn't antisocial, and they wouldn't have to get a new rug because I was no longer wearing a path clear through the old one. My living-room habit had only been a phase.
Now, at 31, I find that my feet are among the body parts with which I am wholly content. Granted, they are too narrow for average shoes, and the second toes stretch out beyond the first ones, which like to poke holes through the tops of my work shoes. But these are minor complaints. My feet provided me with a way to be different when I needed to stand out; a way to see the world, at age 5, from two or three inches higher in the air -- a preview of what it would look like a year or so down the line.
Sometimes I wonder if I was the only youngster ever to have discovered the pleasures of this solitary occupation -- the delicate balance it required, the slight sting of the rug against my bare toes each time I took a step, and the satisfaction of knowing I would never be bored.
I might still be at it today -- slowly, steadily, traversing my living room like a swimmer doing laps -- if I hadn't found another solo pastime, one I have no plans to outgrow. My pen moves back and forth across the page in a familiar rhythm, the cadence of which was set in my childhood. All I had to add were the words.