How I Lost a Toe in ‘Nam

Originally posted on January 19, 2011 at 3:58 PM

And by ‘Nam, I mean nom. Buttons is viscous. No, not really (well, she is, but that’s not really how I lost a toe). But I DID lose a toe! Let me take you back to the tunnels of the Vietcong in 1967. I mean the Bryan-College Station, Texas “Cross-Town Show-Down” of 2002.

The stakes were high (I have no idea if the stakes were really high). Whichever of these two high school football teams won this game would be the champions of the world (I doubt that’s true). It was a particularly cold, bitter night in late November (it could easily have been October or early December), and the Bengal Belle drill team was prepped to dance their hearts out. (What? That part was true.)

Back in the sweaty days of July, some high-ranking official on the dance team had succumbed to a version of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or maybe a case of the Mondays. Either way, I’m sure a surf-themed dance routine seemed like a great idea at the time. Hey, it was hot then, right? And beachy? And, well, everyone loves the Beach Boys, don’t they? (I think so.) Somehow in that humid, stagnant, sweltering summer’s day, one or more officers choreographing that year’s routines overlooked the fact that we would be doing this routine in late fall. They put together a field-routine with surfboard props, complete with a kiddie swimming pool and adorable, bright-colored sarongs for the dancers to wear.


I wish I had accurate data on how cold it was that night, but the Vietcong infiltrated our systems and destroyed all of our records. But it was cold. Really, really cold. Cold enough so that sitting in the bleachers before half-time, we were allowed to wear our full warm-ups plus letter jackets and even maroon and white blankets if we had them. Parents snuck by and brought lucky girls hot chocolate from the concession stand. I shivered in my sequined cowgirl hat and white dance boots (Not really – we weren’t wearing those at this game. But we usually did).

Then it was time to strip down to our skimpy summer-esque costumes and give the crowd a show. Or at least the part that hadn’t gotten up during half-time to get a hotdog. Our costumes? Essentially, a black lycra long-sleeve leotard, black lyrcra tights, and a cotton sarong about the length of a mini-skirt. To simplify: spandex. And lots of makeup. And no shoes.

No shoes!

Now, as cold as it was that night, the ground was colder, and my feet were naked. I’ve always had poor circulation. My feet almost instantly went numb – before we even got out on the field. So we marched out there in our silly costumes, two girls to one wooden surfboard prop, got into position, and waited for our music. And waited. And waited.

Something was wrong with the tape. We ended up standing out there on that frozen field, barefooted, for about ten minutes. Ten minutes! That’s a really long time to be holding a single position, period. Add a couple thousand eyes watching you (I have no idea how many people were actually in the stands), and it’s a really long time. Be nearly naked in the biggest cold-front the town has ever seen (a blatant lie), and it’s downright deadly.

Finally, the music came on (“If everybody had an ocean / Across the U.S.A.…” and the Bengal Belles strutted their stuff as we were always wont to do. The audience applauded extra loud for our overcoming the ten-minute wait of awkwardness, and we retreated to the stands to put back on our warm-ups. But alas, my friends, by then it was too late.

My toe had died.

And try as I might to resuscitate it, it was no use. The “pointer” toe on my left foot had turned as white as a ghost, and there was no warming him back up. To this very day, if I get even slightly chilled, Twinkle is the first toe to die. My husband (a First Responder, I might add) says Twinkle got superficial frostbite that night. Poor little guy. He was a good toe. RIP, (van) Twinkle. To this day, I still twitch when “Surfin’ USA” comes on the radio (nah, not really).

And that’s how I lost my twinkle-toe on the battle—er, dance field. And I didn’t even win any medals.

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