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When people are like nails in the floor

NailedI tore a hole in my favorite pair of socks today. It's not a big deal, really. Except that almost every pair of socks I own has an identical hole, ripped from the knit where the ball of my left foot rests. The culprit is a tiny nail that sneaks up from a hardwood floor board in our living room. 

I walk past that nail many times a day as I move from my desk to the kitchen to refill my coffee cup, as I pace the hallway while I put away clean laundry and collect dirty laundry and haul the vacuum cleaner in and out of rooms. In the morning rush, we sweep past that nail while pulling on boots and scrambling to find the lunch box, the permission slip, the Tae Kwon Do uniform. Before bed, we pad around it, hunting for the stuffed baby that has disappeared and retrieving the chapter book from the backpack. After the house is quiet, I skate past it to quietly pour a glass of wine, text the Not Boyfriend, run a bath.

We know where to step in all of that choreography around the nail. Most of the time. But all it takes is one lazy move and the nail yanks aggressively at a sock.

If E could curse, he would. Thankfully, he is an ardent rule-obeyer who instead yells out, "DAG NABBIT!" as he observes the hole in his tiny tube socks. 

"I HATE THAT NAIL!" usually comes next. 

He often warns visitors long before they step near the nail that it could get them, too.

"We have a nail over here that tears socks and can super-hurt your foot," he will say sternly, "so be careful when you're running or skipping or doing hi-yas."

Not everyone does hi=yas, but you know...just in case, the nail is a ninja sleuth, too.

I've tried to drive that dag nabbit nail back down into its hole. It goes, usually within an easy hit or two of the hammer. But it will not stay. A day or two later, it reemerges just in time for a misstep to grab hold of the softest angora socks or perfectly opaque tights.

I've tried to keep the nail burrowed with clear nail polish, wood putty, all kinds of glues. None of it can keep the nail from pushing its way up into our world (and feet).

Sometimes, the nail catches more than a sock. Both E and I have walked with bacon Band-Aids affixed to the soles of our feet because the nail was especially angry during a five-minute dance party break in housecleaning or when it is too hot to wear any socks at all.

The nasty little nail has an affinity for cheap flip-flops and slippers, too. It doesn't seem to rest.

I am afraid if I pull it out completely, the floor board will pop up or squeak or do something funky that I will have to explain to my landlord. I also know my attempts to keep it down are a futile exercise in frustration.  When my son complains or my sock sags or I feel a bare spot of skin stick to my running shoe or the insole of a boot because of a hole in my stockings, I often think, "I should do something about that blasted nail, once and for all."

But should I? There are a thousand metaphors for the nail that uproots itself in our path to nourishment, play, soothing baths, productive work, rest. But the one I think of most often in our home is that we all have nails that emerge persistently, pesky and present. And even though they are far smaller than anything else in the room, we can only hone in on that one thing that sticks at us and sticks at us and resists us and sticks at us. 

We can hammer and hammer away at those irritants, sweating and swearing (dag nabbit!ex) and feeling only temporarily triumphant, then repeat the process all over again a few days later. Or we can choose to turn that exercise into one of walking around the nail, ignoring its jabs as best as we can, acknowledging the holes it leaves, and then walking on. Focusing on on the sweetness of another cup of coffee, the satisfaction of turning all the lights out. Cursing the nail, but then dancing anyway.

There are people in my life, now and in the past, who are that nail to me -- resurfacing in frustrating and sometimes painful ways just when I think they are put back in place or at least, away. My ex-husband is one of those. He will not leave, nor should he. We share a son, after all. But there's no reason for all the prodding and hurt he brings up. I can't control him, just as I somehow have no real jurisdiction over that little nail. So it's on me to choose which exercise I will respond with, and for now, I choose as much as I can to walk around that half-inch obstacle and go on about my day.

The signs and scraps and scars are there, yes. But it's my house, my choice of how much power that nail has in the whole of my life. I choose for it to be something small. 

We can't and shouldn't ignore all of the pesky people in our lives. Sometimes, confrontation is necessary. Sometimes, we have to pull the damn thing out of the floor and deal with the consequences later. Sometimes, we need to put up orange cones of drastic warning, or even move to avoid it altogether. Sometimes, we choose to throw a rug over it. But when we can, there is peace in acknowledging that little sucker, saying, "I see you there, I feel you underfoot. But you won't stop me from going on." 

There is a calm under the breath muttering "dag nabbit!" and the warnings of its existence and the momentary sad face over favorite socks now marred. And I am working toward that calm with each step through the home I've made.


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