I grew up in New Mexico, and spent all my time outdoors. Furthermore, I hated shoes, and eschewed them whenever I could. Especially in the summer. I learned early to deal with all manner of barefoot-related issues: how to cross pavement so hot it melted tar; hot to avoid being bitten by red ants; how to deal with goatheads.
Goatheads (also known as puncturevine) are prevalent in New Mexico. They are the red ants of the plant kingdom–they grow swiftly after rains, and are as painful to remove as they are to step on (their thorns are so bad they can puncture bike and even some car tires, I’m told). You quickly learn how to recognize their characteristic leaf and flower pattern.
With practice, you can even pick your way lightly through a sticker patch without too much damage, if you are good at it, by moving from bare spot to bare spot, and stopping occasionally to pull out the one or two thorns that have punctured the soles of your feet. I prided myself on this ability.
Once, though, I wasn’t looking far enough ahead. Somehow, I wandered into a goathead demilitarized zone. One minute I was light-footing through like a sailboat cutting through water, and the next I was stalled: surrounded by a field of green and yellow, filled with goatheads as far as the eye could see (OK, I’m exaggerating. But not much). Worse, the soles of my feet were already caked with stickers.
I stood there, on my tiptoes, trying not to stand on the stickers already in my feet, and yelled, “Help!” till my throat and lungs were raw. Then I cried. Finally, I carefully pulled out as many as I could get without losing my balance and falling over (into thousands more stickers). Then I picked my way through the sticker patch. Because that was the only way I was going to get out of that fix.
I think of that experience sometimes. What it tells me is this: you can make what seem at the time to be all the right choices, and despite that, sometimes, you get stuck in a really awful situation. And in that case, there is no getting around it. It doesn’t matter whose fault it was or what you could have done differently: the only way out is through, and on the way out, you’re going to bleed. So just get it over with.
(But it’s OK to shed tears — friends, it fuckin’ hurts.)