It was August. I dreaded this time of year. It was the season to buy new shoes for school.
My parents escorted me into Smith’s Shoe Store. The salesman welcomed us, and ushered us to a set of chairs. He removed one of my shoes, and he placed my foot into the special measuring device. He measured the length and width of my foot by sliding little levers. My father then whispered something in his ear. The salesman nodded and disappeared into the back room. He returned with a variety of ugly shoes and a catalog.
I selected a pair of shoes from the catalog. My father placed the order, and handed over a cash deposit. The salesman told us, “We will call you when the shoes come in. It should only take a week.”
I put my ugly, black, pointy-toed, looks-like-an-old-man shoes back on, and obediently followed my parents to the car. I prayed that the new shoes would be in before the first day of high school.
Two days before school was scheduled to start, I walked down to the mailbox to see if my new magazine had come yet. I could not have been gone two minutes. I came back into the house to see my sister hanging up the phone.
“Someone called for you. I told them you weren’t here and to call back later,” she said.
“What? I was just at the mailbox. Was it the shoe store? Are my shoes in?”
“I don’t know. They’ll call back.”
My stomach flipped. What if I don’t get my shoes in time?
Later that afternoon, the shoe salesman called. The shoes were ready for pickup. I felt my eyes light up as I asked my mother, “Will you please take me to the shoe store?”
I inhaled the aroma of the leather of the new shoes and the scent of the shoe polish as we walked into the shoe store. The salesman appeared within seconds. He opened a box and took out a cute pair of shoes. Now these were not cute like high-heeled girlie stuff. These were flat, tie shoes. But they were blue, like denim, and suede, soft suede. The toes were rounded, not pointy. No more ugly man shoes for me! I tried them on, and strutted around the shoe store, peaking at my feet in the little shoe mirrors. I felt relief, sweet relief. My feet looked normal.
I went back to my seat, and took one shoe off. I ran my fingers over softness of the suede, and smelled the newness of the inside of the shoe. My mother and the salesman asked in unison, “Do they fit ok?”
“Oh, yes,” I blurted out, as I clenched the shoe to my chest, terrified that they would take it away from me.
My mother paid the clerk, and I bounced out of the store wearing my new shoes. No one would know my secret. These were orthopedic shoes, with built-in steel arches, as my feet were not “normal” since birth. I had to endure a decade of saddle-shoes, man shoes, and just plain ugly shoes. Finally some designer had mercy on those of us who were not born perfect. I finally had normal shoes.
On the morning of the big day, I dressed myself in my carefully chosen outfit and I put on my new shoes. I was nervous. Would anyone notice my shoes? Or better yet, would nobody notice?
My friend Kim saw me in the hallway, and said, “Hey, those are cute shoes. They look good with your jeans.”
But the real test came as Chris, one of the school bullies walked towards me. Oh, no, what is he going to say to me? I held my breath. He walked by me without saying a word. I exhaled.
My shoes did not define me anymore. It was wonderful to be lost in the crowd, and to just be anonymous.