I have a fatal attraction to shoes. For a brief period, in my early adulthood, I strayed into a certain leather handbag attraction, but I never lost my lust for shoes.
A deep leather handbag, one that can hold a toaster comfortably, gave me a sense of completeness. What can go wrong in my world when I’ve got everything I need slung over my shoulder? Eventually the price of a good leather handbag exceeded my budget, and, like bitter lovers, we broke up.
Shoes have always captured my attention, with an urgent whisper saying You must have me! I was five years old the first time it happened. I begged for a pair of shoes like the older girl next door was wearing. “Can I have a pair of Beverly shoes?” I whined. They were red canvas espadrilles with long laces that entwined up Beverly’s ankles. To my five year old eyes they were riveting.
Buying shoes for the upcoming school year was always an event. We baby boomers dutifully tried on the shoes, then jammed our foot into a large x-ray machine in the shoe store. We stared at our skeleton toes inside the new shoes and thought of Halloween the following month. No one had a clue in the fifties what harm those machines might do.
In my early teens, I graduated from soft leather ballet slippers to pink satin toe shoes. Magic happened when I slipped my toes, wrapped in lambs wool, inside those Capezios. To pirouette on the tip of my toes is to know freedom.
Prom night was an initiation into the world of high heels. Having read about Cinderella’s glass slipper, my mind was wrapped around the rite of passage into the adult world, via the shoe. Somehow the shoe was linked to Prince Charming, and prom night in high heels and formal gown made the myth seem real.
My lust for shoes continued in college, when I got a summer job in, where else?, a shoe store. It was empowering to present the shoe box to my customer, taking the lid off the box as she sat forward in anticipation, her stockinged foot poised to try on the contents. I would fold back the tissue paper and present the quarry to her. Place it in her hands so she could gingerly fondle it, then flourish my shoe horn to help her jam her foot into the shoe. The customer’s desire to make the shoe fit was palpable. I could relate completely.
Once I joined the workforce, I wore high heels five days a week. I had them color coordinated to my work clothes, neatly stacked alongside each other in my closet. Hunting for new shoes to wear on the job was justifiable. And it satisfied something deep in my shopper’s DNA: to bring home the prey after a long hunting expedition at the mall.
My hunting nadir happened while I was traveling in Japan. Strolling along a bustling sidewalk in Tokyo, I spotted a pair of shoes in a display window. I swear they whistled to me, beckoned me to stop in my tracks. I stared at them through the plate glass window. All the street noises around me became muted. My blood pressure rose as adrenaline coursed through my system.
“Gotta have ‘em,” I said to myself. But first I had to calculate the U.S. dollar equivalent to the price in yen on the display tag. I walked around the block, doing the math in my head, trying to stabilize my breathing rate. When I realized the price was within my budget, I turned back toward the store and went in for the kill.
The shoes were flat, made of soft kid leather in a delicate shade of ecru. Across the front was a softly pleated apron of leather that lay atop the toes, like no other shoe I’ve seen before or since. Those shoes and I carried on a painful relationship for years. I tried to wear them, but they never were truly comfortable. They sat in my closet, too exotic to cast out and too unruly to wear.
But heartbreak over love affairs is instructive. I got wise in my old age, choosing footwear for comfort rather than glam. You could say the same for my choice in men. Good looks will fade over time, but a good fit brings comfort. My husband was a good looking man in his younger days. After nearly 40 years of marriage, he still looks very good to me.
The shoes I wore on the night we met were meant for seduction. They were open toe sandals with a very high wedge heel and straps across my ankles. They made me feel taller than my five foot frame, and the distance from my nose to the tip of my toes gave me a sense of stature, allure, a certain swagger. I wore a swishy skirt that clung to my thighs. He noticed my ballet dancer stance: one foot holding my weight while the other jutted out at an angle. It was the shoes, that posture, that attracted him, showed him I was comfortable in my body. He made his way through the crowd and materialized before me, his leather boots just a foot away from my sandals. As we talked, I turned to fully face him, toes forward, my weight slightly tipped toward him. Instant attraction.
I gave up wearing high heels when I got my job a few years ago at the library. I spent hours on my feet at the circulation desk or shelving books. My lace-up oxfords were dark brown leather. They had thick rubber soles and a flat, snub-nosed contour across the toes. They looked firm and resolute, just the kind of relationship I needed with my feet and the floor.
And today? This morning? I am wearing boiled wool slippers. Their felt soles swish silently across the floor. They are warm and soft. This is a love affair for my old age.
Mary Street lives with her husband in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains of northern California. She holds a BFA degree in printmaking and a BA in French. Her writing has appeared in toasted-cheese.com and Inscape Magazine. Jonah Magazine and Memoir Magazine will feature her stories in their upcoming July online and print issues.