On the comfort and solace of shoes
Going where we fear to tread
I am sitting here across from a low shelf on which are perched six pairs of my high heels.
There’s one thing you don’t take with you on a trip to renovate a house in another country, and that is multiple pairs of heels.
You might take one pair with you (as I did).
You might wish you had taken a different pair (as I did).
You might wish you had had even one opportunity to wear the pair you brought (as I did).
After 18 months in Hungary, I’ve concluded that I needn’t have packed even the one pair. Sad state of affairs, let me tell you.
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Just the same, this situation doesn’t lessen my pleasure at seeing these familiar friends lined up from highest and brightest to lowest and most sober.
In fact, just last week, I bought a new (and even more unnecessary!) pair of heels. I mean, they were really a splurge and really unneeded, and I can’t even begin to imagine a situation in Hungary where I might wear them — where wearing them might be considered reasonable (because they are utterly unreasonable shoes). They are red and shiny and shimmery, and they have a rosette and an extravagantly shaped chunky heel. Words simply won’t do them justice.
I almost didn’t buy them. But then I did. And now, I’ve determined that there’s no room in my suitcase, and so I’ve reluctantly accepted that these fanciful, joyful things will remain in their box beside my bed in Canada for when I return in the spring. (The weather won’t be warm enough by then to wear them, but no matter.)
People say she’s crazy
She got diamonds on the soles of her shoes
Well, that’s one way to lose these walking blues
Diamonds on the soles of her shoes
— Paul Simon
Not that long ago, I went bowling. I think, for the first time in my life.
I do have vague recollections of being in a bowling alley, once upon a time — probably for a gathering my kids were attending — but I don’t remember the heft of the ball in my hand, so I’m not sure where I stand on the actual “bowling” part of things. Maybe I have, maybe I haven’t. Funny how facts cease to matter after a time. Anyway, given my blank memory, for me this was effectively my first time bowling — regardless of historical accuracy.
This was an team building activity organized with my coworkers, a chance to get together during my trip back to Canada. Oh, was I ever reluctant. I can’t really even explain why. I didn’t lose sleep over it, but I was anxious about meeting my coworkers in person for the first time, about appearing inept, about participating in an activity that was supposed to be fun but I suspected would mostly be awkward.
And *that’s* why I was listening to Paul Simon in traffic.
Oh, but before we get to that.
Bowling takes special shoes. There’s the teenager behind the counter with an assortment of horrid retro-looking bowling shoes who asks you for your shoe size, and then hands you an ugly and stiff pair to put on. There’s the awkwardness of changing your shoes next to your coworkers, the intimacy of socked feet.
The first pair was too big (and lavender!), the second a smidgen too small (and a greyish shade of white), but seeing as how the kid had to spray down each pair after someone tried them on, I decided not to swap again. I imagine they’re such weird shoes because they're intended to improve your glide on the high-gloss wood of the bowling lane (or something).
We all duck-walked in our rigid shoes down to the lanes with their authentically retro sitting areas, where we promptly split up into teams.
Some of us were more talented or more experienced than others — and it turns out, some of us were more competitive, albeit in a friendly way.
I drove home, in rush hour traffic, listening to Paul Simon. (Most of my music appreciation takes place while I’m driving alone; it’s a simple function of maximum opportunity and minimum interference.)
This song is one of my many most favorite Paul Simon songs, and it rarely fails to bring tears to my eyes.
Slip slidin' away
Slip slidin' away
You know the nearer your destination
The more you're slip slidin' away
I know a man
He came from my home town
He wore his passion for his woman
Like a thorny crown
He said Delores
I live in fear
My love for you's so overpowering
I'm afraid that I will disappear
I know a woman
Became a wife
These are the very words she uses
To describe her life
She said a good day
Ain't got no rain
She said a bad day's when I lie in bed
And think of things that might have been
And I know a father
Who had a son
He longed to tell him all the reasons
For the things he'd done
He came a long way
Just to explain
He kissed his boy as he lay sleeping
Then he turned around and headed home again
God only knows
God makes his plan
The information's unavailable
To the mortal man
We work our jobs
Collect our pay
Believe we're gliding down the highway
When in fact we're slip slidin' away
At different times, I’ve seen myself reflected in one part or another of the song, and my emotional affinity to its stories has meandered and changed according to my mood and life circumstances.
Most often, I’ve felt I was the woman describing her life.
But not so much today.
In fact, it’s been quite some time since I’ve spent any amount of time thinking about my “might have been’s” with any amount of longing or regret — or with anything other than mild curiosity or grim relief that what might have been hadn’t.
Today, it was the chorus that sucker punched me: “the nearer your destination, the more you’re slip slidin’ away.”
(Maybe the bowling had something to do with it — all those gutter balls and the way the bowling ball would veer just enough as it approached the pins to clear them, barely.)
You have to wonder: At those times when it does seem like you are getting closer to that place you want to be, is it that you are simply mistaken about your true destination? When you think you’re getting ahead, might you in fact be slip slidin’ away from something more important? And would you even know it?
Heading back to Canada, I was overwhelmed with anxiety and apprehension. But there was something about moving, physically, into the reality of my Canadian home that made me reassess my fears about it. It’s easy to idealize or demonize, to paint things as all good or all bad. The pictures memory and emotion paint in the mind are generally not terribly faithful to the truth.
What I’m saying is: My bed was not covered in a felt-like layer of dust. My belongings were pretty much exactly where I left them, and I cherished them just as much. Possibly more.
I was so very grateful to be back in my homewith my family and friends mere minutes away, to be tucked in a cozy corner of that place I wear as a second skin. In the mornings, I made my coffee, made the fire, and sat curled like a cat in my favorite couch, the familiar blue blanket folded over my bare feet, wrapped in silence.
I used to find my way up the stairs in the dark by counting each step. A total of 14, with the last one being slightly higher. Now, there are only 13 and I need to relearn some habits. The creaks are different, the tread depth too. But the new stairs are stairs my kid is building, and I’m happily and proudly learning to navigate them, even in the dark.
When we first moved into that house in Canada, my two oldest kids were still very little. We were renovating — demolishing most everything we could and living in what felt like a carcass. We would drive out to the house on the weekends and spend a few dust-filled hours bashing in walls and hauling out debris. We didn’t have a clue what we were doing, that much was for sure. We knew what outcome we wanted (sort of), and we doggedly pursued it in whatever direction seemed right at that moment. We took many wrong turns and learned a few things the hard way.
I was also in a silent custody dance with my ex. The kind of game of favorites that no one can win, most especially not the kids. I won’t dwell on it, but there’s one relevant bit: I have a couple of precious photos of my kid standing on the old stairs, small red hammer in hand, knocking little holes into the drywall of the stairwell. The photo shows clearly the incredible dust in the air and, through it, the somewhat grim defiant unhappiness on my 5 year-old’s face.
Some months later, he would slip down those same linoleum-covered stairs, and pitch over the side where the wall had previously been, to land head-first in a cardboard box and — after a couple of seconds — start wailing. My fear that his father would find out was perhaps stronger than my fear that he had broken something.
Later still, my oldest daughter was sauntering down to the basement, talking on the phone with her father, when she slipped, slid down the stairs, and tumbled into the weird open gutter space (a dark abyss of spiderwebs and felted dust) between the stringer and the pantry’s wall studs. Of course, there was wailing, and of course, her father was still on the line.
We have all of us slipped on those stairs at one time or another — or feared to. They were steep and had shallow treads. Passage was precariously secured by a patchwork handrail — a couple of boards nailed up against the supporting beans. The gaping maw of the basement lurked off to the side, a slim margin between you and the drop of yet another flight down. (Maybe only Husband hasn’t slipped on them, but that house left him with other, worse, physical scars.)
Are we any closer now that we’re here, on another continent? Or are we still slip slidin’ away?
Where do we fear to tread? What armor have we donned? And how have we prepared for the journey?
As with most of my posts, I start them in one month and finish them in another. That is the case here, and I’m suffering some anxiety over my use of present and past tense. It had been in the present. It isn’t any longer, but now I can hardly go back and revise everything to past… what’s an editor to do with such a slow and flighty writer? Dear reader, you’ll have to suffer along with me, I’m afraid. Or, you could suspend your disbelief and pretend you are back in the first week of January, 2023.
One of the reasons I got so terribly delayed is that I started looking for a photo of the shoes online. After two hours perusing the company’s website and almost convincing myself I needed an extravagant pair of boots, I conceded defeat. What’s worse, I almost fell down the same rabbit hole just now. Having more or less finished writing the post, I thought “hm, what photos can I add”… luckily I remembered my past sidetracking and won’t make the same mistake again. (No shoe photos for you!)
To my colleagues who may stumble on this post: I had a lot more fun than I expected, and it was such a trip to meet all of you in person. I had a great day. There was laughter and hugs and big smiles, and I felt grateful to be part of the team.
A brief search suggests they have wide, flat, symmetrical soles to provide better stability and professional bowling shoes are designed with one foot for gliding and the other for braking. (See? I know nothing about bowling.)
Here, I include acts by malicious exes, near-miss tragedies and accidents, wrong turns, and lost bearings due to poor judgment.
It’s true, I’ve got another home now as well. I slip into it easily, this skin of minimalist scaled-down functionality. Here, in Hungary, the broad expansive spaces are all outside. The ceilings are high but the rooms are small, and there’s nowhere to tuck yourself away unnoticed. Storage, too, is at a premium and demands creativity and a degree of flexibility (both metaphorical and physical).
I'm still waiting for the picture of the shoes. Wonderful!
Oh, wow! What a fun read! I loved it tremendously. Thank you, thank you, thank you! :-) xoxoxo