I remember driving down to Target in Milpitas, California to buy a pair of shoes. I wanted guy shoes, guy shoes that would take me through my next year. I felt like I had lost so much that I needed one physical item that could permanently stay with me. Something that would take every step with me, rain or shine. I bought these eleven dollar navy blue slips ons with white laces. They basically were knock offs of Keds, but they were perfect.
I remember slipping my feet into them for the first time in Austin, Texas. I had put my clothes in storage in SF, and had two pairs of shoes with me: my guy shoes and a pair of ankle boots. It was so hot and humid that day. My hotel room was dark, decorated with maroons and burgundies you'd only ever see in an old church or at a grandparents home. I threw on a pair of shorts and a breezy top, laced up my shoes and headed to the parking lot. Each step felt like I was moving further and further away from everything I was intentionally abandoning. It felt so freeing. New steps, new steps that no one but myself and these shoes were taking.
I got into the Car2Go and I remember pressing my foot to the pedal. I zigged and zagged out of freeway traffic with the air conditioning blasted. Country music played through the radio and every now and then Siri's voice would chime in telling me to exit here and turn left there and in 300 metres, slightly merge here.
I pulled up to a rather empty street with a shady looking car mechanic shop. I consolidated Google maps again and it confirmed that I was indeed here, here at the river. I got out of the car and started walking, quickly becoming self conscious of my short shorts and bare legs and sweating face as I walked past some construction workers. Eventually I became so uncomfortable that I ducked through a shaded passage way of trees and there, there it was. The dry, dusty, burnt orange earth with lush trees and a never ending river.
I walked and I walked and the air grew more humid. I remember looking down at my navy blue shoes now coated with a thin layer of dry dust. It didn't matter that the white laces were now orange and the soils were browning. It just mattered that I was walking further away from my past, and closer and closer to my real self.
I crossed over a bridge, noticing a sign stating not to jump off the bridge, and as I turned back around, two men, their shirts laying on the ground, began climbing the railing, ready to jump. I smiled, they smiled, I said, "may I" and they said sure. I held up my camera and clicked the shutter as one after the other, they cheered and jumped off the bridge and down into the river.
I contiued walking, my back now entirely drenched in sweat, and finally I came to a swimming hole. I took off my shoes and bolted straight into the water as far as I could before my shorts would get wet. The water swished around my legs and I noticed my chipped nail polish on my toes through the murky waves. A group of boys began whispering and I saw them looking at my shoes, and so I walked back up to the shore and moved my shoes to a rock nearby where I was standing. My toes squished in the mud, and the water brushed some of the dirt off the soles of my shoes.
Later that day I came upon a canoe rental spot. I handed the women twenty dollars and zipped up my life jacket as she pushed my canoe out into the water. I remember my shoes getting damp from some left over water in the bottom of the boat as I paddled to the same bridge the two men had jumped off earlier. Soon the air grew so humid it was practically mist, and one of the biggest rain storms I've ever witnessed began. The wind was now in my favor as I quicky paddled back to return the canoe. I got out of the boat, literally drenched from head to toe. My shoes were soaked, and each step I made back to the car, I was reminded of why I had left, and why I wanted to be here by myself. The shoes kept me walking forward even when I wanted to go home.
A few weeks later I left the shoes in Tennessee. They looked terrible and smelled awful and New York was next. I abandoned the shoes as I had abandoned everything else in my life. Learning to let go...learning to let go of even the new things that I had replaced and wanted to be a part of me left me with nothing but myself. I had nothing to hide behind, and for as many times as I was going to replace the things I had lost, I was going to abandon them again in order to remind myself that never again would I bury my heart in things that were not truly me.