Photo Credit: Molly Aaker

Dauntless Soles

I methodically open each box, one at a time, eagerly looking for the round tin. Finally, I find it, swiftly walking back into my bedroom to find its partner — the brush I had nearly lost in my search. I quickly bend over and reach into the depth of my front closet, attempting to grab two pairs at a time. Then plop myself down, sitting cross-legged with a paper towel in hand. It is exactly two months after I moved across the country — a culmination of a multi-year journey.

I carefully fold the paper towel into a square and dip it into the hard, waxy polish. With my right hand, I pick up my first shoe in the pile, black leather boots, sliding my hand into the depth of the shoe to support it as I rub the polish.

“Leather is skin. You have to condition it regularly.” I recall my hipster shoe repair-girl as she assessed the damage to my favorite pair of brown leather boots that were now cracked, after just shy of three years of wear. On sale at $220, they were the most expensive items of clothing I had ever purchased and I had taken the added risk, at the time, of purchasing them online. Now, I was faced with giving them up or spending nearly half the original cost to repair them. I chose to give them new life.

As I rotate the black boot in my hand, attempting to get every scratch and discoloration, I imagine what caused the wear and tear. Miles walking the street of New York City, exploring, speed-walking to the subway. Speed-walking to my next destination. Opting for walking instead of taking the subway. Or walking because I couldn’t afford a cab. Pushing myself to walk a few more blocks further regardless of how tired I was. Always carrying a bit more than I could handle. My laptop, groceries. Sometimes with my laundry slung over my shoulder. The soles are worn down. I pull on the them, noticing that the glue holding them is losing its grip and will need repair.

Next, I grab a pair of heels, embarrassed at how badly some of them are worn. I picture myself running to interviews every time Google Maps miscalculated my commute time. Tossing them off onto the street to switch into a pair of flats the moment I left my meeting. Or those moments after the interview, when I proudly kept them on, showing off my legs and trying to get a little extra mileage out of my interview outfit. Hoping that someone would give me a second look. I imagined myself sitting in my favorite Soho café, furiously sending off emails to find other freelance gigs after my meeting. Inevitably snagging my delicate stockings on their wooden bench, ten dollars down the drain.

I own three pairs of black heels, each a slightly different shape and size. There is the pair that I could barely walk in. I wonder how this detail escaped me when I initially tried them on. There is the comfortable but lower-heeled pair. And the super high, only could wear them for a specific amount of time before I died — pair. I wonder if I’d ever wear them again, walking through the spread out, casual city that is now my home. And I question how they’ve survived countless moves and closet-cleanings.

As my hand grips the inside of the shoe, I can feel my life coursing through my fingers. I picture my slightly raucous twenties, where an evening out meant a short skirt, low neckline and three-inch heels. I’d pace my drinking, a calculated formula that numbed the pain while ensuring I didn’t get so drunk that I couldn’t walk. Somehow, I always managed to get myself in a situation where dancing meant jumping up and down in a way one should only attempt in well-padded sneakers. I remember the searing pain of walking home at four in the morning when the logistics of getting a cab for a ten minute walk felt impractical, wasteful and indulgent. The walk required near deep-breathing exercises to ease the pain. Or the next day when I first stood up and could feel my feet crying out. But the pain was an afterthought hours later, sitting at brunch with my friends, recalling all the absurdities that happened the night before. I place them down, newly shined.

I remember when the stems of my heels got thicker and more practical. A brief move to San Francisco and then Brooklyn meant that I didn’t have the luxury of walking a few blocks to my destination. My Halloween adventure in San Francisco had me walking in flip flops for miles, one hand holding my purse, the other, a bag with my heels. Back in New York, the shortest subway stairs in Brooklyn suddenly became treacherous and beyond impractical in heels. And the desire to risk my health for aesthetics quickly passed as I entered my late 20’s. Brown boots became my staple.

Finally, I grab my newest purchase; a slightly heeled pair of very practical booties I bought only a few months prior. They had served me well during my last few months in New York City. In Seattle, I regularly wear them, trekking the 1.3 mile downhill journey to work and finally broke them in.

I finish polishing them and collect each newly shined pair. I carefully place them back to their rightful place, putting the more practical shoes in an easier to reach spot. I pause, looking at my newly shiny shoes, and think, I wonder what new adventures await.