I love shoes. More than Carrie Bradshaw. More than Imelda Marcos. More than is within reason. Not that I have even close to the 2,700 pairs that Imelda had carefully tucked away in her palace, my collection is much smaller, numbering less than two percent of hers. It’s not the quantity. It’s the look, the shape, the color, and the adornments. It’s how they make me feel, no matter what I’m wearing or what crisis I’m facing, when I slip them on and walk down the street, sit in a restaurant, or even, huddle over my computer as I do all day.
For some time my shoe thing has not been easy. For more than three years I have been extremely shoe challenged. Nursing a neuroma on the bottom of my left foot has kept me flat a foot. It started slowly but steadily progressed growing from an ache into excruciating pain–from a nuisance into a debilitation.
When I finally succumbed to the pain and went to see a podiatrist, she examined the foot, watched me walk back and forth, and took x-rays. Then, while hovering over my feet she matter-of-factly ran through the litany of options. “There are orthotics. But, you’ll have to wear them; they do no good if you don’t.” She showed me a pair. Lovely, I thought. High tech plastic, very wide with lots of arch support. I could not think of a single pair of my shoes that I could wear when using these rigid feet braces.
“There are cortisone injections, up to three over a year’s time. Sometimes the injections are enough, sometimes not. Of course, you’ll have to wear sensible shoes.” She stressed the “sensible” as she looked askance at my brown leather Manolo mules lying abandoned on the floor.
“There’s surgery to remove the tangle of nerves. It can cause the loss of feeling in your middle toes and the recuperation can be somewhat painful, but it will cure the neuroma.” No feeling. I pondered the consequences of no feeling in my toes. What happens if I stub my toe and I don’t even know it? What happens if a sharp object pierces me and I bleed to death? What happens if the bath water is too hot as I step in but feel nothing until it is too late? Quickly, I decided that “no feeling” was not for me.
On the other hand, I had to do something. The constant torment had given me a severe limp. I never knew when a zing of intense pain would bring tears to my eyes. Even walking a couple of blocks was torture. Running was out of the question. I decided to take the path of orthotics, cortisone injections, and sensible shoes.
The podiatrist recommended several styles of running shoes that I should wear morning to night with the custom-made orthotics. I blanched. Running shoes are for running. There’s no way I am going to use them all day long I thought as I looked down at her feet. Poking out of the bottoms of her hospital green scrubs were, what else, running shoes. I said nothing but resolved to find a pair of every day shoes that were both wide enough for the orthotics and not too repugnant.
With the passing months and each cortisone injection, the neuroma’s hold on me lessened. I religiously (and sadly) wore my orthotics in my running and walking shoes and stayed flat on the ground for special occasions.
After a year I abandoned the ghastly but sensible every day shoes.
And although still grounded, my shoe appetite indulged in elegant and fun flats–gold, bronze, and pewter ballerinas and no-heeled gladiator sandals. Everyday I thanked the shoe goddess of Seventh Avenue for bringing these styles to market at the precise moment I needed them. Once again I could wear beautiful shoes. My shoe life was reviving.
It has been good (not great) until now, but signs of dangerous change have been emerging. As Bill Cunningham in his New York Times video On the Street said, “The shoe is the force of fashion at this moment. The higher and most treacherous heel is the one that everyone wants.” As I watched his video I thought, that’s the one I want too. But, I haven’t been in a shoe with a heel over and inch in two years. Can I do this? Is this the moment, I asked myself?
The next thing I knew I was in one of my favorite shoe stores, In Her Shoes. Let me interject that this is not your typical fashion conscious shoe store. It is much more. It is a women-helping-women fashion conscious shoe store giving 100% of its profits to the Global Fund For Women.
High heels and tall thigh-high boots were everywhere. I spotted a pair of high, lace up, cutout red suede heels. Those I thought. Those are the ones. Next to them was a sister pair in black. Black or red? I circled several times asking myself black or red when underneath what I was really pondering was whether to try at all. It’s silly for me to even try them on. I’m sure my left foot will remind me within seconds that heels are never more for me. But then, I won’t know if I don’t try.
While my interior monologue went on and on the sales woman was, thankfully, busy in the back. Every now and then called out. “Let me know if I can help you with anything.”
“Thank you I shall,” I replied. Should I try them? No. Yes. No. Yes.
“I’d like to try these red ones in 9 1/2,” I called.
She brought them. I put them on. I stood up. I can stand I told myself. Wow, that’s good. Can I walk? I can walk. But for how long? Hmm, do I really need to stand in them for long? Not really. I’ll wear them to the dinner party on Saturday night. It’s a sit-down affair. I’ll be fine.
What about the color? Red is fun, but black is more me. But, I want red to be me, too. I want to be more fun, I thought.
“Can I try on the black ones?” I asked the woman.
They were stunning. I walked around the store several more times. I sat and looked down at my feet. I closed my eyes and called out, “I’ll take the black ones.”
“They’re amazing,” said the woman.
“Yes, they are,” I agreed.
On Saturday evening I got ready for the dinner party, dress, hair, make-up, jewelry, everything but the high heels. I’ll just wait until the last minute I thought. When the last minute came, I slipped them on. They’re so tall. Were they this tall in the store I asked myself? They were amazing.
The first ten minutes, as I greeted quests, were no problem. But, standing on the stone patio for before-dinner-drinks, I shifted from foot to foot. I mingled. I chatted. I laughed. Don’t go there I told myself. It will be fine. No, it won’t. Yes, it will. I lasted a little more than an hour. At that point, I couldn’t put any weight on my left foot. I gave in to the pain. Excusing myself, I slipped off the high-heeled beauties and slipped on a pair of demure black flats.
The next day, my friend, Silvia, emailed me. “Mary – you looked soooo hot – excuse me! Shouldn’t have changed your shoes btw.”
And, of course, she was right.
All original content copyright 2009 Mary E. Slocum