I own forty-something pairs of shoes, most of them high heels, the quantity approaching my age, although I still have a few years of experience left before the number of shoes in my closet matches the years I mark in this life.
I know women who pay no mind to shoes, dear friends of mine who call me Imelda Marcos on a good day, women who mark their lives by other means -- husbands, children, lovers and jobs -- who are perfectly content with a pair of flip flops to get them through life.
And that's commendable; to each her own. But I've dispensed with husbands, children, lovers and jobs -- only to find myself recalling the past by pairs of shoes.
Shoes are works of art. Sometimes better to look at than to wear and in the wearing, like Cinderella's slipper, but not some magical hocus-pocus transformation. Oh no, you have to earn the pumpkin-turned-limo. Becoming something other than the dim reality of your body, transforming yourself into, stepping into a work of art called your life. The grand architecture of self, the very core, pillar and foundation of being an ambulatory creature, much more durable than rags, and more important besides. The only means of putting yourself together and moving -- moving on, moving forward, putting it all behind -- taking that big step into the unknown when you had no ambition other than staying in bed, ailing a broken spirit.
Walking in a pair of heels and walking well is something most take for granted. Those of us who choose vanity over comfort know the challenge: if you notice I'm wearing heels, you've noticed too much. Even the most statuesque Vogue cover model will fall to pieces if she can't manage the walk. Heels brings grace, eloquence and elegance to the mundane schlepping, trekking and hauling of everyday life. I might have hips, but I've also got heels -- oh and the balls, do I ever -- to walk as silky smooth as my skin. I'll traipse right by you and you'll wonder what flower just bloomed.
Walking well in a pair of heels is not only an art, but the most comforting and empowering affirmation that each step is girl -- not interrupted -- but flourishing. I am woman through and through. I am me from head to toe and from flank to shank, specifically. Talking the talk, walking the walk, writing the words, speaking my truth -- but always, always well shod. Always gliding, slick and smooth, riding out the turbulence of life in a favorite pair of heels. This aint your skinny scare-crow cat walk model walk, baby. This is Charlotte Bronte and Virginia Wolf giving up the saint, ok? This is your real woman living the grind managing to catch your eye because she's pirouetted gracefully across the room, against all odds. She's caught your eye precisely because she flitted by unnoticed. The heels lend confidence. If I can walk this way, I'll live this way and give me a kiss, if I'll let you. I'll drink that cosmo straight on and cross my legs on the bar stool knowing exactly who I am because my heels are faithful companions.
I cannot imagine a life without heels. Somewhere in the struggle, shoes tell me it's time to get up and move on, in style, arch lifted and chin high and proud.
•The shoes I wore to my nephew's wedding, which always remind me of how Mr. Thinks He's Huge broke my heart, but damn it, as I live and breathe, I will wear those beautiful cyan heels again and with pride, walking hand in hand with a man truly worthy of my love.
•The shoes I didn't wear when, years ago, just after my high school sweetheart, who was then a gourmet chef in training, had just rented his first apartment. "Maria, hand me the thyme," he requested. "It's the lid marked with a T." But I couldn't see it, because at six-foot-one, he had failed to note that at five-foot-three, I wouldn't be able to see the top of the jar unless I was wearing heels. A love long lost still brings a smile to my lips and the scent of olive oil and onions to life.
•The pair of flats I wore to my first trip to Spain, just slightly ragged at the edges from walking on cobblestones, still bearing scuff marks from the dry terrain of the land where Don Quixote fought imaginary windmills. My feet shook after September 11 - - witnessed from a TV screen in Segovia, where Queen Isabela and King Ferdinand bade farewell to Columbus.
•And most importantly, the pair of pink baby shoes I brought at a thrift shop for two dollars, because I thought that if ever I had a daughter, she'd appreciate and be proud of stepping forth in style against all adversity, just like her mother. These little somethings send a message to a daughter I might never know:
". . . if only at the time you'd know all the steps you're going to have to take, all the shoes you're going to have to fill, the least thing, those little problems called life, men, careers, children, life ... little girl, at least do it beautifully, well shod and with grace. Your life, your shoes -- make it all a work of art. Tread light and proud ... put your foot down when you need to ... and know that you will inherit the earth, as well as a closet full of gorgeous size 8 heels."