• DRINK TO THE LASSES: Notes from a Woman's College Womb
    DRINK TO THE LASSES: Notes from a Woman's College Womb
    by Mary Beth Ellis
  • Twentysomething Essays by Twentysomething Writers
    Twentysomething Essays by Twentysomething Writers
    Random House Trade Paperbacks
This area does not yet contain any content.
« Omega | Main | Fourth Horse: People Are Coming to Me For Advice, About Anything »

Shoes of My Life

They had heels, but no straps; a pointed toe, but no rhinestones.  They were, in fact, caked with horse crap.  I was six years old and they were my cowgirl boots and they were the best, realest shoes I have ever owned.

Colorado is at its best in the mornings, as were my boots; six o’ clock in the morning, and I’d scrape the heels over the boards on the porch of the cabin.  Six AM is a horror in Ohio in February when there is first grade to attend; but in Colorado, in the pine trees, I knelt up on the fold-out bed my sister and I shared, searching for the first glow of the sunrise.  Was it tomorrow yet?  What adventures would the little quarter horse and I have today?  

Like all real cowgirls, I accessorized well— a plastic white cowgirl hat tied on with a shoestring, a face full of sunblock and a Barbie poncho tied to the saddle.  None of it matched and none of it mattered.  Boots make a suburban girl a rider, the curve of the heel perfectly suited to rocking forward against the weathered wood of the corral, seeking out the saddle which weighed as much as I did.  Thick tube socks were pulled up and over the outer edges, and a few months later, I would pull them over tiny tennis socks on Christmas morning, running and skidding through the living room on a sled of discarded wrapping paper.  I preferred the saddle.

A couple of decades later, over the quick taps of my keyboard, my father cleared his throat occasionally, every now and then calling for orange juice or DVR instruction or a bit of a Snickers bar, raising his voice so that I could hear him over the blaring newscast.  Schooled as I am in the drama of nonfiction writing, I fully expected a dying man to make entirely different noises—a waning cough, perhaps, or words of wisdom he wished to pass on to the children I’ve yet to bear. 

But stage four sarcoma doesn’t necessarily lead to coughing, even in the worst of the post-chemotherapy bouts.  So, instead: More ice, how do I get this show to come back on, where did the mini-kind with the dark chocolate go.  Last year at this time I wore sneakers, for these were sneaker- style requests:  Everyday, requiring quick reaction, wearing on the whole.  My boots would have skidded on the hard tile floor, marking up my mother’s careful cleaning job and further forcing us into a non-Colorado place. 

But it was in those boots that I truly first met my father. I trotted along behind him on a family ride, he in his great leather pair, which he sorrowfully also pulled on to shovel the driveway so that I could reach the hated schoolyard. And for the first time in all my six years, in my entire Catholic life, I heard him speak of a higher power. 

And that was the end of it, nothing before or since.  Not when his first grandchild was born, not when the oncologist looked at him over his glasses and said, “It’s spreading more than we thought it would.  We’ll try radiation.”  The sneakers get orange juice, but the boots got God. 

I don’t have much occasion to wear cowgirl boots these days; therefore, I own two pairs.  I cannot tell you where they originated from.  Pure, unadulterated wistfulness, I’m thinking; Colorado is approximately as accessible as Mars to a freelance writer and her swathed- in- student- loan debt husband.  And yet in my closet there’s a black pair of boots, touched up by Sharpies, and a fancy stitched version.  I wear them both, and I’m faking. 

The boots know I’m faking.  I’m not going anywhere near a horse in these things and they know it.  The white plastic cowgirl hat had more integrity.  So half of the fancy stitched version tried to run away once; after moving for the (fourth? Fifth?  They’ve run together, like melted ice cream, these cross-country hauls) bazillionth time in three years, one boot vanished.  I looked and looked for weeks—was it left in Virginia?  Had I dropped it somewhere on the highway between DC and my parents’ home in Ohio?  Had my husband’s new job assignment in Oklahoma City simply eaten it alive, faux leather and all?

But the day before we left for the next move (again, some more) I found the missing, buried beneath the landlady’s pillball-y sheets, staging a sit- in against these outrageous outings to college classrooms and trips to McDonald’s, all of it an insult against the original kid- sized pair, the ones which don’t fit anymore and never will again.

Every now and then, as Josh The Pilot and I moved into a new town or I drive for miles of flat, mountainless highway to take another turn sitting beside my father’s rapidly vanishing body, I'd see a sprinkle of women’s boots on display.  Mostly, they’re those whorey pleather knee length things that cost a couple of paychecks and would disintegrate if a horse looked at them sideways.  And if we passed through a Western city, I'd find myself amongst racks of bewildering, brightly colored boots, studded from the ostrich skin from which they came, dyed an impossible pink or turquoise, proper only for an Autotuned, bleached-blonde pop-country singer, fake fake fake. When I fake it as a cowgirl, I prefer to do so as authentically as possible.

I have a pair of sparkly red heels my husband saw me pick up, try on, and replace once I saw the price tag.  I wore them to a 2008 Inaugural Ball.  They are gorgeous.  They are strappy.  They are the kinds of shoes not even my Barbie had in her closet.  Barbie can suck it. 

But I’m a real woman now, and all I want is my cowgirl boots.

EmailEmail Article to Friend