My favorite pair of shoes is a set of dark brown, leather boots. They stretch up to my calves, with a brass buckle on either side, somewhere between equestrian and cowboy. Whichever it is, a horse is most certainly involved, though I’m not sure just how.
I acquired them more than a decade ago as a grown-up Christmas gift, the kind of you choose for yourself and that doesn’t even get wrapped, the days of childhood holiday suspense long over. The boots were a risky choice. I was shy and so was my clothing: I gravitated towards knit sweaters, GAP jeans, and sneakers. The loud, fast girls wore Burberry underwear that peeked above their waistbands and oversize jewelry and Grecian, one-shouldered sundresses, or at least that’s how I remember it now.
When a new girl joined our class freshman year, quieter and more timid than even I was, I struggled to reconcile her character with her clothes; she wore lime green knee socks and carried fringed bags that swung when she walked. I saw her arrive at school with dramatically oversized sunglasses that made her look like a glittering and glamorous insect. My new boots were brand name and pricey, the toes square and the heels higher than I was used to. The leather wasn’t buttery or soft, but heavy, sturdy, and the boots made me feel strangely confident. I liked the clipped, thick-thack sound they made when I walked down the high school corridor, and how they inspired striped dresses and skirts and even burgundy tights.
I wore the boots my last day of school, and my first day of university. I had them on when my best friend from childhood told me she was pregnant our sophomore year, and when I took my first round of exams. I wore them for both my first kiss, and my first break-up, the boots slouched in the corner, immobile, helpless witnesses to my despair. I wore them the last time I spoke to my grandfather, when I whispered in his ear and told him, “I love you, thank you for everything.”
They’ve treaded on soil in Barcelona, Stockholm, London and Berlin, in the Netherlands, Scotland, Belgium, and Denmark. I’ve worn them to school and for errands and for work and to attend to the millions of habits from which my life is constructed. It will come as no surprise that the boots are a bit beaten up by now. There’s even a long dent down the bottom right heel that I got on the flight when I moved to Italy, my foot tapping out a nervous metronome on the seat in front of me.
Today, I spent my lunch hour researching how to treat leather, suddenly worried about the ongoing health of my boots. They got new soles recently, and when I retrieved them my delight seemed to surprise even the cobbler. I hugged my shoes.
Most recently, I wore the boots to Iceland. I walked around Reykjavik. I watched geysers and waterfalls in a place I once barely knew existed. I strode happily, and the boots crisply cut through the snow.