The Shoe Ritual

When I was a child and learned to dress myself, I’d run around with one shoe on,

the other foot trailing with a sock slipping around the ankles. I’d walk with an uneven limp,

and growl “yeeesss, maaassster,” like I had seen an Igor-type do on T.V.,

one foot elevated inside a shoe, the other dragging behind in mock disability.

When my mother caught me with one shoe on my foot and the other in my hand, she said:

“Put that back on. It’s bad luck.”

“But why?”

“Because it is.”

And so I did.

 

When I was older, I’d often wander around the mall with my mother. Between racks of fabrics

and makeup counters, and hanging purses, and silver jewelry,

we’d always end up in the shoe section last. I’d slip off my shoe and scrunch my face;

it looked old—traveled—next to the ones in the box; tissue paper balled up inside,

the soles crisp with no traces of the world’s smudge. I put on one new shoe and strutted

towards the mirror, my other socked foot on tiptoes to balance my walk.

“Come back here and put the other shoe on. It’s bad luck,” she said.

“But why?”

“Because it is.”

And so I did, before she added:

“It means you’ll be widowed young. So just put it on.”

No eye contact, no smirk, no I got you, didn’t I? She looked down the whole time, focused on my laces.

 

When I was teetering on adulthood—on madness—and still waking from recent dreams

that treaded the line between fiction and reality, I’d sit on the edge of my bed,

silently urging myself to get dressed. To move. To do anything that marked the start of the day.

It was ritualistic, numbingly simplistic. Not so much the sitting as the thought process that followed it.

The putting on of the pants. The socks. And finally, the shoes. Squeezing both feet in quickly,

not one step to be made with one un-shoed foot.

The empty routine mocked my rationality, and I hated the exposure to the nonsensical,

at such a young age. This is the stupidest thing, my mind would tell me. And I’d nod solemnly.

 

When I was well into adulthood, silently navigating the gales, I tempted fate.

Little by little, I’d take a half step. Then a full step. Each morning after getting dressed.

Which shoe looks best, I’d ask myself as I whirled in front of the mirror; one foot in a heel,

the other tipped on the big toe just to level out. I’d take a half step forward, before going back again,

hoping the universe worked with rewinds.

Maybe just this one time, I’d rationalize. It’ll be okay to walk.

Like someone lacking common sense or education—lacking the means to reason—worry

would crowd my mind with what-ifs, becoming the personification of “one step forward,

two steps back.”

His face would come to mind and I’d play out our whole happy life in the moment it took me to do the shoe’s strap.

I’d tear up at the thought of his untimely death, all because of my obstinate nature rejecting folklore; superstition.

Because I never learned to put on both of the damn shoes.

 

I struggle with obeying, but also with disobeying. But the shoe ritual.

I’m good at the shoe ritual. I’m good at replaying moments in my head, until words break down

to hollow echoes and leave me with nothing more than a feeling that it must’ve meant something, sometime.

 

I get dressed for work. In goes one leg, then the other, before I sit back down again

on the edge of my bed, waiting for a collision or an upheaval to mark the start of the day.

My shoes are sloppily toppled over each other, waiting for action. I pull one over with my big toe

and slip my foot in, before standing up to examine the outfit.

Put that other shoe on, my eyes say.

But why?

Don’t play with fire, I answer myself. You’ve already lost him.

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