Almost a year ago, an image of sleek, cobalt blue leather boots gleamed like a jewel at the top of my Facebook feed. The bright, monochrome booties, made by the Spanish company Camper, cheered me instantly, no small feat considering I had been experiencing throbbing shoulder pain and mounting despair for the preceding two months. I clicked the link to learn more. It didn’t matter that they were men’s boots. I have large feet. If the boots were too wide, I would make them fit! I would stuff them with extra thick socks if necessary. That is how much I wanted them. I believed I needed them.
These were the shoes that would bring joy, restore my energy and, as if I were in a fairy tale, reboot my life. I decided to get a pair. That evening, the Camper website wasn’t working, perhaps overwhelmed by blue boot lovers such as myself. Like a ravenous rat pressing on a lever, waiting for a food pellet to drop, I kept refreshing the site until the Internet gremlins disappeared and I could place my order. I couldn’t wait for these beauties to be delivered. When the box arrived, I opened it to behold the splendor. I carefully unwrapped the boots and tried them on. They did not fit, not even with super thick socks. Still nurturing a shred of hope, I ordered the next smaller size. Again I anticipated the delivery of my new, prized, smile-producing possession. After trying on the second pair with three different socks, even combining a thin sock with a thicker one, I had to face the sad reality that these glossy, supple and gorgeously bold boots were not meant for my sizable, but still female, feet.
Like a forlorn suitor bidding farewell to a love interest, I wrapped up both pairs and shipped them back. As I reflected upon this shoe drama — the well-worn trajectory of anticipation followed by the slide into disappointment, the time and energy diverted to returning the boots — it hit me that I’d succumbed to a targeted Facebook ad. It’s one thing to deliberately prowl for boots online or embark on a shoe quest by visiting stores. It’s sobering and creepy when boots — even ones I would have happily worn — trotted after me on the trail left by my digital footprint, as if I were the prey. Soon after, I radically curtailed my Facebook use. I tried to put the stunning boots out of my mind.
Recently I began a new fitness class that meets two mornings a week. Improvisational in nature and incorporating functional movement, it’s unlike any other class I’ve experienced. A few weeks ago the instructor had me and the other student work in tandem with a resistance band. With my back to my partner, I held the ends of the band, one in each hand, and my partner grabbed onto the middle of the band, creating resistance. I moved through the space, circling my arms, while he kept the band taut enough to experience a stretch. The novel experience lightened the mood so, when the instructor mispronounced my name (despite my coaching him), my partner suggested I channel my frustration by running. That is what I did, as if I were a kid chasing a sibling. My idealized self-image of being graceful, elegant and poised evaporated into the ether. Or perhaps out of necessity I had to smash it, because it had been suppressing my life force. I burst into rollicking laughter or, rather, it burst forth from me, as if it had been dormant for years, just waiting for an opportunity to emerge.
The unexpected liberation and visceral exhilaration stayed with me as I drove to the local market. While walking from the parking lot towards the store, I spotted a woman ahead of me wearing bright blue hiking boots. The color activated my shoe hunting instincts and I followed her inside, as if I were a curious animal on the trail of a fresh scent. After I found her near the bulk nut butter section, I approached and, without my usual hesitation, asked about her boots. She told me the brand (Asolo, from Italy) and that she’d found them on Zappos.
Having the right shoes or boots is not frivolous. A good pair can help a person feel as if they belong to their life, rather than living someone else’s. The shoes I’ve purchased in recent years, black, American-made practical placeholders, had never earned my affection. That my soul and my soles weren’t in sync had contributed to a sense of self-estrangement. Still, not wishing to ride the exhausting rollercoaster of anticipation and disappointment for the umpteenth time, I tried to keep my excitement in check as I searched online for these boots, whose color reminds me of the blue footed booby. To my surprise, I found them on several sites, including Sierra.com, which sold them for about half price. I carefully read many reviews to determine the correct fit. To be safe, I ordered two sizes.
When the box arrived, I couldn’t help but tear into it. If any of them fit, I wanted to know right away. If none of them did, I wanted to return them as quickly as possible. I slowed down long enough to appreciate the shoe boxes themselves, covered with warranty information in English, French, German and Italian, a touch of Europe, where my love of mountains began. To my surprise, the smaller pair fit! While walking around in them inside, I remembered that my first pair of hiking boots had been blue, albeit a more subdued shade. Those had fit like a dream, as if they were my equivalent of Dorothy’s ruby slippers. I adventured in them for many years and miles until the soles peeled away. Saying goodbye to those beloved boots had felt like the end of an era. Although I continued hiking after that, I never found an adequate replacement. Perhaps with these new blue boots, I can begin another chapter. It may have less to do with hiking and more to do with running…or moving intentionally…towards what I want.
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