We did not have a lot of money when I was a little girl so we did not often shop at the best stores. We had plenty to get by on, but only because we were careful. One of the stores where we often shopped was Robert Halls over on West Boulevard. It was sort of like a K-Mart, I think, or Zayers. “Z. A. Y. E. R. Zayer,” said the flashing lights over the store. Robert Halls did not have a flashing sign high over the entrance like Zayers did, at least not that I ever saw. It wasn’t on a side of town we often went to after dark.
I remember the smell of the store, one of those indescribable yet distinctive odors that if I smelled it today I could immediately be transported back in time to being the little girl standing in that store. It smelled a bit like plastic and the dye from new blue jeans and just a bit of floor wax. It was a discount store and all discount stores have the same scent note in them.
On one visit there, I found a pair of beautiful blue tennis shoes. Now, I was very sensitive to the fact that we didn’t have a lot of extra money to spend and I rarely asked for special clothes. A lot of times I was picked on for not wearing Wrangler Jeans or for not having Nike shoes or some other popular brand of clothing. Most of the time I thought that was pretty stupid and, among the many things that motivated my “friends” to tease me, it seemed to be fairly minor. But oh how I loved those blue tennis shoes and I didn’t even care if they were expensive or not! They were a vibrant royal blue and had sort of a suede texture to them. Yes, they were in a sense, blue suede shoes. Blue is still one of my favorite colors and they were just about the most perfect shade of blue I’d ever seen.
They were not any particular brand and were probably not very expensive. I think I assumed they were expensive because they were something I really wanted. Regardless of the cost, my parents bought them for me and I was ecstatic! I put them on in the car on the way home and even though my mother said I’d get blisters on my feet I didn’t care a bit. I loved my blue suede tennis shoes and I was so very happy that day.
Yes, that day I was very happy.
However, the next day when I went to school I discovered that my blue suede tennis shoes were not, in fact, beautiful at all. My blue suede tennis shoes were actually shameful. No one understood their awesomeness. No one thought they were beautiful or even remotely cool. In fact, the blue suede tennis shoes seemed to somehow offend everyone in my class because everyone felt compelled to point at them, laugh at them, turn up their nose at them, crinkle up their face at them or even say, “ewww how ugly!” I was heartbroken. Clearly, I must have been mistaken. Clearly these shoes were not beautiful after all. Clearly these shoes were not cool or awesome because they didn’t think they were. I could not be right if everyone else disagreed.
They began to feel like blue lead on my feet that day and by the time I’d gotten home, they were so painful to me that I had to take them off and throw them in the back of the closet. I hated those blue suede tennis shoes. They were ugly. They were betrayers. They had pretended to be awesome, pretended to be beautiful and then, in the full light of the eyes of others they had revealed their true nature of uncool, unpopular and ugly. In turn, they had revealed to everyone else, yet again, my unwantedness, my ugliness. I felt crushed and betrayed by my once beloved blue suede tennis shoes.
The look of confusion and disappointment in my parents’ eyes was equally painful. They did not understand how uncool these ugly shoes were. They had spent good money on shoes I had clearly wanted not two days before. They had seen the delight in my eyes when I put them on in the car and they could not see the ugliness that had finally been revealed in them. They could not see the unloveableness that shone off their sueded surface and reflected in the eyes of everyone else; their too white laces, their wrong symbols on the sides, their obvious cheapness. They could not understand that if I had to wear them again I was never going to be able to lift my hideous feet because they had been encased in the blue ugliness. Ugly blue lead. They only made me look even uglier.
Their disappointment broke my heart, but I was a coward. I could not love them if everyone else hated them. I could not be right if everyone else disagreed with me. I could never bring myself to put them on again and I made up a lie to tell my parents that they hurt my feet too much to wear. The blue shoes sat at the back of my closet for many years. Secretly, I loved them the way that you secretly love a boyfriend you’d once adored but had caused you great pain. On the surface, you hate them because they hurt, betrayed, disappointed you and because you’re supposed to hate them but deep inside, you still love them. You wanted them to be something they couldn’t be for your sake. I wanted those shoes to be beautiful to everyone else because they were beautiful to me. Were beautiful. But I was a coward. They were not only ugly because they were unpopular, they were ugly because they reflected my cowardice and made me feel even uglier.
I look back at little-girl-me and I want to shake her, scream at her, hug her and tell her that no, it was all of the others who were wrong. If I believed those shoes were beautiful then they were beautiful. I want to tell her that everyone didn’t have to agree with me for me to still be right and that sometimes right wasn’t what it was all cracked up to be anyway. I want to tell her that the joy my parents had at giving me something I loved was worth more than the approval of a bunch of so-called cool kids. I want to tell her that one day I will decorate my entire kitchen blue and I will wear blue all the time just so I never forget that I can do anything I want no matter what everyone else says. I also want to tell her that those so-called cool kids were wrong about a few other things as well: it wasn’t just the shoes that were beautiful, I was really beautiful, too.