Sometimes nostalgia is overrated. Sometimes it hands a person a messy gift of sadness, feelings that had once been wrapped up tight and put away far back in the memory bank. Not long ago, our modern social Machiavelli Facebook decided nostalgia is good for all of us. We are now given reminders of a life abundant in joy, a steady stream of visual happiness from years past. Facebook assumed that all of our posted photos are just a part of the carefully curated lives we present on the internet. Yet, often the story behind the snapshot is deeper, darker. It is a story hard to read again. Sometimes, that story has an ending we need to read again.
Yesterday, my Facebook page opened with one of my old photos festively framed by cutesy graphics and a banner that read “4 Years Ago Today.” The photo seems harmless: A row of three shiny pairs of boots lined up along the floor of the Nordstrom shoe department. Two pairs are black and one a beautiful glowing shade of warm cognac. My photo caption states: “Entering Dangerous Territory.”
I recall this day, waking early to navigate off the little island where I was living, to meet my best friend in Seattle for the day. I recall waking up with a boulder in my chest instead of a heart, swallowing spoonfuls of tasteless yogurt, willing myself not to throw up. I recall my eyes tight and dry from a night of fighting tears. It was the day after my boyfriend of a year and a half had decided to call things off. It was the day after I had hurried through his house on the mainland, doing my best to gather my extra toothbrush and shampoo, the old shoes I kept for weeding his flowerbeds, and the clothes I’d just unpacked the night prior for our weekend together. We were a semi-long distance couple. I lived on an island, he on the mainland, a 30-mile commute by car and ferry boat. I found myself the traveler, doing the drive each Friday after work to his house, to craft a relationship in weekend-sized chunks. It wasn’t ideal and, at the time, neither of us was in a place to practice the kind of intimacy that doesn’t happen in a bedroom. Yet, we tried. What I didn’t know– what wasn’t said during those quick weekends–was that he couldn’t ask for what he really wanted, that he didn’t know what that was. What I did know, what I never said, was that I could ask, but I never did.
Regardless, when his faced changed early that Saturday morning, I knew what I was about to hear. My insides turned to liquid and my throat clenched back panicked tears. I shamed him with truth before I left. I shamed him for failing to speak up, for taking the cliché way out, for seeking cheap and easy rather than messy and real. Then I drove myself back to the ferry, back up the island, to my tiny, safe, solitary nest overlooking the water. The loneliness felt comfortingly deserved. Yes, let me be the dumped girl, in this rickety duplex, bundled in a hoody and cradling my laptop humming with Netflix. Let me pour deep, red draughts of anger and loss into my wineglass, gulp it up and later, drunk-text a couple of ex’s.
Instead, I moved about my place with that stone in my chest. I made myself take a run in the early-morning mist. Made myself eat breakfast. I dressed well and put on makeup. I caught my boat.
The boots were something unexpected. Never had I owned a pair of beautiful leather boots. And there they were, rows and rows under the warm Nordstrom lights. I was surrounded by the smell of rich fabric, expensive perfume, the sounds murmuring sales clerks, and giddy, shopping-drunk women. I was surrounded by people making choices only for themselves, nudging friends, posing a leg this way, a foot that way. And what for? I wanted to rebel in this space, scoff at the moneyed, the too-serious way in which women bargain with themselves, and the too-high shoes made for too-perfect feet.
But I didn’t. I felt suddenly very, very rooted to myself. I felt proud of my small-town girl common sense and my ugly feet, and my long drive from a tiny island. I felt proud of a one-mile run with a heart that didn’t beat right. I felt proud of the meager money I earned and the checkbook I kept hard vigil over. And so I turned my eyes back to the boots and chose three to try. I snapped the photo, smiling as I nudged my girlfriend, as we murmured over the well-constructed seams, the grain of the leather.
When I checked the price tags, I hesitated. More than I’d ever spent on shoes in my life. A decent chunk of one paycheck. My best friend looked at me, waited. She knew me well. She knew how my mind worked and that most decisions I must come to on my own, slowly, slowly. She also knew that logic and guilt are typically my guides. She didn’t put the boots away. She waited, inspected the soles, checked the zippers.
“These are my break up boots,” I said, closing the lid on the box containing the shining, caramel- colored pair.
My friend nodded and said “Those are the ones I would have chosen, too.”
No fuss, no drama, no mad giggling. We were women with strong minds, and big, sloppy, sensitive hearts. And now I had a pair of gorgeously strong boots to carry all that around.
Four years later, much has changed, but those boots are still my go-to favorites. To me, they are even more beautiful than the day I bought them. The shaft is shaped like my calf now, the zipper glides perfectly together every time I pull them over my jeans. The uppers are faded where my bony feet rub the leather and the left boot likes to pinch the back of my ankle at the end of a long day. They are weathered and need to be sealed. Yet every time I put them on, I catch a glimpse of that woman at Nordstrom. The one standing before the row of expensive shoes and deciding how she wanted to be for herself.