I’m leaving home and I don’t know if I will be back. Seventeen years old, I angrily sort through my meager possessions sorting the “going” from the “staying”. I have a plane to catch.
Still stinging from the decision forced on me days before the start of my senior year of high school, I throw clothes into the gaping jaws of the pale blue suitcase on the bottom rack of the ancient bunk bed.
On the floor of the closet I face the real challenge. Clothes will fit well enough in the suitcase but what about those items?
From one edge of the little closet to the other, standing cheek-to-jowl, are my shoes.
Boys aren’t supposed to collect shoes and yet it is said shoes make the man so for the first time I take inventory of my footwear which seem to be loosely arranged by mass.
In the heavyweight division, the undisputed champion is the pair of massive Raichle hiking boots. These are must-haves, even in the cement forest of downtown Denver. I can’t yet know the vital role they will play in the second semester, carrying me unerringly through the Sonora desert, Rocky Mountains, and beyond. Indispensible.
Black dress shoes, one pair. Cheap, worn, but well-polished. Going.
Black patent leathers, one pair, to be worn with the tuxedo which was the costume of the jazz ensemble I sang in last year and expected to this year. Shoes, tuxedo and expectations: staying.
New Balance tennis court shoes, which outclass my Goodwill-edition racquet (not to mention my skills on the court) by several degrees: going.
Black baseball shoes with steel cleats and white Adidas-style stripes. I love the crunching sound of the cleats on pavement even though it ruins them. Going but I doubt I’ll even put them on.
Converse All Stars, black, one pair. My everyday-plus-basketball shoes. Going.
Holding down the left flank of the formation is the limp pair of black Capizio ballet shoes I’ve worn for three years of Hiliners. A smirk wriggles across my face when I imagine people thinking I can dance ballet when they see the Capizios – I never called them ballet slippers, only Capizios. I love Hiliners and feel the Loneliness Birds hatching more stone eggs in my gut knowing I will never dance with my friends again. Going, but packing no hope with them.
These shoes don’t belong in the same closet together but to me they are one family. They are my story, they tell of the fields, the churches and cemeteries, the mountains, the courts, the stages I’ve trod – some might say trampled – so far in my brief, unremarkable, journey.
The suitcase fails to swallow the meal I’ve selected for it. I deselect items until the latches snap. No shoes were harmed or removed in making that suitcase close.