This month's "Readers Write" prompt at the Sun is "Shoes." Here is my short contribution.
When I was 13, every cool kid in my school wore brown, six-eye Doc Martens. The specifications were important. Black “Docs” meant you were goth. Twelve-eye Docs meant you were weird. But six-eye, brown Docs meant you were preppy, cool.
I didn’t own a pair.
Never mind that my hair was two colors -- the result of a bad Sun-in Highlight job and ever-emerging roots -- or that I was bossy and awkward. Never mind that I tucked in my t-shirts or that my mother still applied my makeup in the morning. My entire future would be changed, I thought, if I owned a pair of brown six-eyes.
I knew we couldn’t afford a pair. The cheapest pairs cost more than $100, and my parents had filed bankruptcy. They owed thousands of dollars in medical bills. My mother hadn’t bought a new pair of shoes for herself in half a dozen years.
I didn’t ask for Docs, but I must have talked about them because one Saturday morning, my mother woke me up early. “Get dressed,” she said. “We’re going to the mall.”
She took me straight to Gadzooks, an alternative store filled with Mossimo t-shirts and Girbaud jeans. She kept walking until she reached the back of the store where the Docs -- every color and size I could imagine! -- lined the wall.
“What size are you? Six?” she asked.
If I had been a better kid, I would have demurred or at least promised to do extra chores. But I wasn’t that kind of daughter. I wanted -- deserved to be, I thought -- popular.
“Yes, size six,” I said.
I wore the shoes to school on Monday, and no one noticed. Soon, every dork like me had a pair. No one asked me to the dance. No one nominated me for student council. My life stayed exactly the same.
I didn’t ask my mother how she paid for the shoes until years later. I was in college then and had seen a boy wearing Docs. By then, the boots were woefully out of style. But I didn’t care about style anymore. I had given up on being cool (for the moment, anyway).
I called my mom after class. How had she paid for them? She hadn’t eaten lunch for three months. She had gone without a coat. She kept the money under her mattress.
She didn't remember that my life didn't change. She just remembered the day she bought them, how I put them on and walked around the neighborhood with a powder compact in my pocket, proud as all get out.
"You looked so happy," she said. "You looked beautiful."