Sensible Shoes

The tall black stiletto heels, the sculpted leg leading to a short skirt, folds of silk draped in her blouse and hair falling in cascades of brown – she reminded me of myself at 18, although I’m sure she was closer to 25. I’d been living in Paris and fashion was everything, youth, beauty and fashion.

Paris transformed me at that age. The garter belts with shopping-bagsstreams of scarlet ribbons against black lace, fastened to hold seamed stockings in place. The lacy push-up bras allowing me to have curves I only dreamed about in my slow development. Men who followed me down the street entranced by my beauty; a beauty the boys back home never seemed to notice. Europe ushered me into an exotic womanhood; a womanhood far removed from my rural roots and the full bodied cotton underwear my mother provided, the multicolored ones with each day of the week embroidered on the side.

In Paris I learned to put on thick brown eyeliner that came to rest like little wings at the corner of each eye and to paint my lips alluring colors of bold sensuality. I was excited to move fully into the womanhood I had waited for as a child.  Paris was my launching pad. 

I stood near her, both of us rummaging the Goodwill for hidden treasures. I held my gaze a little too long, and she caught my eye as interest, connection, and smiles traveled through the aisles between us.

My shoes are sensible now. I never venture far from the ground or my arthritic toes would complain. My inner ballerina has left for the remainder of my life. But there she stood with all of life ahead of her, perched on those feminine control towers waiting to soar into the next great adventure, while I’ve become the older grey-haired woman wearing sensible shoes.

Surprisingly I felt no regret or sorrow. My life has been rich and full, my sexuality more deeply profound than the girl in me could have imagined. I didn’t know then, that it was not the trappings that made a woman. It wasn’t the glitter, the allure, or the package, although I loved it all!  It was self-assurance and lots of permission to be fully and completely who I am, whatever that might look like. Untangling my essence from the cultural web and the opinions of others has been a life journey, but in the end, the only one worth taking.

In the fire

I woke this morning with a start, a kind of fearful cold water thrown on an unsettled heart. I’m 60 years old now. I probably have twenty useful years before me. This is fact, reality, sterile and unbiased. What can a person do with twenty more years of life? I can watch my granddaughters become women and my children enter their fifties.  How long will it be before I lie in my bed like the mother I just visited, no bigger than a pipe cleaner, unable to stop my jaw from shaking, unable to make a fist with arthritic fingers, unable to keep the expression of pain and hopelessness from my face? How will it be to watch my friends die? To use all my energy to get out of bed in the morning trapped in a body that no longer serves me? Will my now distant children care enough to show up, or will I sit in my independence looking out at life unable to participate? And what of love and home? Will that be created in the next twenty years, or will I still be flying by the seat of my pants, the spiritual bird that can’t touch down?

I am in a time of fire. Everything is being burned away. They say, whoever they are, that a fire in the forest cleans the underbrush making space for new life. Don’t give up until they throw dirt on your face. Today I feel old, worn, dirty and tired.

I have moments in the day when I stop to weep from a deep and frightened place inside myself. Crying is something that has to happen now. I no longer question it. I just try to be gentle because I know I’m in the fire. I know the fire burns. I try not to thrash around and stir the flames. I put on a good face, breathe deep and wake with a cold and lonely fear in my heart.

written 5-25-05