"With the certitude of a true believer, Vellya Paapen had assured the twins that there was no such thing in the world as a black cat. He said that there were only black, cat-shaped holes in the universe."
-- Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Retiring Some Old Friends

I get attached to things.

Dilapidated furniture that I no longer sit on but which I loved back in college.  Keys to places where I used to live.  Old mix tapes that I don’t even have a way to play anymore.  (That is rather alarming now that I think about it.  Note to self:  Must get cassette tape player and spend one more glorious night pretending it is 1988.)  Sometimes I get attached to things simply because of the memories they bring with them.  I keep my copy of Bridget Jones’s Diary, not because I loved the book, but because the book reminds me of my flight to London to meet my cousin and on-again-off-again boyfriend for the Reading Music Festival.  Looking at that book reminds me of driving to Walmart at 6AM to buy a tent (long story) and the hour-long delay on the plane waiting for it to take off.

So hopefully this will help you appreciate why getting new hiking shoes is (for me) more than just an errand.

Today I walked into the New Balance store on Burnet Road, held up a pair of dirty, frayed, literally falling apart hiking shoes and said to the salesman, “I bought these shoes here in the spring of 2001.”

“And… you want to return them?” he asked.

“No,” I replied, “I love them.  I want to take a time machine back eleven years and buy another pair.”

Instead, he showed me the current version of my beloved shoes and, after a record low number of times trying them on, I bought them.  (They are on my feet now and my feet are happy.  My feet had forgotten what cushioning felt like and are hurling muffled curses up at me for not going shopping sooner.  My feet, oddly enough, do not get as attached to things as I do.)

Now… what to do with the old pair…  (If your brain just said, “Uh, throw them away, DUH,” then you have no soul.)  No, I think I’ll toss them in the trunk of my car and tell myself that I’ll be happy to have them some day when I stumble upon the perfect hiking trail while wearing flip flops.  I’m pretty sure there is a 20-year-old pair of Converse in there somewhere to keep them company.

But I can’t retire these old friends without first reminiscing a bit about the memories they bring to mind. 

I bought those shoes during my second year of teaching, a few months before I took a two-week trip to Peru with my friend Maggie, my friend Emily, and a tour group that included five high school girls.  I bought them specifically for that vacation, knowing that I needed something sturdy and supportive and comfortable for all the walking and hiking we would do.  Those shoes traversed the streets of Lima and the stones of Pisac.  They carried my feet through the Amazon jungle and up the steps of Machu Picchu.  I wore them on planes, trains, busses, and boats. And they were perfect.
Me laying in a grave in the
Museum of History and
Archaeology in Lima...
wearing the shoes

Me hiking at Machu Picchu,
wearing the shoes
Me getting healed by a
curandero, wearing the shoes
There was one Peruvian memory that only my shoes and I knew for quite some time.   Thinking about it now makes me laugh, but when it first happened, for some reason I was embarrassed to tell it. 

Me holding a sloth
in the Amazon
and although you can't
see them, I can promise
you that I was
wearing the shoes.
It was about halfway into our trip.  I was having a great time, but was having trouble absorbing it all.  Every day was jam-packed with sightseeing and cultural activities and we never stayed more than one night in a hotel before moving on to somewhere else.  My friend Emily and I shared a room most places and generally hung out together, but on this day we split up.  She went to the hot springs with some others and I went back into town to do some more shopping alone.  Afterwards, I headed back to our hotel to put my stuff away, change clothes, and meet the group at the springs. 

When I got to the hotel, I realized we had only been given one key to the room and Emily had it.  I explained the situation at the front desk and the lady said “No problem” and asked for my room number.  I told her 217 and she gave me the key.  I had been in a rush, but the moment I stepped into the room, I thought about how nice it would be to just sit down for five minutes and relax by myself before meeting up with the others.  So I sat down on my bed and took a deep breath.  Then, several thoughts entered my brain in rapid succession.

Why did Emily put HER backpack on MY bed?  I didn’t realize Emily was reading THAT book.  Where is MY book?  What’s that sound?  It sounds like a shower.  Why are there men’s shoes in our room?  Wait, no, that was the sound of a shower turning OFF.  OH MY GOD THIS IS NOT MY ROOM IT’S SOME GUY’S ROOM AND HE’S ABOUT TO COME OUT OF THE BATHROOM!!!!

My new hiking shoes had never moved so fast and so quietly.  I grabbed my shopping bags and the key, leaped to the door, snuck out, shut it as silently as possible, sprinted down the stairs and then, with my heart pounding in my ears, forced myself to calmly walk up to the desk and say, “Actually, I just remembered, I’m in 712, not 217.  I got the wrong key.”

“No problem,” she replied and handed me the key to MY hotel room.

I will never know who was in that shower or what might have transpired if he had walked out of the bathroom and seen me sitting on his bed leafing through his book.  I may have altered the entire course of my life by high-tailing it out of that room at that moment.  But that’s ok.  Because things have worked out pretty well for me.   Here I am on a gorgeous spring day in Austin, Texas, and the biggest problem I’ve faced today is how to appropriately honor an old pair of sneakers.

I mean really, put yourself in my shoes.  

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