Carolita Johnson

New York

In 1988 I bought a beautiful pair of fine leather Mary Janes in Paris, with an inch and a half high block heel, rather closed up and high, with a thin strap that buttoned on the side in an old-fashioned eyelet and button style. The slightly elongated toe made them look like a Victorian doll’s shoes. They were made for a long, skinny foot like mine and they were also the last expensive thing I’d bought before my brief modeling career dried up and I went back to school. And then, on a visit home to New York, my dad’s dog ate one of them.

My dad gave me money to replace the shoes, but they weren’t making them anymore. So, I got ankle boots by the same designer, same look, and was pretty pleased with them. They fit like a glove. I wore them to see my then lover, a Lacanian psychoanalyist professor type. After a lovely romantic evening with him, I put my boots back on, buttoned them up the side, and lifted my foot for him to admire. He said, “They have a kind of bulbous, boll weevil look.” I was appalled, but I pretended to think he was a rube who knew nothing about fashion. I walked home (alone) with my nose in the air, trying not to wonder if my feet looked big and bulbous in my new boots. I passed a couple, a happier couple than we were. My boyfriend wouldn’t even call me his girlfriend because he didn’t believe in these kinds of institutions. (Of course, I thought he was some kind of genius.) (I was young! In love! Inexperienced!) As I stood, feeling self-conscious and awkward, with my back to them and waiting for the light to change, I heard them burst into laughter and then hushed whispers. The light changed, and as I crossed the street, I was consumed with the certainty that they were laughing at how big and bulbous my feet looked in my boots. When I got home I put them away for the next twelve years!

It’s remarkable that even though I’ve moved many, many times, I’ve somehow managed to hold onto these boots, even though I never wore them. I had many opportunities to throw them out or resell them, many excuses to say, “I’ll never need this kind of dandified footwear again in my new life.”

When I finally dug them back out again for lack of funds for new shoes one year, I was well over my Lacanian lover, and also well past looking to men, or anyone, to define my self-image. I couldn’t believe I’d been afraid to wear them. They looked beautiful. When I started wearing them again, it wasn’t just that I still adored the way they look. It was me finally saying, “I’m defining my image here. Not anyone else.”

I wear them instead of high heels, sometimes, to say, “I don’t have to conform.” And I wear them with jeans and a sailor shirt. I wear them whenever I want to feel like myself, and not look like anyone else. I love that no one else has a pair. I’ve re-soled and repaired them so many times. They’re on their last season now, I think. The leather is all worn out, beginning to dry and crack. So I drew their portrait. I’ll miss them when they’re no longer wearable.

I have a saved search on eBay, just in case there’s another pair out there waiting for me.

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