When I was eighteen, I bought a pair of boots. They had seams and laces and soles that clicked loudly across my high school’s faded linoleum floors.
They were edgier than any shoes I had owned. I let them sit in their white box for a few days, wrapped loosely in tissue paper, before I worked up the nerve to wear them. But soon, pulling on those boots became part of my routine. The stiff leather creased and sagged until it was pliable and soft, folded around my toes and ankles and fraying into a fine hairy fringe near the zipper.
I was sitting under a tree on a warm spring day, talking to my then-boyfriend on the phone, when I noticed the first signs of deterioration: a long, deep fissure between the heel and the sole where the bottom had worn thin. By then, I’d been wearing those boots for two years and in all kinds of weather, from trekking across Grounds in rain, sun, snow, fall leaves, grass, and gravel to stepping in sticky spilled drinks at parties.
The second blow came during the following winter. I had worn those comfortable boots to awkward first dates, UVa’s annual the Lighting of the Lawn, noisy family gatherings, the library. In my wardrobe of plain dresses, band t-shirts, and denim, those boots made my look just a little bit more interesting. But as I sat through a chapter meeting one winter afternoon, I felt something shift and realized that the sole had finally cracked right in half, across the broadest part of my foot just before my arch.
For my twentieth birthday, I begged my parents to have the boots resoled. “I don’t need anything else,” I told them, desperate to regain access to my full wardrobe. My clothes somehow needed those boots; without them, I felt plain and awkward, as if I could somehow slide back to the days when my only shoes were clunky tennis shoes worn with ill-fitting jeans. After a week, I went into the cobbler’s to check on their progress. Like a parent driving through an elementary school’s car-rider loop, I protectively spotted what I had come for. My boots sat sagging on the floor beneath shelves of sewing supplies.
I walked on new soles through a freezing week of Greek activities that January, zipping them up over thick wool socks. Crunchy snow and sheets of ice couldn’t steal my balance. The now-scuffed leather took spring puddles and mud with indifference; it had endured worse before. In a crowded concert hall, I stomped percussion to Jeff Mangum’s acoustic set. He broke a guitar string; I broke the heels a little more.
Summer heat forced me to shelve my boots for a few months, but they were the first item I tucked into my suitcase when I began packing for St. Andrews. I carefully wedged them into a corner of my suitcase where I hoped they wouldn’t be too crushed.
And then, in the stuffy London hotel room where I spent two nights sleeping on the floor, I saw the first sign of unfixable damage: just above the heel of the left boot, the thinnest imaginable slit had secretly started spreading as the leather finally started to pull apart.
My parents visited this past weekend, and along with a bag of candy corn, a Reeses pumpkin, and two packages of dried black beans (they clearly read my blog), they brought a new pair of boots, identical to the old ones. Or at least, I thought they would be identical. Same design, same designer, but three years younger and fresh from the factory. They lack the scars of rain storms and stepped-on toes. They’re stiff and expressionless where they sit under my desk, laces yet to be tied. My old boots slump comfortably together next to my bed, longtime companions worn down by time and traveling.
My old boots are survived by one pair of gray Chuck Taylors, one pair of black wedges, an assortment of sandals, and two pairs of slippers. The new boots have yet-unimaginable miles ahead of them.