The Shoe Thief

By Jade Walker


I have ugly feet. It's true. I had great feet until I was about four years old. That's when I decided to become a dancer.

Ballet. Tap. Acrobatics. Jazz. Modern. I took classes for years, all with the hope of becoming the next Debbie Allen or Mikhail Baryshnikov. All those years at the barre studying my movements in front of an entire wall of mirrors damaged my feet into the mess they are today. In my teens, I had two foot surgeries, both of which left scar tissue.

Not a pretty sight.

Needless to say, I don't wear open toed shoes or those cute, strappy sandals women are so fond of in the spring and summer. I don't get pedicures and I wear socks all of the time. Shoes are my friends.

My ugly feet have rarely been spied. I'll occasionally show them to a boyfriend, but only after I'm sure they've fallen love with me (and thus can get past the whole disinterest in toe-sucking).

My best friend Amy saw my feet too, but even she only saw them after years of companionship. So imagine my surprise when in 1999 she stole my shoes from me. I was particularly shocked by this act because she'd been dead for several days when it occurred.

Ames and I used to visit this tiny beach in Florida called Gulfstream. Whenever we wanted to unstress or unburden our souls, we'd visit this private oasis on the Atlantic Ocean.

Normally, she'd take off her shoes (she had perfect little feet), and we'd walk down the sand to a rock dune. This rock sticks out over the ocean and is fairly uncomfortable to walk on when barefoot. Of course, it was never a problem for me since I always wore shoes.

We'd scramble up onto the rock and look out at the horizon. We'd cry and hug or laugh over the idiotic things we'd done when triple dog dared. Once in a while, we'd rid ourselves of the trappings of love or dream of a shared future -- a future that was never meant to be.

I'm not a religious person, so when Amy unexpectedly died, I simply couldn't deal with all the farewell trappings of eulogies and viewings. Instead, I paid my respects to her parents and then drove out to the beach.

I walked down to the water and across the sand over to our rock dune. It was warm and sunny -- typical Florida weather for a February -- and I found myself angry at Mother Nature for not providing more appropriate weather. Perhaps I was just mad at the whole situation.

I stared at the horizon and silently called to her. I demanded an explanation for her death. She was only 28 and we had huge plans she needed to fulfill.

Who was going to fly to New York City with me for the millennium on New Year's Eve? She and I had been planning that trip for eight years. Who was going to be my maid of honor when I eventually got married to the perfect man? Who would be there for me to shock and surprise, and share the secrets no one else would understand?

The sounds of children playing, dogs barking and water rushing toward the shore faded as I stood on that rock and silently screamed into the ocean's ear. Grief overwhelmed me, but I simply wasn't able to exorcise the sheer agony I was feeling.

I needed something to ground me, some way to keep from having a breakdown. I opted for physical pain. So I took off my shoes and tenderly placed my ugly, sensitive feet onto the rock.

The stones were uncomfortable, but not unbearably so. Once I realized that I couldn't even share this moment with her -- this silly little moment of independence from shoes -- I started to cry.

Amy was never one to let me dwell in depression. As someone who had endured a kidney transplant, years of painful medical procedures and more than one broken heart, her mere presence always reminded me of how small most of my problems were. No matter how much my life would suck, hers was always worse. Somehow, she never let it stop her from smiling and living life.

The tears fell in continuous streams and I was blinded by them -- so blinded in fact, that I didn't see this huge wave heading straight toward me. It crashed over the rock and into my body, almost knocking me off-balance.

With one hand, I reached down to pull my wet skirt away from my calves. The other I used to wipe the tears from my eyes...and was just in time to see the wave steal my tennis shoes and pull them away!

I couldn't jump in after them; it was simply too rocky and dangerous. Instead, I was left helpless, friendless and shoeless.

I was also quite stunned to hear the sound of Amy laughing in my head. She had this infectious giggle and the wind seemed to whisper it.

As always, because she laughed, I did too, and with that shared chuckle, I said farewell.

I constantly mourn for Amy. Not a day goes by where I don't think of her, or wish her to be on the other end of the phone. So much has changed in my life since she died, and yet, I would trade it all for just one more day with her.

Some people are never able to get past the death of a loved one. They wear their grief like a shroud and find it difficult to cope with the regular tasks of living.

If I were to behave in such a manner when she was alive, Amy would have pummeled me. Or, more likely, she would have forced me into the car with the stern prescription of a few hours at the beach. Knowing Ames, she also would taken my shoes so I couldn't leave until I felt better.