Life is Short. Buy the Shoes.
In 2004, I spent an entire four-day trip to Paris wearing a completely impractical pair of boots. I’m a sensible girl, and in normal life I don’t trot about town in stilettos thinking I’m Carrie Bradshaw. But this was only the second “passport requiring” trip of my life, and apparently I had learned nothing from my bleeding feet in Rome a few months prior. It was Paris, and Paris required me to be something more than little Ramble Girl from small town USA. Paris required style. Paris required the seemingly effortless chic that can only be accomplished through extensive pain and physical exertion. Paris required a pair of knee-high, pointy-toed, black leather boots, defying all logic and comfort.
Perhaps I should explain that I grew up believing that Paris, above all other cities, was a place of beautiful things and beautiful people; a place where you went to find adventure and love and happiness. I believed this because my mother said so, in not these exact words but in no uncertain terms. My mother is an amazing woman who lives in a small town in the Texas Panhandle. The panhandle of Texas, for those uninitiated in such matters, is the part that sticks up at the top of the Great State, sandwiched between New Mexico and Oklahoma. My parents’ house is exactly one block down the street from the house where my mother was born. For most of her 70 years, she has lived not just in the same town but on the same block of the same street in the same town; but for about a year after her high school graduation in 1960, she lived in France because her sister had married an Army man stationed near Paris and she was allowed to stay with them. It was probably the greatest adventure of her life. It shaped her, and in turn shaped me.
I grew up in that same small, flat, dusty town dreaming of something more. Somewhere else. Some way to escape what seemed to me to be a lifetime of nothing, despite the nice people and the abundance of churches and the relative lack of violent crime. On occasion, my mother would mention Paris and I would dream of going there one day. She had a charm bracelet that she let me wear when I was in junior high, and one of the charms was a tiny Eiffel Tower, and I could see how precious it was to her when she touched it. I remember eagerly examining my mother’s passport as witness to her travels, which I now know was only ever used for that one trip. I of course did escape, moving to New York after college, but I hadn’t ventured further into the world until I met my boyfriend Scott. Scott was very savvy about finding good travel deals, and when he surprised me with a chance to go on a last minute trip to Paris, I felt like I had stumbled into a fairy tale. Me, going to Paris with a man I loved! I couldn’t believe this was my life. As my grandmother used to say, we “didn’t have two nickels to rub together” when I was growing up, and I had worked very hard for many years but still found it difficult to imagine that this was possible. With little time to plan or think, I bought some fancy lingerie and those boots and was on my way.
Of course it wasn’t all Happily Ever After perfection with singing birds and frolicking mice. I remember it rained quite a bit. The French people didn’t hate Americans necessarily, but they weren’t fans of our then-President. And Scott and I got into our first serious argument on that trip, an argument that would still bother me if I let myself dwell on it. But it was Paris. The Champs-Élysées! The Arc de Triomphe! The Louvre! So many wonderful romantic places that I couldn’t properly pronounce!
The one thing I absolutely had to do was to go up in the Eiffel Tower and look out over the city. Scott didn’t necessarily understand the importance of this particular tourist attraction, and didn’t seem in any hurry to get to it, but I was not to be deterred. It was the symbol of Paris to me, and I had dreamt of it since my mother described it to me as a little girl. This was it. This was my Cinderella moment, with my very own Prince Charming (despite his understandable but crabby complaints about the long lines) and my gorgeous new boots, standing in for glass slippers. I think my excitement won him over, and when we reached the highest level we shared a kiss and an awesomely cheesy moment, saying we loved each other. I think. I don’t think I made that up. That’s certainly the way I remember it, anyway – as everything I wanted and expected and more.
Had I done a bit more travelling before Paris, I probably wouldn’t even have taken those boots. I certainly wouldn’t take them if I left for Paris today. But they were a part of a special fulfillment of a dream, and I’m glad I was naïve enough to have that experience. I don’t know exactly what my mother did in Paris. I know she came home to Texas, and went on with life as she knew it. My mother is a realist, and she instilled in me a work ethic which has served me well. She taught me that women can be emotional, but most of the time we are also the ones who have to keep it all together, to stay grounded and to pay the bills and to make sure everyone gets fed.
But when I finally got what my mother considered a “good job” (meaning I wasn’t serving anything to anyone and there was decent pay and health insurance), she also gave me a little plaque for my desk that says, “Life is short. Buy the shoes.” I’m glad I bought those boots. I don’t remember my feet hurting, though there is little chance they didn’t. I remember being young(ish) and in love in Paris, and I remember feeling beautiful every single day. Most of the time we have to wear the sensible shoes, but once in while we get a chance to step outside the day-to-day grind. Once in a while there is something to be said for blissful impracticality.