The Writing Disorder




New Nonfiction


by Deborah Bradford

      This question was famous in my house. At least once a day, my father could be heard asking it. “Well, were you?” Obviously, stubbing your toe wouldn’t have been so bad had you been wearing shoes. Neither would dropping that can of peas on your foot. And Dad wouldn’t be shaking his head at you while carrying you out of the kitchen after you broke the glass if you’d had shoes on.
      My dad always wore shoes. They were like brown, loafer-shaped, sheepskin-lined metaphors for his life philosophy — if you see the accident waiting to happen, stop it. If you see a full glass of milk sitting precariously close to the edge of the table, move it; don’t wait until you’ve got a lap full of milk. If you see Hawaiian Barbie on the floor where someone could trip over her, move her; don’t wait until someone has tripped over her. (But if they did, it would certainly serve them right for not wearing shoes.)
      I pretty much hate wearing shoes. I feel cramped; I like to be able to wiggle my toes. But I don’t necessarily always want to be barefoot. I love socks – warm, fuzzy ones preferably. And not white. In junior high, I would only let my mother buy me super-brightly colored socks, like yellow, purple. And I would wear them with my friend Staci’s pink Adidas sandals. (Please don’t try to picture that fashion statement; it was hard enough to admit it to this piece of paper.) That would be the closest I came to wearing shoes for most of those years.
      In high school, my friends and I used to go around barefoot. In fact, we used to walk around everywhere with no shoes — to each other’s houses, to school, to the record store, to the mall, to pump gas. The soles of our feet were permanently black all the way through senior year. No shower was powerful enough to remove the North Dallas grime. Somehow, Staci once locked herself in a gas station bathroom, barefoot. She couldn’t even talk about it. I finally gave back her pink Adidas sandals.
      In my house, “were you wearing shoes?” was like some word you say over and over until it loses all meaning. Were you wearing shoes, were you wearing shoes, were you wearing shoes, were you wearing shoes, were you wearing shoes were you wearing shoes were you wearing shoes wereyouwearingshoeswereyouwearingshoeswereyou?
      Walk into a table leg? Were you wearing shoes? Step on a tack? Were you wearing shoes? Get a splinter in your foot? Trip up the stairs from the basement? Were you wearing shoes? Bump your head? Get a paper cut? Were you wearing shoes? A bad grade? A bad day? My father didn’t even have to ask it aloud. A simple look would do. It got to the point where, immediately after screwing up, I would ask myself, “Were you wearing shoes?” “Why weren’t you wearing shoes?”
      I ran away from home without my shoes. I would have gone all the way to New Orleans barefoot, only Lindsey talked me into borrowing some of hers when I went to her house to convince her to come with me. I could always take them off if I felt like walking up and down Bourbon Street barefoot. If my father could have been any angrier than he was when he had to fly to Louisiana to get me three days later, it would have been from seeing me in the airport waiting area, with the police officer — barefoot.
      When my father isn’t wearing his brown loafers, he wears cowboy boots. Even when he lived in Manhattan, he would walk around the Upper East Side in a bolo tie and his boots. I remember when I was in fourth grade and he got a new pair – part eel skin. I felt sorry for the eel, and I thought the boots would probably feel slimy, but they were smooth and nice to touch. And he was proud of them and let me rub the eel part whenever I wanted.
      I remember the proud look on his face, the satisfied smile, when my twin sister Amy, during sixth grade, wanted and received her very own pair of cowboy boots — an honor not bestowed on those too young or immature to fully grasp the weight and responsibility of owning a pair of cowboy boots. He actually went shoe shopping for that one.
      Now it may seem like a contradiction, but as much of a shoe enthusiast as my father is, his least favorite thing (including root canals and colonoscopies) is going shoe shopping. In his mind, this is the most brutal form of torture one human being can inflict upon another. He would probably pay for five pairs of $500 boots (with a smile) before he’d let you drag him to the store with you while you tried on one pair of $30 boots. (Why didn’t I ever try testing that hypothesis when I was a teenager?!?)
      I wouldn’t have been caught dead in a pair of cowboy boots in sixth grade, not at my school. Not in seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth, or eleventh either. I’m sure I would have felt the same in twelfth, but I probably couldn’t have been caught dead in school then, cowboy boots or not, since I almost never walked through the doors.
      In reality, I have never wanted a pair of cowboy boots. I have, however, wanted my father to look at me the way he looked at Amy when she put on her first pair. I’ve thought about pretending, but I can’t imagine living with the guilt I’d feel when the boots inevitably ended their lives staring up at me from the bottom of my closet as I reached for a clean pair of socks every day.
      I get it. It makes sense to try to prevent something from going wrong, especially when you can picture how it’s going to happen. If you wear shoes, it won’t hurt so much when your sister accidentally steps on your toes. If you pick up the Hawaiian Barbie, your father won’t yell at you because your sister won’t be able trip on it. If you don’t smoke, you probably won’t die of emphysema. If you abstain from sex, you won’t get pregnant. If you don’t run away from home, you won’t have to wait with a police officer for your father to fly to Louisiana to pick you up. I get it.
      My sister hates wearing shoes too. At least, she says this when I ask her. But in reality, my sister is in the running to have a bigger shoe collection than Imelda Marcos. In her new place, Amy has a rather large walk-in closet which still cannot contain all of her shoes. They are stacked up in corners, on shelves; they cover the entire floor. And I bet there are boxes of them still waiting to be unpacked.
      The device my sister has coveted more than any other in her life is the one Kurt Russell made for Goldie Hawn in Overboard. Remember? It’s a shoe organizer built into the wall of the closet, with a crank that makes the front shelves open out to the sides and a new set of shelves comes forward, and so on. Overboard is my sister’s favorite movie. I am positive that this is because the main character falls in love with the man who built her this spectacular device. She says it’s because it’s such a great love story.
      When Amy goes on vacation, she has an entire suitcase dedicated to shoes. (“But Debbie, I can’t wear black sandals with a brown skirt!” “Are you kidding? I can’t wear flats with that outfit! Yes, I know I’ll have to pay an overweight baggage charge. It’s not like I have a choice now, is it?”) When I told her I brought five pairs of shoes on my two-week honeymoon, she had that same, proud look my father had when she got her cowboy boots.
      I have had a number of experiences that one might think would lead me to want to wear shoes. Or at least to stop not wanting to wear shoes. For example, one of my most traumatic early childhood memories is when my mother, barefoot, stepped on a giant garden slug in our yard. She hopped around, squealing and panicking, and her face contorted and I thought she might become hysterical and throw up and fall down and sprain her ankle all at the same time. I didn’t think she’d ever be the same again.
      And once, on a family road trip in Washington State, my sister had to pee, (“Now! Puhleeze? Daddy!”), and there were no rest-stops for miles and miles. So we pulled over and my sister and my mother and I hiked up into the woods. I really thought I was standing far enough away. I was wrong. (Admittedly, I was wearing shoes for this one, but imagine if I wasn’t!)
      Most recently, my toes started turning purple – only occasionally, but purple nonetheless. My doctor, holding my sad blue socks in the air, looked at my toes, then looked at me as if I had just told him that instead of shoes I wear ice packs on my feet, and said “if you haven’t noticed, it is winter in New England. Get yourself some boots — warm, lined boots. At the very least, get yourself some thicker socks; you’re freezing your toes.”
      Despite these things, I just can’t make myself wear shoes more than absolutely necessary. In fact, the instant I am not in public (and even sometimes when I am), my shoes seem to come off of their own accord, as if they don’t like to be worn just as much as I don’t like to wear them. I’ve found that I remove my shoes at people’s houses, even if I don’t know them well enough to remove my shoes. I remove my shoes at work, under my desk, and sometimes forget to put them on again before walking away from my desk. I take them off every time I call my father. No, I was not wearing shoes. I am not wearing shoes. I can’t help it.

Deborah Bradford is an adjunct professor at Central Connecticut State University and Tunxis Community College, and Assistant Editor of Tuesday; An Art Project. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Connecticut Review, and Big Land, Big Sky, Big Hair (Dos Gatos Press, 2008).

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