Shoes of the Mishpokhe

(Object is an essay series exploring the meaning of clothes, jewelry, make-up, and accessories.)

The box was left outside my apartment door the way someone might abandon a child or a kitten at the doorstep of a good Samaritan. It was from my neighbor Achelois, one of the best therapists in New York City.
"These shoes need to be thrown out,” she wrote. “I wore them for over 20 years... especially in my purple period."
And what New York woman didn't have a purple period?  That color was to some women what botox was to others – a commitment to the ideals of youth no matter what birthday had just happened. Purple was the spirit that could not be quelled.  Purple was when you stopped giving a shit about what color was trending. Purple was the color of the flag we flew as we battled to protect baby seals and drink fair trade coffee.
Achelois’ purple shoes were no exception.  Soft suede Oxfords with a fiercely practical wedge that only pretended to be the stylish version of a shoe you might wear on a nature preserve where everyone made their own clothes. The smart company that made these shoes made buckets of money from women who wanted to walk across town while still looking pretty on their own terms.  Their sales were legendary and women wore their wedges to dust.
"Could you throw them in the garbage for me?  I can't bear to.  I really loved them...”
As she loved her shoes, I loved Achelois.  It wasn’t only because for forty years I had cornered her in the lobby or the elevator for free relationship advice and therapy. It wasn’t even because for four decades we had shared the intimacy of neighbors who knew that no matter what – whether a cup of sugar was needed or there was a death in the family -- we would show up for each other.
It was forty years worth of bags of clothes and boxes of footwear left on each other’s doorknobs as our bodies aged and swelled and diminished and swelled and then aged some more. When massive closet purging was necessary, Mishpokhe (the family you might not be related to but that you really liked) had to have first dibs.  
That’s why I loved Achelois.  Okay, that and the free therapy.
So I understood her request. Tucked away in my own small closet was a box with really ugly Oxfords bought seventeen years ago on my fortieth birthday, for more money than I had, after a terrible break-up. I had clung to them for so long they were now back in neo-retro ‘80’s style.  

Then there are the antique heels I bought at a church jumble sale forty-four years ago at the age of thirteen, that no longer fit, and would probably be buried with me.  After all, they were my first pair of black heels.  I wore them to my first office job defiantly standing out against all the stacked heels from Queens.


Or the black boots generously left behind by a roommate and carefully stored in a place of honor even though I have not worn them since I was forty-five because every nerve between every toe screamed when I walked in them.  Yet nothing said Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast like these babies.

And then there was the flushed-with-a real-paycheck recent folly of unwearable, expensive (even with all the discounts Macy’s could offer) platform shoes that failed to bring back the '70s and better toes and stronger knees.

So I understood.  
All our shoes—the black boots, the little heels, the loved-to-tattered purple shoes—
were not just protection from the broken glass-filled, urine-soaked sidewalks of a city we both grew up in, her in Harlem, me on the Lower East Side.  Those shoes let us walk our history as we went from youthful confusion to senior citizen discounts, as we watched our neighborhoods go from the most dangerous to the most expensive.  
We were the real Cinderellas and this was no fairytale.   Each time we slipped our foot into our unbreakable glass slippers, we returned, via vivid memory, to dates with boyfriends briefly considered and sometimes married; parties celebrating babies;  holidays filled with thanks and hope; long marches protesting the Viet Nam war, the nuclear armament war, the Gulf War, the Iraq War, the Climate Change War, the war against terrorism, drugs, assholes....  
In those shoes, we stomped towards love and we ran for help.We stood our ground in those expensive risks and those second-hand treasures, as we challenged governments we knew to be immoral.  We faced off relatives we knew to be teenagers.  In our sturdy shoes, our boots, our sandals, our too-high stilettos, our comfy flats, we strode into the world, insisting that we be seen fully and wholly as the extraordinary women we suspected we were. With just the slip of our foot into a beloved shoe, all those moments, otherwise lost in the fog of memory along with misplaced keys, came running back
What we put on our feet was never an afterthought.
Achelois’s box of purple shoes stayed in that box on the bench in my foyer for weeks.  It was like a Catholic wake. I was viewing the body and paying my respects (even though everyone involved in this matter was Jewish).
Then one day, all felt said and done. Another good-bye would not make it better and could not make it worse.  It would just make it longer.  So, before the building woke up, I packed up Achelois’ purple shoes and sent them on the next leg of their journey.  Perhaps to be taken apart and made into something else like a bag or a coat or perhaps to be carefully repaired, and loved back into something another amazing woman might want to walk in.

(C.O. Moed grew up on the Lower East Side when it was still a tough neighborhood. She chronicles the heart and soul of a disappearing family and a city in the throes of extinction and evolution on It Was Her New York. The rest of the time she writes, shoots, works a day job, and lives with her husband, fellow writer Ted Krever and two cats in New York City. She tweets as @comoed.)

Photographs by the author.