I bought a pair of shiny red heels yesterday.
They are covered in colorful baubles and have daringly high gold heels. They glitter and shine and made me feel racy just buying them. I showed them off to two women in the mall, and I was thanked by the salesman on the way out as those women came in and bought some red heels of their own. I showed them off to the ladies I work with, proud of my courage to buy such shoes – shoes that some would surely hate for being too garish, too tasteless, too trashy. But they were expensive red shoes, with a label that gave me credibility as someone who was fashionably bold instead of just colorblind. I thought to myself that I loved these shoes.
Then, I became aware that the shoes really meant much more to me than a fashion statement.
Clarissa Pinkola Estes tells the story of a young motherless child who made for herself some crude red shoes out of scraps of material she saved. An old woman in a gilded carriage eventually came along and adopted the child. Her old clothes and shoes were taken away and burned. She was given new clothes and shiny black shoes, but she longed for the red shoes that she had made and loved.
Eventually, the girl had the opportunity to buy some red shoes and could not resist. The red shoes, however, were cursed and caused her to dance and dance compulsively. She was unable to stop dancing and knew she would soon die. The shoes danced her past the executioner’s cottage and she begged him to cut the shoes off of her with his axe. The only way to do this was to cut her feet off, but she knew her life was more important and made the only decision she could. She gave up her feet and learned to live in the world without them, never again wishing for red shoes.
As I picked apart the story, I couldn’t help but think of my new red heels. I told myself, “Ah hah! I have found again my red shoes that I thought had been burned, the shoes that made me feel strong, powerful, sexy, and bold.” I thought when I saw them that I must have them, certain that wearing them would remind me that I am alive, free, no longer living the life that others expect of me but that I am fashioning for myself a passionate life of my own design.
However, I soon realized that like the little girl in the story grasping at the first thing that reminded her of her homemade red shoes, I had found my way to a trap that had the potential to keep me frantically dancing to a soulless melody that not even I could hear. I began to see my red heels as the poisonous symbol of fast-breaking, cheap thrills; sex without soul or life without meaning. I sensed deep down that the loss of my handmade shoes as a child, the loss of my self-designed life and passionate vitality, had left a hole in my soul that made me compulsively willing to take something, anything, that seemed similar to what I had lost, good or not, to fill the void.
I tried to remember what my original handmade shoes looked like, where I had lost them, and when I had begun amassing a collection of cursed red shoes that helped to distract me from the pain and grief caused by my original loss. I knew instinctively that my hunger for spirituality, God-learning, and a simple sane sexuality was the result of having my authentic soul-food, my homemade red shoes, taken from me by others who could not see value or worth in my first crude attempts at creation long ago. As I searched inside myself, looking for the child who was, the child who knew and loved the shoes she had made, the memory of a pair of shoes from my past danced in the shadows of my psyche. Was I remembering correctly? Were those the original shoes?
When I was a child, I was obsessed with the idea of horses. Before my obsession with the knight came my seduction by his trusty steed. I pretended and galloped and rode my way through childhood on the broad back of my imagination. Horses were my dreams, my hopes, and my belief that all was magical and possible and beautiful. Horses held the promise of passion and vitality and goodness, they were earthy and raw and unapologetically sexual.
I tore through my house and my neighborhood in my cowboy hat and dusty red boots, riding my broom horse in an ancient and wickedly delicious rhythm that my soul recognized and celebrated. It wasn’t proper. It was scandalous even. A fourth-grader should know better. A child should not be so provocative. I was too old to be acting like that they said,
“I was too young to be acting like that they thought. You cannot wear those boots to church. Take those jeans off for God’s sake, you wore them yesterday. That hat is filthy, get rid of it.”
Little by little, bit by bit, I let go of my red boots, allowing myself to become convinced that it was somehow wrong to revel in the unrepressed sensuality and voracious desire of a soul learning to be itself. And as I shoved the discarded, devalued, and “unacceptable” aspects of my soul and self into the darkness, they conspired about how and when they should make a break for freedom. They boiled down there in my sub-conscience, seething and burbling until one day, they exploded upward and outward in an unchecked torrent with a will of their own, snatching up the first pair of shiny red stilettos they found on their way out. I put on those diabolical red shoes with a vengeance and danced. I felt justified in my rebellion and refused to cringe before the masses in their boring black shoes, tisk-tisking over my shamelessness.
I danced, damn it. And I danced and I danced. When one pair of cursed red shoes wore out, I traded them in immediately on another, certain that the new pair would be more like my originals, and I danced some more. I numbed myself to the pain. I ignored muscles that screamed in protest and pretended not to notice that my feet were bruised and bleeding. I simply kept dancing, willing myself to believe that dancing myself crazy and living were the same thing.
At some point I realized that enough was enough. I found myself at the executioner’s door and tearfully asked him to cut off my feet. It hurt like hell, but it was what I
needed to go back to the handmade life. Psychically, I crawled to a halfway place, a way station, so that I could rest and mend after dancing for so long. I began sewing strips of red material together to fashion soul-nourishing shoes for the amputated stumps at the end of my legs, and I started walking again – albeit with a noticeable limp.
So here I am, with no feet and a shiny new pair of red heels from Dillard’s that I just had to have. What the hell was I thinking?
Sister Shamu (not her real name) is the former owner of Oops Mental Health Services (not its real name), which was a casualty of the unstable American healthcare system and an over-inflated ego. Now unemployed, Sister Shamu realizes that what she is qualified to do bares no resemblance to what she wants to do and has become preoccupied with confronting her slightly hostile and often devious Shadow Self by sharing intensely personal blogs and writing a novel that, like her, seems to be in a constant state of edit.