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Used Shoes or: How I Learned to Stop Wearing Them and Feel Sane Again

danskos_vegan_shoes_newSecond hand stores. Oh how I love them. It all started when I was 9, after my parents split, and I went back-to-school shopping in Paradise, CA during a visit to my grandparents’ house. While some kids would have been disappointed by the new form of shopping, I was really into Fiona Apple at the time and much to my awe and delight— found myself swimming (figuratively, of course) in a sea of opportunity that would allow me to emulate her style (minus the crop tops, which my mother never would have let me buy let alone wear to school). The store was filled with more well-made 90s threads than Wasteland in San Francisco (where I hadn’t been yet, and wouldn’t encounter until a decade later). So, back to footwear. I never wore used shoes until high school, since I am and always have been an odd size to fit (9.5, or EU size 40). As a freshman in high school I tried to “shrink” my feet into a Converse size 7 (9 in women’s) until learning about foot binding in World History class, after which I bought a pair in the proper size and never shopped for too-small shoes again.

I wore Converse until I transferred to a new high school my junior year—after realizing that at least 40% of my classmates dressed like they’d stepped out of a Free People catalog or a spread in W Magazine. It was eclectic, and everyone seemed to be one-upping each other with their style choices. While some people copied others, and only a few dressed in head-to-toe Abercrombie, it struck me that original style was appreciated and celebrated. I admit I might have focused more on my wardrobe than my studies that year. Enter: vintage clothing stores, and shopping at Goodwill with utter unabashed abandon.

This is where the problems started. See, my feet are an odd size to fit in the women’s department. However, at Goodwill and Salvation Army, or at your average vintage store, possibilities of finding great shoes in the men’s section are endless. I found fantastic cowboy boots and Dr. Martins, and although they didn’t feel like walking on clouds I knew they looked great. So I wore them. Every day. Paired with slips dyed in vibrant colors and layers upon layers of second-hand jewelry. And I felt like a million dollars, appearance-wise. Saving so much $ by shopping second-hand allowed for haircuts most people might consider frivolous. This was until I endured a minor fracture in my heel upon jumping off a rock into a lake, after which I could no longer comfortably walk in cowboy boots or heels.

Flash forward to my freshman year at college, my introduction to Dansko clogs. I was hooked after I started hanging out with someone who swore by them and looked great in them too. I bought my first pair new, after saving the $125 and felt like I’d been reborn into the same body (only with better posture, more energy, better focus, and an overall sense of heightened awareness). I thought I was dreaming. Those Dansko clogs made me want to walk the 5 miles to school instead of riding my bike or driving. I was excited to get up in the morning, more than anyone should be when their 8am class is their least favorite subject. To say I felt fantastic would be an understatement.

I wore this pair of jet-black Dansko clogs for 5 years, until one day I stopped feeling on top of the world. I ignored it as long as I could, until I rolled my ankle and realized one sole was much more worn down than the other. I bought a pair of Dr Scholl’s insoles, which helped but didn’t solve the problem. I didn’t want to “give in” so I got them repaired instead of shelling out for a new pair. Years later, they were stolen outside my room at a hostel in Guatemala. Up until this point, for a year at least, I had alternated wearing these with a (new) pair of combat boots from Palladium I got at Urban Outfitters for $5 (on super-super clearance or whatever the alternative of that would be called in retail) that were originally in the 3-digit range, and started wearing them while doing research in Guatemala because along with my fitted Dickies pants and shirts, and natural tan (from spending so much time outdoors) I felt like the female version of my childhood idol, Indiana Jones. I still have the movies on VHS, and despite the preliminary lecture I was privy to while seated in my first archeology class at college, wherein the first slide of the presentation showed a photo of the aforementioned Hollywood anthropologist and followed with a lecture along the lines of “if this is your conceptualization of archeology, you’re wrong”, I can’t change the past, nor can I change the reasons behind the spark that lit my anthropological fire, if you will.

Moving on.

So as the moral of this story nears, I want to insert a few sentences to stifle the blow of the (to speak for myself) life-altering conclusion. Shoes, or ahem, footwear to use the proper term, have always been a significant part of my life (from the day my feet started to grow embarrassingly larger than those of my female classmates). I was 6 years old. It was traumatic, and I spent several of my days doing the whole “Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret” act—only in this case it was “I must, I must, I must increase decrease my bust shoe size”. Anyway, when the Danskos were stolen in Guatemala I didn’t care much aside from the fact they were the only footwear I’d brought apart from flip-flops. I went to the used shoe store which catered to locals (not gringos, as ironically there were some used-clothing stores catering exclusively to ex-pats and transients) and spent 10 minutes sorting through reused oil cans filled with random footwear. Then I found them: a pair of black Danskos, in my size and in better condition than the pair I had lost. I pinched myself to make sure I hadn’t stepped on a used needle along the way and in a very altered state or coma of sorts. The shoes cost the equivalent of 50 cents US $, and I bought them in a sort of blundered euphoria, with total disregard or amnesia regarding the reservations I’d had about buying used shoes after walking uncomfortably in used boots in high school.

Days later, I started to feel insane. I would wake up, get out of bed; pick up my toothbrush, look in the mirror, unable to recognize my face. I had always spent my days in some form of routine, and in general it was meticulous aside from a few deviations from the mean. I always had things to do, things to write, annoying routine tasks like checking for junk mail in my email inbox my spam filter neglected to find, etc. etc. etc. and otherwise focusing most of my attention on my work. Then my body began to feel off, without warning or any significant change in life circumstances. I’d been with the same person for nearly 6 years, but upon returning from Guatemala after a brief visit to follow up on my research and work there, I didn’t recognize him either. It was like a hurricane occurred in my brain and threw apart my synapses—rewiring them to something so different I couldn’t begin to put back the pieces. I had no patience for it, as I’ve always been bored by puzzles (the tabletop kind) and prefer games like scrabble…it seemed best to ignore whatever symptoms came and went within my psyche, or consciousness, and just pretend that some day things would repair themselves and go back to normal. This thinking did not come from a place of sanity, and despite recent improvements I was not completely “healed” or back to a place of “normalcy”.

The inspiration behind this post is a new pair of Dansko clogs (made of vegan “leather”) I recently bid on and won on Ebay for a fraction of the retail price. Within an hour’s time after the UPS truck arrived, I felt sane. For the first time in awhile. Not only did my feet feel great; my body felt aligned. As if I’d experienced the most significant chiropractic adjustment of my life…only cheaper. In lieu of all the chiropractic work I’ve paid for recently and the boxes of “natural” mood-enhancing remedies and things I’ve tried this past year, many of which have helped to some extent, for the first time in over a year I feel reconnected to a sense of self I’d considered lost.

Moral of the story: Do not buy used shoes, especially clogs, combat boots, or other structured footwear. The extra $100 spent may improve your life and save you $$$$ in therapy down the line.

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