I might just be a freshman, but I know one thing about going to frats; you need a pair of shoes you don’t care about ruining. I’d heard basement floors were always covered in merciless layers of mystery muck. No shoe survives. I walk over to the closet and survey my options. My gaze falls upon what used to be a pair of gleaming white sneakers. Laces now frayed, greying leather creased and cracked, I couldn’t care about ruining them because, well, they were already ruined. They’ve been through a lot. I pull them on without undoing the laces, my feet filling the familiar space. They’re soft from constant wear. Once upon a time, they were easily my favorite pair of shoes. I wore them everywhere, every day, in all weather. I know every scratch, scuff, and crease.
The furrowed leather on the ball of my foot and over my toes; the creases that show where the shoes give way to the movement of my joints. “They’re going to crease you know,” I remember him saying as we sat on the kitchen steps at my house. We were admiring my new sneakers, box-fresh Adidas Stan Smiths. He tapped the sides of the ball of my foot and the top of my toes. Here, and here. For now, though, they were blindingly white, with emerald green detail on the heel; the most classic color. He has a pair too, the same but a few weeks older, and navy, not green. He teases me, saying I copied him. “We can be that couple,” he says, laughing, “The one that coordinates their outfits. Everyone will hate it.” The prospect thrilled him, filled him with a boyish excitement that didn’t seem to belong on a person who was usually so cool. I loved him for it, for the cracks in his coolness.
Soon, we were rocking up to parties in uniform: blue shorts, white shirts, white Stan Smiths. Hugely dorky, but we didn’t care. For me, parties had always been a jungle of people who didn’t consider me a friend during the daytime, haunted by a fear that slinked between dark corners, that I had only been invited because I was pretty. Now, I had an arm around me to ward off doubt and the drunken hands of over-eager teenage boys. I had someone who would do stupid uncool things with me, like bounce on trampolines and match shoes.
Of course, he was right. Eventually the shoes did crease. Right in the places he said. Here, and here.
Bits of woodchips wedged between the insole and the leather. We’d gone to the park that day, just playing like kids. Summer heat mixed with hazy love hovered around us in a thick cloud, getting in our eyes. We couldn’t see the disapproving mothers’ stares as we tried to fit one on top of the other down the kid-sized slide. He sat on a bench, me on the ground, my elbows on his knees. He held me closer than he ever had before, despite the soaring temperatures. He held me so tightly that I wondered how quickly he would get tired and have to stop. “I’ve just missed you so much,” he said, blonde head buried in my shoulder, and even the hairs on my arms stand up. My fingers curl, trying to find something to hold onto. I missed him so much. A week seems like forever to teenagers in teenage love.
He’d been in Mexico, and now returned, his white shirt and blonde hair stood out against brown skin. He had come back with gifts; all things blue, my favorite color. I’d come back from Boston with all things crew, his favorite sport. I looked into his eyes and loved that gifts were the thing we did best. Always stupid things; T-shirts from frozen banana stands, and absurd amounts of dark mint and orange flavored chocolate. It was stuff just for us. We were the couple that forgot the day of our own anniversary and had to make one up. We were the couple that loved cheap sushi and eating Ben and Jerry’s straight out of the tub. We were the couple with matching shoes. They were a little creased, but still, shiny white.
Scratches on the toe. I’d kicked something, the table maybe, while we were sitting in that cafe, him eating a mountain of scrambled eggs and bacon, me, picking at a cranberry scone. There was no hazy love that day. I stare down at my feet, stretched out in front of me, and pretend not to care so much. Not to care so much that he didn’t tell me he was going to be out of town for the next four weekends, and I can already feel the wrenching pain of missing him. That he didn’t think to tell me because to him, it didn’t matter enough. To him, what matters is that I didn’t tell him I’d signed up for a summer rowing class. Big deal. But to him, that says “She doesn’t trust me.” Apparently, I never tell him things. I think I tell him the important things though, that I love him, that I miss him when he’s not around, that I don’t trust that blonde girl he hangs out with. I pick at my scone. My eyes can’t meet his; they are too large and always asking for more. I don’t have more. I’ve given it all. So, there we were, standing at an impasse in our matching white sneakers, mine with scratched toes, both waiting for the other to crack first.
“Are you two tennis players?” An old man asks as he shuffles by our table, shattering the moment of quiet frustration we’d been stubbornly sharing. Our faces break into relieved smiles, grateful for anything to clear away the resentment that had wedged itself between us. I laugh, say no, we are not tennis players. The old man says we’ve got the shoes for it, pointing at the white Stans. Oh these? Yeah, I guess they look like tennis shoes.
“You look like Genie Bouchard,” he says, turning to me, wagging his finger. I laugh nervously and say thank you, absentmindedly putting a hand to my dyed blonde hair. I’m fine being mistaken for Genie Bouchard except for the part where she’s apparently a massive diva. I wasn’t. I prided myself on being low-maintenance. I wanted boys to look at me and think, “There’s a girl who won’t give me trouble.”
One day I looked down at my faded Stan Smiths and realized there were too many marks to count. Bent out of shape, mostly grey, and covered in scars, they showed their age. I was never kind enough to them. I didn’t see the extent of the damage until I tugged and pulled the cracked leather from where it had settled. Parts of the laces and tongue were blackened from dirt that had gathered in creases undisturbed. I guess one day I just stopped caring enough to untie everything. I just wedged them on until one day they stopped protesting.
I remember being little and seeing my older cousin, Emily, walking around in a pair of white Adidas sneakers. Stan Smiths. I thought it was dumb. Why buy white shoes? You couldn’t step outside without getting them dirty. You couldn’t run, play, or do anything fun. What’s the point of buying white shoes if they’re just going to turn grey? But I get it now. They’re cool shoes. Cool because they’re white, and white is risky. Everyone feels that pang of sadness when the first scratch appears. But all white shoes are doomed to become not-white. That’s something you know when you buy them.
You’re supposed to be okay with it.