Considering my record with such things and my then-condition, I should’ve known better than to start browsing Zappos’ shoe section. Maybe it was a combination of exhaustion and impulse; I was wound up and wrung out and looking for something after a string of long nights. The wrong kind of long nights. Sure enough, I found something, something I was sure would change all the other somethings. Now I’m not so sure it’s what I was looking for at all.
Having reluctantly fallen for J. Gatsby, I thought I was at the end of the whole evolution whatever. That’s where all the romantic comedies end, after all. We watch Tom Hanks finally admit to being Meg Ryan’s cyber-stalker, weep as Renee Zellweger tells Tom Cruise he had her at hello, clap like giddy idiots when Tom Hanks has to go all the way back up to the top of the Empire State Building to get his stupid kid’s backpack where, we know, he’ll finally run into Meg Ryan, who has in the last hour-point-five stalked him into falling in love with her (one of these things is not like the other). I’d admitted to myself that yes, I did love a fictional character. And I thought that was it. Fade out, true fictional love forever and ever amen. End of story.
But no; Gatsby had other plans, and so did my narcissism.
I went looking for a facsimile of Gatsby in my life. Of course, finding a mysterious man-of-dubious-means who hosts but doesn’t attend his own enormous parties proved more difficult than the 12-year-old in me would’ve liked to admit. Instead, I found a piece of him here, a piece of him there. Like traits of your soul mate, or rooms in your dream house, Gatsby remained scattered and unrealized. My frustration, while sharp, was at least fleeting.
If there is one thing this life has schooled me in, it’s the art of gracefully recovering from disappointment. I haven’t learned to temper my expectations, but have at least gotten the hang of settling for bits and pieces of what I wanted in the first place.
Which is probably why I felt only mild heartache upon shrugging to myself one day– probably while folding laundry, as I reach most of my conclusions while folding laundry– and deciding it was one of those things bound to fantasy. I gave Gatsby back to my dreams.
Then came the shoes.
The shoes are Fratelli Rosettis. Not that the name itself means anything to me– I have no idea about shoes other than that I like the ones I like. But these particular oxfords are beyond liking. There’s life in them, a heartbeat you can see. The powder blue upper glows the way the world did the night before Black Thursday, looking at that blue you’re in a speakeasy– it’s hot in there– listening to him laugh a laugh that matches that blue, something in you wants to curl up inside it and live there. The navy laces whisper what he wants to, what you want him to, something long that he can stretch on, that will give him minutes near you, and full of twists and something that will tie you up in a knot. The sole’s dusky hue matches the piano blue for blue, chord for chord, it gets you every time. The decorative perforations strike like the punch-after-punch of the brass, getting hotter as they go, knowing just where and when to breathe. And the rosy toe blushes at that sentiment you thought you saw flicker across his face, reddens the way you do the longer you dance, the longer you revel in the nowness. No, these shoes are not for liking; they are for taking, for possessing and expressing a part of yourself and the world that no one– not your folks or your pastor or yourself– knew was there before laying eyes on them.
Forget finding a Gatsby double; the shoes were a piece of Gatsby that I could lace up on a whim. Their attainability convinced me that a certain life could be worn— a life passed in the cool confines of perpetual dusk, and me drifting through large parties with fingers draped around an old fashioned, witness to the intimacies shared between strangers and beautiful little fools. Some of these people I’d care about, and the rest I’d care for, but never both. The shoes would preclude small talk; no more searching for the perfect thing to do or say, no more spilling drinks or forgetting names or clawing my way out of awkward conversations. There would be silken shirts thrown from the closet balcony, things dyed such deep, beautiful colors you couldn’t help but weep. There would be dancing until our legs ached and then gave out, relentless carousing, everyone forgetting themselves.The shoes became a life that wasn’t supposed to fit but did, one I could put on when I wanted to make the night into something dangerous and romantic and tragic and worth living. Within and without the inexhaustible variety of Fitzgeraldesque life, I would remain the same shade of cool no matter how hot things got. The shoes would hold me just out of reach, and that would be good.
To be continued…