To some, a shoe box is the home of lives yet to be lived—tiny bells with curvy letters written on them, showing the names of all the places they want to visit, letters from old loves that were lost and never found again, old pieces of toys that made it through childhood that they meant to refurbish but never did, so they remain just pieces. However, to some a shoe box will only ever be the home to a pair of shoes.
My older sister used to collect her zodiac sign. She would clip out the Libra section in the newspaper every day, and glue them in chronological order on three by five inch note cards. She had stacks upon stacks of note cards. I watched her as she poured over the small print of the newspaper, buried in personality traits, lucky numbers, and omens. I wondered why she saved them, and why she thought it important to keep track of each day. She was quiet growing up, and she has grown to be a quiet woman—never making much wave. As I watched her steadily glue each fragile sheet of newspaper onto the note card, her fingertips smudged with black ink, I thought that maybe she saved these clippings in that shoe box to reference them once she finally started to live. How else would she know who she was?
My childhood growing up wasn’t a nurturing environment. I didn’t know that at the time, but I knew something wasn’t right. I remember home as a child, and it seems to be filled with dread. My father was angry—the type of angry that came from the frustration of ending up in a life that didn’t meet his teenage expectations, and he took it out on what he felt was the source of his failure: his children. So, drunk with rage of losing money at the race track, he would come home and yell. The clinking of keys in the hallway alerted the whole house, and like prairie dogs we would freeze for a brief instant, and the sharp whisper—that over time became one word—would ripple over all of us: “daddyshome.” Then silent scattering; we would dash away from sight, burrowing inside the one bedroom that all five girls had to share. We would wait, until the bark of him calling one of our names beckoned the unlucky chosen one into the living room.
My father was a man who didn’t believe in clutter. He only had one shoe box that only ever housed his pair of polished black leather boots.
I am the youngest of five girls, and I have watched each of my sisters tuck away a part of themselves in a shoe box: one of them stashing away her zodiac, one stowing money for a planned escape from home, one hiding pictures of herself at school in the arms of a boy, leading a seemingly normal life, and one hiding her diary away hoping that no one would ever find it. I thought I needed a shoe box too. I thought I needed a place to put secret parts of myself as well. So I tried snipping my zodiac, saving my loose change, hiding pictures, and concealing diaries, but none of these filled my shoe box the right way. So I tried more things, different things, ideas, stances on political issues, phobias, song lyrics I didn’t fully understand the meaning of, hopes, God. Then I went off to college, and put that shoe box, and all of my childhood and who I was, somewhere deep in the back of my closet, almost forgetting that it existed. Convincing myself that it had no place in my new life.
Then I met a man. A man who saw that I seemingly had no shoe box. People were drawn to him. He was cunning and manipulative, charming in the best of light. But at quiet times when we were together and the soft light threw his face into jagged shadow, I saw the evil that lay beneath the surface. He would yell, and my insides would clinch in that painfully nostalgic way reminiscent of my father. He threw things, and yanked me physically and emotionally. He hit me. And during a particularly bad fight when I found refuge in the bathroom from his pounding fists that continued to bang on the door, I groped around in the darkness for something—an anchor. Then my knuckles grazed something that was so sweetly familiar I nearly wept. It was my shoe box, and it rattled a harmonious cacophony when I picked it up and held it to my chest. Just the feel of it being in my hands, representing a time when I actively defended myself against this kind of abuse from someone who meant so much more to me than the idiot pounding on the bathroom door shook me to my core. I had to get out; out of that bathroom, out of that situation, out of that life, out of that shell of a person that I had become. So I did.
I thought I didn’t know what to fill it up with, but I’m a collector of sorts; I collect the strange and the majestic, the quirkily funny, and the misshapen puzzle pieces that never fit quite right. I collect lies, and truths, and stories with no real definite ending. I collect good jokes told horribly and irony. I collect kindness and good intentions, I collect memories that are so stubbornly fleeting that I have no choice but to pin them down with the tip of my pen. I didn’t give myself enough credit. I thought because I didn’t know exactly what it was I was saving, or what I was saving it for, it didn’t deserve to be guarded. Even though it reminded me of a childhood that sometimes I wish hadn’t happened, the fact of the matter is that it did happen, and I must never forget that. And I must save the things that I collected along the way; lessons learned, and scars worn.
No, my shoe box will never just house a pair of shoes, and it won’t just be for one specific thing either. It is bits of me, in the best way possible. I know now that putting things inside a shoe box is like a small investment, because I know the contents of that box is going to be worth so much more to me years in the years to come.