When I walked into my father’s bedroom just five days after he died, I felt a wave of emotions. I remember feeling an overwhelming sense of intrusion. Like I was invading his space. Like I needed to ask permission before entering his room, but he wasn’t there for me to ask him.
I was afraid to open drawers, even though I quickly realized that my sister had already gone through all of them. But I still felt nervous. His closet doors were open, and along the top of the closet were 26 black shoe boxes carefully stacked and organized, labels facing out revealing names like Colton, Dickson, Birmingham & Wingham.
My sister made a comment about how he still kept his shoes in the boxes. "I should do that," she said. "That’s how I keep my shoes," I replied. I didn’t say this to one-up her. I simply realized in that moment that this was something I shared in common with my father that I didn’t even know I shared in common with him.
In one box was a 10-year-old pair of beautiful shoes that had been so well taken care of they looked brand new. I remember feeling that he he’d taken better care of his shoes than he’d taken care of me. I began to cry. Just seven days before, I’d visited him in the hospital. I walked into his room that day and knew it would be the last time I saw him. I sat with him, holding his hand as he slipped in and out of consciousness. My left hand in his right, I looked down at our hands for a long time. I fought back tears. I stared out the window of his room trying to think of other things so that the tears wouldn’t fall, just like I’d done two summers before when he was in the hospital after his stroke. I stared out across the freeway at the Angels Stadium sign. I know nothing about baseball, but I was thinking about baseball and The Big A so that I wouldn’t fall apart.
My father’s beautiful shoes. My sister wanted to get rid of them. I told her that we should sell them. I could hear him in the back of my head protesting giving away his beautiful shoes that cost upwards of $300 a pair. All of them stored with cedar shoetrees inside them. And he had shoe-polishing kits in his nightstand.
His friend helped me load all 26 pairs of shoes in my car. When I got home, I made several trips until I was finally done stacking them neatly in my front entry where they remained for months. I meant to do something with them but I was been busy. Or, maybe I made myself busy so that I wouldn’t have to do anything with them.
With a little encouragement from my boyfriend and an overwhelming feeling of needing to begin the healing process, I started listing them on eBay last week. It has been difficult. Googling the shoes so that I can make sure I sound educated about them in the auction descriptions, taking pictures of them in the perfect lighting, figuring out fair prices, and listing them. This has taken forever.
In one week I managed to sell eight pairs and I have four active auctions up now. That’s definitely progress, but this hasn’t been the hardest part. Handling them has. I’ve handled each pair delicately because I know that’s what he’d want. Turning the shoes over and seeing wear on the soles has been tough. I’ve wondered where he wore this pair, and which pair was his favorite. Where’d this stain on the sole come from? Did he step in a puddle? What about this scratch?
I wonder if he walked over a cobblestone sidewalk in Spain in this pair, or wore these sandals the last time he was in the Bahamas. Maybe he wore these to my birthday dinner two summers ago. I’ll never know. Those soles tell stories that I’ll never get to hear. I touch the sole of one shoe before slipping it into its protective dust bag and putting it in a USPS priority shoebox.
Then I seal it and mail it to a stranger who will create stories of his own in them -- weddings, funerals, job interviews, and dinners with friends. I hope he will be good to his shoes. That’s what he’d want.