Confidence found in a pair of soles.
There are only one pair of shoes I have worn so far in my life that meant anything to me. It all started with a pair of boots that my mother gave me. Mom did not give me much, nothing in the "with love and kindness" category, so that pair of boots was something special. There is not much to grab onto when your a daughter born to a woman who can't fight her own past to not repeat a history fluent in abuse. Other than books and music, I did not have much else. So getting the boots from Mom was one of the few happier memories from younger days that I have and cling to for all it is worth. Those boots gave me a little bit of hope that I might be able to do something that would make me happy and take me away from sadness, despair, unlimited feelings of worthlessness.
A pair of cowboy boots, used, but mine. Those boots were tan and had the standard swirls and whatnot branded into them. They were a few sizes too big, but I never let that stop me from wearing them. Nothing a couple of pairs of thick socks could not fix. I remember the first time I got to use them, during one of the rare times my parents took me and my sibling with them upstate to the Dude Ranch. My parents were well known there, having gone there since they were teenagers. We always got the royal treatment while we were there, the best horses to ride, the best room in the whole place, our own riding times. It was heaven. It was also one of the few times my Mom actually treated me like she loved and cared about me. The days we would be there were happy and fun; no abuse, almost as if I were living a nightmare the rest of the year. When we got home from the Dude Ranch, I would put those cowboy boots; muck and all; into a plastic bag. When I was sad and lonely, I would open the bag just a little bit and sniff the earthiness from inside. That natural smell would give me strength and hope and comfort until the next time I got to go to the Dude Ranch. Those times were few and far between, but that odor of muck kept me going.
I was a very good rider. I could canter and gallop along the experienced trails as well or better than the seasoned riders. I'd been riding in Western gear since I was five years old. Western riding is relaxed, almost sloppy. You need balance, need to understand how a horse moves, listen to their language of body and ears. Here was something I was good at. Riding gave me confidence, let me realize there is more to the world than the little one I was allowed to live in. The horses did not care if I did not find that strand of hair on the bathroom wall when I cleaned the bathroom. The horses did not care that I was lousy in math and science. Horses never punished me for any infractions, real or imagined. The horses gave me courage, enjoyed my company, they were my friends; they were the only ones I had.
High school came and went in a heartbeat. I almost did not graduate due to conflict at home. I was 18 now and tired of the abuse, tired of being lonely, so tired. I wanted to be free. I did not want to become a secretary, cooped up behind a desk, typing 80 wpm like Mom. I wanted to work on a horse farm, I wanted to ride, I wanted to win competitions. But I did graduate High School, a different one, thanks to my Aunt and Grandmother. I got a new lease on life. Grandma wrote beautiful letters to anyone she could, trying to get me money to go to College. It worked. I got a grant and a government student loan. I was on my way up to Morrisville College upstate and I was going to try my hand at Horse Husbandry.
Yeah, that did not work out so good. Science and Math forever my nemesis'. I dropped out after the first semester. Actually, I fib. I was kicked out. I only passed English class with an A, I failed all the others. A little too late, I found out that I should not have taken Horse Husbandry unless I was going on to Vet school. Thanks school Guidance Counselor, for not advising me as you should have.
That's ok. I came back home to live with my Aunt again. My Uncle took me around to all the horse farms in the area. I got a job!! I was working a race horse farm where they breed race horses. I quit a few weeks later, not liking the breeding portion. Too violent. Too sad.
I did not loose hope. I went around again to the horse farms and got a great gig at one of the biggest farms around. I spent almost eight years there. Those eight years are filled with some of the best memories. The fun! The freedom! I had friends, and not just horses, real people! I had a social life; I went dancing, to shows, dinners, drinks, on vacations, all of it. I was so happy!
This is where the second pair of boots come in. The best boots. Better than the used, several sizes too big, cowboy boots Mom gave me. This was what I had wanted since I was a little kid and I did it. I DID IT!! I mucked stalls, carried heavy bales of hay, heavy bags of feed, groomed horses. I was outdoors in all sorts of weather and there was never a dull moment. And, I had a pair of paddock boots of my very own. Perfect fit, my feet only, no more wearing double layers of socks. No more keeping the boots in a plastic bag to savor the scent within for comfort. I was now a prissy English rider.
I never had my own horse, could never afford one. But there were plenty of opportunities for me to ride. I went to horse shows as a groom first, then, when I got the hang of English riding, showed. I won a few blue ribbons, but mostly in flat work; I lacked confidence and enthusiasm to jump more than crossbars that were but a few inches above the ground. But that did not matter. What mattered most was that I found a place where I belonged, that I was away from the abuse, that I had friends. I was loved, welcomed, accepted as is.
Sadly, I no longer have the paddock boots. Sadly, I no longer work with horses. Pictures and memories, very fond memories. I wish I had money so I could have a horse of my own, so I could ride again. I've come a long way from that time, I think I turned out ok. I now have a child of my own who likes to ride ponies whenever we go to a Fair. I'm hoping that some day she will take riding lessons and enjoy riding as much as I did. Her enjoyment will be without pain, without the need for flight from abuse.
I've since worn many types of shoes, none of which can match those paddock boots. I have many more years yet to live and I am hoping that another pair of shoes will lift me up, teach me something new. It is not a necessity though, since I got what I needed from those paddock boots, but experience and joy should never be banished but embraced always.