As I stood on the tile beside the door, getting my mind ready for the blast of cold and snow that I was about to encounter, I looked down at my boots. My ugly boots. My old, dirty, ugly boots. I’d had them since high school – about ten years now. Ten years is a long time to have a pair of shoes when you’re only 26 and female. They were a sort-of faded black – I couldn’t remember if they had always been that color or if they had faded over time – with dirt on the top of one of them that I couldn’t seem to get off. They were size almost-too-big. Clunky was a good description for them; I sounded like a 300 pound drunk man when I walked across the floor. And they were plain. Completely plain, except for the drawstring around the top to keep the snow from getting inside. They were my old, dirty, ugly boots.
Trekking across the yet-to-be-plowed parking lot toward my bus stop, through snow drifts up to my ankles, I was almost thankful for those ugly boots. But just almost. When I sat down on the bus, my feet were dry and warm, which is important to a cold-natured person such as myself. But they were still my ugly boots. I couldn’t help but frown down at them, no matter how subconsciously thankful I was for unfrozen toes.
With my feet under my desk at work, I didn’t have to think about my unsightly boots too much. I went to work, getting done what I had planned to finish that day in no time. This made it so I could help out in the drop-in center for most of the day, hanging out with the street youth that come into Sox Place. Between getting warm socks for the kids and cleaning up coffee spills – cold, numb hands don’t attach well to warm cups of coffee – it was easy to ignore the sound of big-foot coming from my own boots.
Not long after we opened, a girl came in almost unnoticed among the extra-large crowd that Sox Place attracts on snowy days. But she stood out a little more than the others – at least to me. The coat she had on looked warm enough, but it was obviously too small. Small tufts of blonde hair poked out of her too-tight hood just enough to see that neither a comb nor shampoo had touched it in weeks. Her nose was running and her face was red. Her lips looked as if she were to try to smile, they would start bleeding in about ten places. She had her sleeping bag draped over most of her body so as to keep the flying snow away as she walked. The legs of her jeans were wet half-way up to her knees from being dragged through slush. And her non-waterproof boots looked as if someone had soaked them in a bathtub of ice water overnight before giving them to her to wear.
She came up to me and asked, barely audible, “Can I go downstairs to get shoes and some dry clothes?”
“Absolutely,” I responded, as I led her to the donation room. I pointed to the piles of shoes and coats while she removed the load from her back.
“Thank you,” she said, her voice a little stronger. “I got here as fast as I could. My feet are so cold. I tried to run, but I couldn’t feel my feet. I almost fell.” She looked down at her sloshy boots and took a step. “Oh! They hurt so bad!” She walked closer to the shoes. “Oh, they hurt!”
I didn’t know what to tell her. Frostbite was the first thing that came to my mind, but I didn’t want to tell her that. Surly she didn’t have frostbite. “Maybe you should take off your wet socks and shoes, and I’ll go get you some dry socks.”
She began to take off her shoes, and I went upstairs to grab some thick socks. When I came back, she had picked out some boots in her size (good thing she had small feet – they were the last pair of boots we had) and was headed toward the pile of coats, cursing her feet as she went.
I handed her the socks, and she sat down with a curse, “They hurt so bad! Why would they hurt so much?”
I looked at her bare feet as she rubbed them between her hands before putting on the socks. They were wrinkled, as if she had been in the shower too long. And red. So red it looked like she was overheated, but I knew it was just the opposite. “I don’t know,” I answered. “Maybe it’s like after you’ve been playing in the snow, then you come inside and wash your hands in warm water, and it hurts a lot because your fingers got so cold.”
She didn’t respond to my answer. I’m not sure if she thought it was as dumb as I thought it had sounded or if she was thinking about it. Either way, she finished her business and put on her new-found, fitting coat and warm, waterproof boots.
As I watched her toss her old, soaked boots to the side, I couldn’t help but look down at my own feet. Maybe it was the lighting in that basement or the fact that I was standing on a crumbling concrete floor, but for some reason, my boots didn’t look quite so ugly anymore.
By Kara Knight