I am working a temp job at a small college that is preparing to close in August. Like most colleges I’ve seen, the hallways are not carpeted, at least in the majority of the building. I’ve been wearing my rubber-soled flats and low-heeled boots this winter, having not yet pulled out my spring and summer shoes and sandals. But on this particular day, since it was unseasonably warm and sunny, I decided to wear a pair of off-white spring shoes with my light mint green top and off-white pants. The shoes are flats, but they, unlike most of my shoes, have a rigid leather sole with a hard, low, wide heel. The outfit looked nice and felt like something I could feel good in and comfortably wear through the day.
I did notice that the low heel made a bit of a clacking sound as I walked across my tile kitchen floor. I didn’t like the noise they made, but finally decided it wasn’t too terribly noticeable. So off I went to work at the dying college with tiled institutional linoleum floors.
When I walked in the door, I knew within seconds that I had made a very bad decision. I wanted to pull inside of myself. To cower there. The sound of each step I took echoed down the hallway and was magnified as it bounced off the walls. Click. Clomp. Click. Clomp. Click. Clomp. I’m sure the entire remaining staff could easily track my progress as I made my way to my office.
Thank goodness my office is carpeted!
As I was walking down the hall to the bathroom later that morning…click, clomp, click, clomp…I had an epiphany. I like to move silently through life. No, I MUST move silently through life. I don’t want to be seen or heard. I am terrified of making noise and attracting attention to myself.
Last Friday at this same college, we had a roast / toast event. Several people got up to speak and I noticed that most of the women wore heels that clacked quite loudly with each step. Some of the men’s shoes clicked too. Clicked noisily in the room as they walked to the microphone. Clacked loudly as they walked back to their seats. The sound echoed off the walls and high ceiling, making me uncomfortable. Causing me to cringe. I noticed, but I don’t think anyone else gave it even one moment of consideration. They certainly didn’t seem to be aware. I had a fleeting thought regarding how interesting it was that no one seemed embarrassed at making such a racket…and then it went out of my mind as fast as it had entered. The roast went on. The next person walked forward. Some were very noisy as they walked; some only moderately so. It was what it was and it didn’t seem to matter to anyone. Shoes did what they do on tile floors. No one acted as if the ricocheting sound registered or was of any consequence.
I feel responsible for the noise I make as I move through life. I don’t believe I am supposed to make any. I don’t have a right. I must be quiet. Move soundlessly. Leave no ripples. Disturb no one.
Walking back to my office from the bathroom via the mail room, I realized most of my shoes are chosen for their comfort. But more importantly, I require soundlessness. I normally wear shoes of which a super-spy would approve. They allow me to move stealthily. Without even the slightest squeak. If they do squeak, I stop wearing them. Give them away. I desire total silence. I don’t like my shoes to reveal my location. I don’t want them to call attention to myself. To give me away.
I hadn’t realized this before. I simply knew I became irritated by any footwear that clattered or squeaked as I walked. I never examined that irritation. Never really thought about it.
When I was a child growing up in a home where my parents abused me, I needed to be invisible. If they didn’t see me or notice me, I wouldn’t become a target. I hid in silence. I melded with walls. I cloaked myself in the quietness and shivered there, fearful of discovery. When they noticed me, awful things happened. So I tried to move through the rooms like a ghost.
I supposed old survival skills die hard. I’m still trying to be invisible. Trying to go unnoticed so I won’t be targeted. I still fear making sound and drawing attention to myself. I’m still trying to move through the rooms like a ghost.
I move on silent shoes. I wrap myself in the stillness. I hide there.
I wish I could tell you my discovery set me free to click and clatter and clomp down the halls, not caring who heard me or what they might have thought of all my noise. But that would be a lie.
In truth, I probably won’t wear those shoes again.