About 7 years after I married the man I was with for 22 years, I finally landed a fairly good job that paid reasonable wages and that offered some stability. It certainly wasn’t my first job. And I worked hard to get this far. It was my first management position, my first time as a salaried employee and the first place that offered me a little bit of a future.
I felt comfortable enough to think about buying a house. Not a big house. Not a new house. But a starter home with a yard for a dog and a garage. A spare bedroom. I even considered getting a new car. Nothing fancy. But something that wasn’t 15 years old with all kinds of mechanical problems. Something that wouldn’t leave me stranded by the side of the road. Something I could rely on.
Around this same time, I decided it was time to get myself a nice warm pair of snow boots. I didn’t live in a part of the country where winters were long and severe, but we did get some ice and snow, sometimes a lot of it, if only for short periods of time. I was tired of not having anything to wear when it was ugly out, getting snow in my shoes, freezing my toes.
My (then) husband loved Cabela’s and it was in one of their catalogues I spotted the perfect pair of boots. They were made of a tan leather that was thick and water repellent. They had a fluffy fleece lining and they were tall enough to reach half way to my knees. They laced up and had slip-resistant rubber soles that promised to provide traction. But they were pricey. At least on my budget…good job or not.
We managed to purchase a 1500 square foot home for $55,000 in a fairly nice part of the city, filled with young families and police officers. It had a big yard and a two car garage, walk in closets and 3 bedrooms with 2 baths. I also purchased a brand new Honda CRX with 15 miles on the odometer. My car payments were only $125 a month and, because of the down payment we made on the house, our house payments were less than our rent had been. So I bought the boots.
They were out of my size by the time I decided to buy them. They were a popular item. I had the option of going up a half size or down. I went down. Vanity ruled. My toes hit the end making them just a little uncomfortable with thick socks, but it wasn’t as if I was going to wear them all the time or hike in them. These were my bad weather boots. They were reasonably cute, but they were made for cold, wet, snowy conditions. They were created to serve a higher purpose.
I’ve moved 3 times since that first house. Three different houses in progressively better areas, one of them a state away. I’m on my 4th dog since the one I had when I lived in that house. My marriage ended in one of those houses when my ex left me for another woman, professing his lack of love for me and undying love for her. I’ve held 6 jobs since the one where I became a manager for the first time in my life. I’ve gained and lost weight, gained and lost friends, aged considerably and wrinkled even more. It has been 30 years since I decided to buy those Cabela’s boots. They’ve kept my feet warm and dry every snowy, cold, icy day during each of those 30 winters. Sometimes I’ve worn them when it wasn’t snowy, but just because my feet were cold. They still look brand new, other than the fact that the fleece in the bottom is packed down a little from having carried me around over time.
Yes, those boots have outlasted jobs, houses, dogs, friends, positions, dreams, and even my husband. They are still there for me, faithfully keeping me warm, dry and upright when the weather is nasty. I suppose only God has been with me longer, but because He seems so distant, it’s hard to remember He’s also still with me. Though He has probably carried me more than they have, sadly, the boots seem more tangible.
I put them on a few days ago because it was cold and rainy out and I was surprised to feel some dampness on one of my socks when I came back inside and took them off. It made me sad. Even though they look fairly new, they have, after all, aged just as many years as I have. They’ve been there for me in the worst of times. They’ve stood with me during the worst storms.
I can’t blame them for this tiny failure, in light of their long and faithful service. And I will surely hang on to them for a few more years until they no longer offer me any protection from the bad weather of life. In fact, I will likely keep them even after I can’t wear them simply because they have been there for me when everything else in life fell out from under me and left me broken and alone. When I retire them, they will have earned some honor.
After 30 years, they are the only thing I still have that I had then. This fact makes me both happy and profoundly sad. Piece by piece, I have been dismantled and now, only the boots remain. They are all that is left of the person I was those many years ago. A little leaky, but still standing by, ready to protect and serve. When I put them on, I am touching my past. A past that was fitted with hope, belief in a wondrous future, a place of new beginnings and potential. None of which survived. Even my body has not fared as well as this simple pair of boots.
So much is wrapped up in those boots. They represent a completely different universe, one where I once lived, and they carried a very different person within them. Now, when I say goodbye to them, I will be saying goodbye to all that they symbolize and all that has been left behind. We’ve made tracks, me and those boots. Boots that cramp my toes even as they warm me. We’ve come far together to have never gotten anywhere at all. To have left so much behind. To be all that is left to each other.