I had a friend going through a break up. A hard one. A confusing one. One she wasn’t entirely sure was right. But she was at a crossroads and it was time to make a decision. We spent many hours together as she talked through the ruins and wondered which path to choose.
It’s not easy to be “the friend” in these situations. I know for the most part, my job as “the friend” is to offer little input or opinion—to simply listen and encourage. Then again, my friends know me better than that. They know I will likely say something… the question is, can I say the right thing. Or at least not the wrong thing. Only after she let out a particularly long sigh and mumbled, “What do you think I should do…” did I finally speak.
“There is a store in Minneapolis I used to love,” I said.
The store was called Heartbreaker.
It was in Uptown; a hipster part of the city before hipster was a thing. The styles were funky, trendy and would barely last a season—and that was ok, because the clothes were cheap and would fall apart after only a season anyway. It took several passes through the store to really do it right. The first time you looked at the racks you’d think never in a million years would I wear something like that. But by the time you strolled by it again you’d wonder, “Could I wear a black lace, mini-dress with the midsection cut out??” And when you checked the tag and it was only $19.95, you’d answer: Absolutely.
Eventually, as I moved away from Minnesota and only made trips twice, then only once, a year, I would have to pre-plan for my Heartbreaker excursion; leaving extra room my the suitcase for stocking up. This was made even trickier by the fact that my very favorite thing about Heartbreaker was the shoes (and shoes always take up the most space).
Aside from shoes on display in the street-level window, Heartbreaker kept their shoe collection in dark, damp basement of the store only accessible by a wide spiral staircase. Once in the basement, you could look around as footwear-unlike-any-other covered the walls. Heels, boots, flats. Casual shoes, funky shoes, stripper shoes (lots of stripper shoes if I were to be totally honest). One of a kind shoes that could stop traffic and draw crowds at a price that was next to nothing. My first trip to Heartbreaker I spent nearly two hours with the shoes alone. I was never disappointed by their selection and never inhibited by their price.
In fact, the only thing that ever held me back from leaving the store looking like a Cat in the Hat inspired balancing act, carrying shoe boxes piled to the ceiling was…
The size of the shoe.
Heartbreaker is not unlike a high-end department store in that, when you find a shoe you like, you show it to an attendant and ask them to find it in your size. However, at Heartbreaker the attendant (who looks intimidating at first, with his brightly colored Mohawk and black under-eyeliner smudged down to his cheekbones), doesn’t come to you—instead he stands, guard-like, behind a waist-high door that leads to a damp, moldy, concrete backroom where piles of shoeboxes are stored like hidden treasure. Once you fight your way to the front of the line holding the shoe(s) you wish to try on, the attendant disappears into the darkness, and all you can do is pray. Pray they will have your size.
Which, by the way, they usually don’t.
“We didn’t have a seven and a half,” the words drip out of his mouth—he’s clearly bothered he has to utter words at all. “But here’s a seven.”
After the initial shock of disappointment, I would grab the too-small shoebox, take it back to a chair, and commence trying them on while still holding out hope. “No big deal,” I’d tell myself. “My feet are different sizes depending on the brand. Everything will be fine.” I’d remove my current footwear, hold my breath and begin to slide into the one of a kind shoe. But no. No amount of hoping, praying or shoving would change the fact that the shoe was one half-size off.
I never went down without a fight, though. I refused to give up. “A half a size is nothing!” I’d say. “I can make this work.” I scrunched my toes, I turned my heel, I tried from every angle from every side, from every way I could possibly think but no matter what I did,
Desperately, I’d go back to the attendant, I’d beg the attendant, but there was nothing he could (or would) do. If I wanted this shoe, it was going to be a half size off.
“In that moment,” I tell my friend who, yes, is still listening. “I am left with nothing but a decision: Buy. Or not.”
Do I accept that they don’t have my size and walk away?
Save my money, save my time, save my love until another shoe the right size comes along?
Do I try to change the shoe to make it fit—stretch it or something?
Imagining that, overtime, I’ll be able to wear it into something that fits me better.
Do I buy them, wear them, and then complain to my friends how much my feet hurt?
Or, do I simply decide that, though I’m not completely happy, I love this shoe.
And loving this shoe means living with the blisters?
The jury is still out on my friend’s relationship, but our conversation reminded me of an important lesson I learned long ago in a cheap shoe-shop I no longer visit; at any given time, and in any given area of our life, we face a similar crossroads. I suppose my hope—for my friend, for anyone—is that we either find a shoe that fits us the way we always dreamed, or… we keep the cupboards stocked with band aids—because blisters are a bitch.