An audio version of this post is available here.
Somehow the shoes – not the clothes – were what did for me. Two crammed bin liners in, and I abruptly threw the second one down and walked out of the room. (It needs doing. It needs doing.) All the dresses I’d had made for me by my tailor in the 90s and noughties, those went some time ago. I didn’t feel much more than a fleeting sadness for them. I’m older now. I wear different clothes. I couldn’t get into them anyway. That is the order of things as one gets older.
But the shoes, those are different. I could get into all of them. But I couldn’t walk in any of them, not five steps. And what would I wear them to? I don’t leave the house.
Dozens of spike heels. These ones I bought for a bash at the Savoy. These, I got in Church’s at Chancery Lane, their neat black ankle strap always looked so elegant. These ones went perfectly with those brown trousers I had. These were my fuck me heels. They worked. Running shoes. That I ran in, in the cool black evenings, gloves on, headphones on. Here are summer wedges, gingham, high, I made him take them off me with his teeth. These came to New York. These to Frankfurt, there’s still blood in them. These boots went to Rome and Istanbul. These Mary Janes went to Venice. Paris, Paris, and Paris: these ones. Brussels: the first Eurostar out, always, in the blue grey London dawn, in a rattling black cab over the pink waking Thames, and nobody has breathed the air yet. It is all mine. Those went to Dallas. These went to Chicago. I bought these in Vermont while skiing (skiing!), these in New York, these in … where the hell did I buy these? Spain? Portugal?
Grey patent. Red patent. Red glitter. Red velvet. Red suede. Raspberry patent. Dark blue velvet, kitten heels, I climbed a mountain in Thailand in you. Incongruously. Emerald printed cotton. Yellow silk. Purple silk. Silver.
Here are the black strappy wedge boots I was wearing that night, about a week before I got signed off work. It was autumn. I’d been falling over a lot for a year, but this one was memorable. I went over for no reason whatsoever in that little lane that leads down to Catford Bridge, and I came down on that massive wooden sleeper thing. Hand, knee. And there was a woman there and I couldn’t get up and it was the first time I’d experienced that, the complete marionetting of my body, the cutting of all strings. The lack of connection between intent and action. I couldn’t move while she asked, down a tunnel, through a blanket, in a foreign language I slowly realised was English “Are you alright?” It was only seconds and when my body switched back on again I exploded upright – “Fuck!”
“Are you alright?”
“Yes,” as I stamped off. But I wasn’t. And suddenly there wasn’t any wiggle room to pretend I was, any more, in these boots, these pretty boots.
And here’s what happened next, going into the bin liners: the Uggs that I lived in solidly from January ’09 for a year or two. The only things I could stand up in. The only things that didn’t make me bleed when I walked. After I bought them I never wore any of my lovely shoes again. Not once.
It’s like going through the possessions of someone who has died. There is no bright side to it. Just loss. I am troubled by her ghost.
I am troubled by my ghost.
I remember being alive, and it is difficult to reconcile then and now, difficult to reconcile me and this. I struggle with it. I work hard not to.
So I take a break and write this. It needs doing. The clearing, I mean. You can’t live with the dead tucked under your bed and in the bottom of your wardrobe. You can’t live with it and expect to be ok. It needs doing.
And writing about it needs doing too. I can jam all that stuff into black bags and junk it, but I also need to sit down with that grief and look it in the eye. Not indulge it or invite it to come and live with me. But admit that it’s there. I feel sad for the things that happened to her, that girl. She was odd, but good. Odd, but loyal. Odd, and all fire. Unstoppable, until she stopped, unbreakable until she broke. Now she is gone, and nothing rushes in to fill the space she left. Nothing. Rushes. In.
I don’t know what the future holds. But there is a future. So it must hold something. It won’t be spike heels, running shoes, ski boots.