By Jennifer Brennock
There is a photo that I wish I still had. In it, I am in love. It was the first time it was returned. I don’t need to tell you about that danger. I’m 21. He’s taking the photo. I’d just purchased the boots I’m wearing at a lonely secondhand that smelled like diesel. This pair had a past already when I claimed them, one I will never know.
I’m standing on the rocks of a Pacific lighthouse. He has an old camera, wearing the ridiculous railroad hat he’d chosen from the store of throwaways. He’s wearing it backward. Because fuck it. He is fiddling with the camera, and I’m waiting, thinking, I’m going to marry him.
In the no cell phone days, a couple of broke kids could get in a shitbox maroon Honda with no destination, fill the tank with a handful of change, and end up in Crescent City, California just by watching where the sun was going and not paying attention to much of anything. Me, taking off my seatbelt, getting on my knees to kiss his neck while traversing the curves of a forest highway. We passed a cigarette between us. The speakers were already blown. Red Hot Chili Peppers, I think. My feet were bare, propped out the open window, because we hadn’t stopped at the junk shop yet. My toes were cleaned by the wind of the moving car.
I have worn these boots for 23 years, the age he was when we found first wonder. How can someone just like you exist? How did I even breathe before I met you? We were too young to behave any other way than with reckless abandon. We didn’t know about endings yet. We’d never had one. Through all the years after, I’ve started most days with the flip-slide, flip-slide of putting on these boots.
I keep things in them. Better than purse, more mobile than wallet. Keys, I.D., credit card, cash. When I give a reading, I hold the microphone in one hand and pull my pages out of the side of my boot with the other. We already know that a bullet might be in there, for courage and bravery, knocking about in the place closest to the ground, rattling with each forward step.
The boots and I have been separated since stay-at-home. They’ve been locked up too, behind the pulled shades of a Hawthorne district repair shop. Nobody was answering the phone. The store looked like a done deal. I drove by occasionally hoping to catch someone cleaning it out or something, maybe a landlord. I pushed pleading notes under the door. Yesterday, I got them back.
This year, shoes are not a priority. They’re merely possessions and there are more important things happening in the world, but these have been on my feet through two degrees and the start of another, shit jobs, professional start-ups, full moon hikes, reggae festivals, trauma, healing, two marriages, two divorces, smoky zydeco bars, manifesting bad ideas, moves north and norther, and then south again. They’ve walked among my students in classrooms. They’ve attended the weddings of dear friends. They’ve hurried in the middle of the night to the ones undone. They have pounded city streets with a bitch-slap-slap. They’ve caught trains to Amsterdam, Rome, Tuscany, and Paris. They’ve bounced down unpaved roads in Costa Rica and been pulled over by the police. They’ve seen wild horses roaming Puerto Rico. They’ve straddled into a long boat in Thailand. They have been on blind dates and had their heart broken. They’ve been discarded at the bedsides of my lovers: writers, teachers, musicians, one Marine, one mountaineer, and one farmer. They’ve refused to come off while posing nude for a painter. They’ve survived soft parties, hard work, demoralizing parenthood, scraping by, and getting up again. They walked away from a beloved sister. They ran from the toxic. They walked through the death of my father and have overheard a lot of fireside amateur philosophy. Sirens, ferns, airplanes, hot air balloons, and dancing under stars. They’ve circled many pool tables, slow, with false bravado. They stayed on for steamy encounters of lusty freedom. They have hidden. They’ve run.
I became myself in these boots. More than ever, I’m aware they are here with me still, providing support closest to the surface, the grounding required to stand tall through the current chaos, and say, This is what I believe.
Happily contributing to Voices of August for years, Jennifer Brennock is a writer and the only person living in Portland who does not like living in Portland. She’s grateful to George Rede for the free space. They are in need of protection now more than ever.
Tomorrow: Staying positive in the new world | Patricia Conover