This is a story that I created for a writing class that I am taking. The teacher challenged us to use a shoe as metaphor, and this is my response. Several years ago, when I was a music student in graduate school, a marathon runner, and a wounded soul just beginning to discover my path of healing, I experienced a brutal ankle injury. Here is my memory of that time.
The shoe sits by my door, new dust of neglect mixing with the old dust of races won and lost. The shoe looks lonely, like a puppy waiting by the door, leash in mouth, looking for her owner to come home for a walk. But the outing will have to wait for a brighter day.
Months earlier, I had sat on the edge of the doctor’s table. “Take off your shoes, please,” he mumbled as he stared at the X-ray. “Well, there’s nothing broken, but you will have to lay off running for a while.” He took my bare foot in his hand and gently flexed my ankle. “Does that hurt?”
Does that hurt? I wanted to scream at him. If it didn’t hurt, why would I be here? Please, fix it now. I have a race this weekend, and then in two weeks, the big one. The marathon. I have trained all year for this race. Eight miles a day. Twenty-mile-plus runs on the weekend. Does that hurt? Yeah, but the pain is good, right? Just breathe, Amy. Just breathe.
I stared at the doctor. He picked up my shoe and studied the bottom, looking for some clue in the wear pattern. Was there something wrong with my gait? Maybe a pebble had gotten lodged in some deep crevice, making me limp, ever so slightly, changing the balance.
That was the name of this pair of shoes. Ironic. My life seems so out of balance right now. There is so much pressure in grad school. Perform, perform, perform. Audition next week. Get those études perfect. Come on, I expected more out of you. You call that music?
Running is my escape. I lace up my shoes and let them take me deep into the woods, and I meditate to the rhythm of my shoes on the path and the trees whispering around me.
But now the shoes and the trees are silent. I only hear the ticking clock in the doctor’s office. He has left the room to go talk to someone. He comes back with a prescription for pain medicine and physical therapy. He looks at me sternly. “Take it easy. Keep your weight off that ankle as much as possible and DO NOT run.” I nod my head and get up to leave. I see compassion in his gaze as he watches me, and I think I hear him whisper, “I know how it is. I miss my shoes, too.”
I cannot stay away. I load up on pain drugs, and I hobble to the race. The physical pain in my ankle is nothing compared to the emotional pain that I can beat away on the pavement. Maybe it’s an addiction. Maybe I can erase the pain of my past and all the abuse and hurtful words by running them into the ground. My running shoes are an escape valve for my exploding heart. I am excited by the cheers of the race-day crowd, and I breathe deeply of the brisk autumn air tickling the red and gold leaves on the trees. I am propelled forward by a physical high, my body responding to injury upon injury by supplying an extraordinary, primal adrenaline rush. I finish the race with a new personal best time.
Then I collapse in the first aid tent, pain coursing through my foot like a hammer crushing through my dreams.
A friend takes me back to the doctor. I have to trade my shoe for a walking cast and crutches. The doctor looks at the pain in my eyes, and he holds back his lecture. Instead, he pats me on the shoulder and says, “You will get better, in time. Give it time.”
The damage is complete, and complications ensue. I end up traversing seven months on crutches, two surgeries, and almost a year of physical therapy before I can walk normally again. While the storm rages, I learn to invite the rain to begin healing the deep places in my soul and make peace with my music and my past. At the end of the year, I hobble across the graduation stage, minus one shoe, but plus seven months of a lifetime of wisdom.