Ode to an Old Pair of Sandals

By Emily Watson

As I was walking over to the grocery store today, I saw two pairs of sneakers in a dumpster. I wondered where they had come from. Did someone buy them at a store one day, get excited, slip them on and walk around Brooklyn? Or were they passed down from one family member to another, as many of my shoes have been in the past? Were they plucked from a thrift store shelf for a second life? Who wore them?

I’ve always had a bit of an obsession with shoes, a family tradition passed down from my grandmother, who since her days growing up during Imelda Marcos’ era in the Philippines has amassed a mighty collection. Many of the places she’s been, she’s also picked up a pair of shoes. I can see the decades and the travels through the stacks of shoe boxes piled against her closet wall — pumps from the ’70s, multi-colored flats from the ’80s, sneakers she wore as a nurse in Chicago — a timeline of life itself.

The sandals on my own feet have seen so much of my life for the last two years I’ve owned them. Each fraying edge has seen something new. Unlike a lot of pairs I’ve bought for aesthetics or out of sheer temptation, these were always meant to be practical. I still remember the day I bought them. A friend and I had decided to drive up the California coast together. It was spontaneous, ill-planned and one of the most exciting adventures of my life. We didn’t know where we’d sleep each night and we didn’t pack the right shoes, so we made a pit-stop at a supermarket in a tiny coastal town. We bought the same $8 sandals — mine brown, hers neon green.

They started their journey on a beach near Monterrey. We played in the sand, and they got dirty almost immediately. Then they came with me through hostels, Big Sur, the streets of San Francisco and a hike at Yosemite. They made their way back to Texas with me, where I wore them through many hot summer days and post-graduation contemplation in backyards and coffee shops. They came with me the first time I went to Mexico. They saw me trying new things and learning about myself.

In March, they came with me here to New York City, a place I dreamed about moving while wearing other shoes when I was much younger. They’ve seen subway grunge and city sidewalks, Central Park paths and unfamiliar apartments. And after two years of pounding the pavement with me, I think it may be time for these old sandals to retire — but I just can’t throw them away.