I was 18 years old the last time I bought Birkenstocks. I spent my summer working in the shoe department at the department store formally known as Hudson’s, which was half my dream job and half a nightmare — access to all of that fabulous footwear teeter-tottering with having to help slide other people’s feet into shoes. My wardrobe teeter-tottered, too, wedges and crop tops in one breath, oversized flannel and the iconic Arizona Birks in the next.
At 18 years old, I didn’t know what my closet wanted to be when it grew up, let alone my whole person. I’m inching closer to 40, and I’m still not entirely sure about either of those things.
I’ve got a pair of Birkenstocks in my online shopping cart again, though I haven’t been able to click the purchase trigger just yet. I ditched oversized flannel 20 years ago, and I don’t plan on sliding into cut-offs this summer. This time, I’m thinking about buying them because I refuse to give up my workouts or my favorite wedges, and Googling “plantar faciitis shoes” made me cringe in horror.
Buying shoes purely for comfort feels foreign, and I can’t exactly reconcile it with… well… anything. When, exactly, did my feet grow up and start demanding support and responsible decisions? I thought we were still on the same page, and in my head, that page is filled with sky high heels and ridiculously flat flip flops for days when I’m rushing across the street to pick up the kids.
The past few months have turned a lot of my pages upside down; my grief expands and contracts at the strangest times, a new sort of normal bookended by memories and unbidden tears.
Six months ago, I would have told you I’d said good-bye to my 18-year-old self long ago. Eighteen was kind of the middle of bad decisions and halting starts and stops, poorly judged friendships and a poorly judged tattoo.
Losing my dad, though, thrust me forward in a way that made me think 18-year-old me wasn’t as far in my past as I thought. I still reach to call him when I need an adult perspective, I think about taking him banana bread when I make two loaves. I couldn’t breathe for a moment when I bought one less Father’s Day card this year.
As I think about the years between my first Birkenstocks and the pair waiting in my shopping cart, I wish I would have enjoyed 18 more, when I could slide on shoes and identities without much thought, when I never doubted I had a soft place to land.