I bought the red and black coq sportifs because I wanted to feel French, to blend in. You can tell a tourist by her shoes and I had moved beyond tourist status. I chose the sneakers partly for their kicky French fashion and partly for functionality – I walked everywhere in Paris.
Before these, I had replaced my more American shoes with European styles, but I had never taken the plunge to such a French brand. It wasn’t until after I spent time working on a farm, immersing myself in the language and culture and finally – finally! – feeling fluent enough, did I buy these shoes.
I wore them for about six months or so in Paris before leaving France for my next adventure. They were my hiking shoes as I trekked and explored Nepal for three months post-graduation. They took me into the Santa Cruz mountains where I struggled with my identity as a Christian, as a retail worker, as someone who didn’t exactly know what was happening next. They gave me identify – the girl who had lived in Paris. They even took me back to Europe, though not to France. This time, I wore them through Italy, feeling as though I may pass for French-ish, and not a total American.
I clung to the coq sportifs long after they were comfortable – when the insole was worn down and the funky smell permanently imbedded in the fabric. I eventually replaced them with another pair, bought from Zappos, which I still have, but they aren’t the same. They aren’t as authentic, though I still wear them. And when I do, I feel less mom-ish and more international.
In many ways, this new pair reflects who I am in many of the same ways as that original pair did. Living abroad shaped who I am – my worldview; my passions; my sensibilities. And yet. I don’t speak French anymore – I haven’t for over a decade. I don’t really travel anymore, either. I’m firmly in a phase where yoga pants and running shoes are a perfectly acceptable uniform.
There’s something about pulling out those French sneakers that makes me feel that certain piece of my identity. That piece that will travel again one day. That did have amazing experiences and will again.
These sneakers are reflected as Bea pulls out French books for kids that have been gifted over the years. They are reflected when Frank and I go to the opera or splurge on a beautiful dinner. They are reflected when we dream about exposing our kids to actual castles, rather than relying on the Disney version.
When I look back on that original pair, I’m glad I finally threw them away. They are not the person I am anymore. I am glad, too, that I bought that second pair – that pair that reminds me of who I was, of how that has shaped who I am, and that I am still on a journey of becoming.
I wonder which pair of shoes will take me through this next season?
Do you have an item or object that represents a specific phase in life? How has it changed in meaning over the years?