There was something about those shoes. I had been looking for penny loafers in the first place. These were some weird-shaped version. They had a brooch where the slot for a penny should have been. They were more pointed. They didn’t have the smooth round edge of a true loafer. But they were on sale. And they were close enough. At least that’s what I let Mom convince me. Even though I had to wear old lady’s knee-high stockings instead of the cotton ribbed socks I wanted to wear with them. I silenced myself to the red flags. I accepted my good-enough shoes.
The next morning I prepared to go to Treaty Middle School. The next day was Wednesday. It was an important day. It was a day upon which we eighth-graders were invited to an assembly with Treaty High School. These joint assemblies were monumental events. We could proclaim our dominance of the middle school realm by being included with the “big kids.” We could remind the sixth and seventh graders that they were not yet prepared to be wowed by the rituals of a high school assembly: the drama, the high fashion, the boys! Ah, the glorious boys. These joint assemblies gave us an all-access pass to those chiseled-faced Adonises in the senior class. Twelfth grade. Pay dirt! When the monthly calendar would arrive in our homerooms, we would scour it and scan it for our chance at a brush with greatness. We eighth grade girls were on a mission. Not only did we daydream about the chance to drool over the dangerous darlings of upperclassmen land, we wanted the stamp of approval of the high school girls. A passing hello or a knowing smile from the top of the social food chain over there could work wonders for any eighth grade girl. It was the stuff of legend.
Wednesday was upon us. I had arisen at five o’clock that morning with a renewed sense of purpose. I could smell success. I had ironed a razor-sharp crease in my most sophisticated pair of rinse-washed jeans. They were ever so tapered around the ankle in order to show off my brooch flats. That’s what I had decided to call my shoes, because they were not penny loafers. I had to face it. My top of choice was a sleek cotton-blended turtleneck sweater, in the most glamorous shade of mauve. I spent 27 minutes with a soft-bristle brush and hairspray creating the perfectly coiffed ponytail. I was ready for the big-time.
I walked slowly and carefully to the bus stop. Although I had an extra pair in my school bag, I did not want to get a run in my knee-high stockings. I did not have faith in my brooch flats. They were nice enough, but they were not penny loafers. I felt the sole was too smooth. I tripped climbing onto the bus. Before I went careening into the driver I grabbed for a pole to steady myself. I regained my composure and slid into a seat. I examined my ankles and feet. No runs. Breathing a sigh of relief I tried to catch my reflection in the bus window. Was my ponytail messed up? The horror. I nervously cradled my schoolbag in my lap. Had I remembered my homework? I had been so wrapped up in the bright lights of the high school assembly that I barely remembered eating dinner last night, let alone my algebra assignment. Unzipping my backpack I poked around inside for my math notebook. Fanning the pages I found the worksheet. I had completed it. Thank God. I did not need any distractions when I stepped into the high-gloss of the assembly. I needed to focus.
By the time I reached homeroom my left brooch flat had begun to flop off the back of my foot with every other step. How could this be? At the onset of my experience with these shoes it was necessary for me to wear knee-highs just so they would fit comfortably. And now, right before I burst into the shining glitter of a high school assembly they became a walking wardrobe malfunction? This was not happening. I refused to accept it. Sitting in my desk I waited for my comrades to arrive. Every girl in year eight of her academic career at Treaty was consumed by the assembly. It was a reverse bra burning. It was the Oscars! It was glam. Tiffany arrived first. She had somehow convinced her college student sister to lend her a fitted bodysuit top with shoulder pads and a snappy crotch! You just knew it was a snappy crotch because it did not move an inch. It was beyond tucked. Tiffany had come to play. She sat next to me, nonchalantly saying “Hey, girl,” and turning back to rummage through her purse. Her game face was superb. There was not even an inkling of the magnitude of what we were about to embark upon visible there. Caroline was next. She was actually wearing eyeliner! Her hair was curled in a flip. Glancing down at her feet I was stunned. She was wearing suede calf-height boots with a chain around the cuff! These blew my dreams of penny loafers out of the water. They even topped the crease in my jeans. I would have to rely on my back-up accessories. Digging in the front zip of my schoolbag, I retrieved a small plastic baggie. Inside was my wildcard: long dangling chain earrings with pink balls on the end, and a tube of fuchsia lipstick. Taking out a compact and applying my finishing touches, I looked like crystallized Pepto-Bismol, like a Barbie doll dream house had exploded. I was ready for the gridiron.
Tiffany and Caroline gave approving glances. We spoke no words. We sat impatiently as Mr. Whetstone dragged through roll call. He needed to hurry up. We wanted to make our entrance in the assembly. The high school-ers were already there. Finally we began to line up to be escorted down the hall. The zero hour was upon us. Curling my toes inside of my brooch flats I took my place towards the end of the line. I was one of the tallest girls in all of eighth grade. I usually hated this fact but today it was an advantage. My height would hoist me over the wall of middle school mediocrity into the high school high life.
The line slowly began to march towards the towering double doors of the auditorium. The high school students, seated already, turned to assess the throngs of eighth-graders filing in to their assembly. As my homeroom group got close, our line folded into a small crush of students in no particular order. Now, Tiffany was ahead of me and Caroline stood beside me. My brooch flat popped off the back of my foot again. Alarm shot through my body. I couldn’t get my shoe back on. My footing gave way. In what seemed like slow motion I slid and tumbled down the stairs of the auditorium. My schoolbag slammed forward over my perfectly coiffed ponytail. One of my earrings clattered under a seat. I could not stop moving. I was sliding at top speed down the side aisle past rows and rows of high school students, my dreams shattering in their wake. I was a sparkly bobsled of social demise. I was a tangled mess of pink glitter and school books. How did my backpack get unzipped? I was still sliding, tumbling and fumbling.
I had hit the locked doors at the base of the stage where the orchestra instruments were kept. I laid still. I was in shock. A hush had gone over the room. I took a breath. I was alive. The tears came first. But they were tears of relief. The pressure was off. And so was my shoe! One of my brooch flats had ricocheted into the abyss with my earring. My body began to shake. It started as a silent tremble and then erupted into an uncontrollable fit of laughter. I was hysterical. I could not calm down. This was too funny. It was absurd! Climbing to my feet I was still seeing stars. Stumbling, searching for my shoe in between giggles, I see Randy Arnold, the most handsome boy in twelfth grade, standing with something in his hand. Oh no, could it be? My shoe! Randy was holding my left brooch flat! Swooning with nausea I could not keep my laughter down. I started toward him. What did I have to lose? As I began my slow gait up in his direction he took my shoe and tucked it under his arm. With both hands free he began to applaud. One by one those seated around him and standing about began to follow suit! A thunderous applause resonated. Students were whistling and swinging their gym shirts over their heads. This was surreal. I reached Randy. He handed me my shoe and gave my shoulder a quick squeeze. I was astonished. Dropping the shoe onto the ground and placing my foot inside. I looked around for Tiffany and Caroline. They stood frozen by the doorway, never completing their descent into the room after my amazing pratfall. I scurried toward them. At that moment the vice principal, Ms. Atwood, had taken the microphone on stage. “Simmer down children. Simmer down.”
Just as soon as the moment had begun it was over. We took our seats. I didn’t slouch in mine this time. After school I walked triumphantly into the courtyard. I could see my friends on the sidewalk below. By now the entire school had heard that Randy and I had an eternal bond. I was changed. I was proud. Seeing me standing there, Tiffany and Caroline motioned for me to come over and address the small crowd they had gathered to rehash the day’s events. I sauntered toward the stairs. Stepping onto the smooth stone my brooch flat slipped down. I was now face-down on the concrete.
“Hey isn’t that the same girl that fell this morning?” A voice shouted in the distance. Standing up to brush my hands off, I was.
I never wore those shoes again.
Angela Ford Johnson is a writer and consultant from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, US.