The first time I saw them was in the departure lounge of London’s Heathrow Airport. They were on a glass turntable in one of those spotless boutiques where there was only a handful of goods on display.
“Ooh,” I breathed to my teenage daughter, Bracha Leah. “Look at those shoes.”
They were classic Mary Janes, powder-blue patent leather, with a slim strap and silver buckle. The heel was a sturdy two-inch square built of cubed crystals in layers of prisms. They were on a perky slant, caught mid-dance. I’d never seen a pair of shoes this exquisite.
My daughter said, “They are Miu Miu,” in the tone of someone who knows what that means. Then she said, “Go try them on.”
I was wearing my “airplane outfit” – sneakers with the almost unnoticeable rip near the toe, the ones I really, really, was going to throw out soon, leggings, thick cotton socks, ankle-length skirt and comfy travel sweatshirt.
“I can’t go into such an elegant store.” I said, and we walked on.
I wasn’t “into” style. My daughters used to nudge each other and sigh at my wardrobe. I didn’t “do” glamorous. I didn’t go out. I used to go out, to community events, lectures, weddings, parties – just about every week there had been something to go to. But that was before.
When our son, Yossi, got engaged, we bought him shoes for his wedding – dressy, but comfortable enough to dance in. He never wore them.
Yossi died six weeks before his wedding day. He was scuba diving and he didn’t check his gear. His safety valve malfunctioned and he drowned. And I stopped going to weddings. Invitations would come to our home and, without opening them, I would throw them away. My own brother. My own sister. Both of them got married soon after Yossi died. I couldn’t “get it together.” I couldn’t think about getting dressed up, or taking a family picture without Yossi in it. I couldn’t think about dancing. And I couldn’t let my sorrow leak into everyone else’s joy. So on the nights of their weddings, I stayed home.
And for a long time after that, I stayed home. A year passed. Another year. There was nowhere I wanted to go.
Except London. London became the backdrop for many of my firsts. The first time we became grandparents. The first time a boy in the family was named after Yossi. The first time I stared at a pair of magnificent shoes and thought about dancing.
A few months after I first saw the shoes, I was back at Heathrow, hurrying to where my daughter Mushkie waited in the arrivals hall with her two sweet boys who call me Grandma in their delightful British accents. She held a welcoming cup of tea in her hand.
I’d forgotten about the shoes, until a few days later, when Mushkie and I were at the Brent Cross Shopping Centre near her home. We passed the designer row of shops and I noticed a familiar sign: Miu Miu. I told Mushkie about the shoes I’d seen in the airport on my last trip back to Los Angeles.
“Let’s go see.” She said. I was still wearing my “airplane outfit.” I shrugged, “They’re not for me.”
But Mushkie was already through the door.
“My mom saw a pair of shoes in the airport. She wants to know if they’re still available. Mommy, tell her what they look like.”
So I did. The saleslady said, “Of course. From last season. They’re on sale.”
She put the shoe into my hand. It was heftier than I’d thought. I ran my finger along the rows of inlaid stones. It would be like walking on diamonds. I turned the shoe over, saw the price and knew it was out of the question. Even on sale. There was no way that I would pay close to $1,000 for a pair of shoes. And then I remembered that the price was in British pounds and that in American dollars the price was much higher. The exchange rate was about 1.6. I did the math. These shoes cost almost as much as our first car.
“They’re on sale.” Mushkie reminded me.
The shoe was too big. They didn’t have my size. “That’s that,” I said, relief chased by disappointment. I started for the door.
But Mushkie is made of different stuff. “Do you have other locations? Can you check if they have them in my mom’s size?” She followed the saleslady to the computer and came back holding a slip of paper with the address to the Miu Miu store in central London.
That night my son-in-law Motty printed a detailed map directing us from the train station to Miu Miu, where the shoes in my size lived.
There were many reasons not to buy those shoes. They cost much too much. They would be wasted on me. I hardly left the house since Yossi died. The light blue color was impractical. They had to be paired with the right dress – something classy, maybe black. I didn’t have a dress like that. If I bought those shoes, I would not be able to buy anything else for a long time. The shoes were frivolous. They were sensational. They were everything I was not. I had no need for shoes like that.
There was one reason to buy them: Those shoes made me want to dance.
I called my husband. “I saw a pair of shoes today,” I told him. “Actually, I saw them a few months ago in the airport… They’re expensive… You wouldn’t believe how much… They kind of take my breath away. I want to buy them… I think… I don’t know. Mushkie and I could go tomorrow… Here’s the thing: I don’t want to tell you how much they cost, even on sale. So, what do you think?”
My husband is a very smart man. He said, “Okay!” In our marriage, my husband is the one who worries about money. He’s also the one who can “make do” with the same clothing until the threads come apart.
The absurdity of it tickled me. I’d been dazzled. I actually craved those shoes. Opulence like this was unlike me. Not just unlike the grieving “me.” It was unlike the “me” I’d been before Yossi died – the “me” who’d been able to get through a day without wanting to stop being. Now, I wished for Cinderella shoes to lift me up above the despair. Maybe that’s all this was: Make believe. The way people who are hurting obsess over which pleasure can make the pain fade away. Maybe this was just an extremely pricey version of chocolate or alcohol. Maybe I was setting myself up for a perilous letdown. Shoes? How would shoes make me feel better? But I sensed that it was something more. Maybe it could only be in footwear so “unordinary,” so resplendent, so beyond what I’d worn before, that I could take a step forward, then another step, even dance again. Or maybe it was just shallow lust. No matter. I had to have those shoes.
Motti’s directions were easy to follow. In the Miu Miu palace, Mushkie and I sank into the plush couch, said, “No thank you” to the offer of wine, accepted bottled water, and waited for the salesman to bring my shoes. I wish I could say they were comfortable. I wish I could say that I put them on and never wanted to take them off. Truth is, they pinched a bit, even though the size was right. I stood in front of the mirror. The crystals in the heels glimmered. The light blue leather looked deeper, richer, on my feet.
I took out all the cash I had with me, all the cash that was meant to last for the rest of my trip. Then I paid the balance on my credit card. That would be the number my husband would see. I’d never done that before, and haven’t since. Mushkie asked how much they cost, and I made up a number, lower than the actual price. She gasped, “Wow… that’s a lot.”
The salesman gave me a booklet with care instructions. In the event that a jewel fell out, I could go to Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. I giggled. Rodeo Drive was for tourists. We walked through sometimes, looked into the glitzy window displays, but we didn’t shop there.
My shoes were wrapped in muslin, laid in their two-tone coral box, and then in a Miu Miu shopping bag. Mushkie reached for the velvet ribbon of the shopping bag and draped it over her shoulder like an oversized designer purse. We made it home in time for me to bathe my grandsons and read them bedtime stories.
Back in Los Angeles, Bracha Leah opened the Miu Miu box. “How much were they?” she asked. I made up another number, lower than the one I’d told Mushkie.
“Oh em gee… really…”
“Well, it’s something around that.…”
I showed my husband the shoes. He said, “Those diamonds are real?”
By the time I was ready to tell my husband the exact amount, I couldn’t remember what I’d really paid. I’d made up so many different prices along the way that I’d managed to fool myself as well.
I went to a wedding a few months later. A woman crossed the ballroom floor and came up to me. “I don’t know who you are,” she gushed, “but your shoes are stunning.”
I didn’t tell her that this was my first family wedding since Yossi died. I didn’t tell her how hard I was trying. I didn’t tell her that even though I was wearing makeup and a smile, I wanted to cry and cry and cry.
I said, “Thank you.” The music was loud. On the polished dance floor, women and girls twirled around the bride. I broke into the lively circle and caught the hands of the dancers on both sides of me.