Ghosts of Shoes Past

Recently I was clearing out an armoire in which I store special occasion clothes and shoes that I don’t wear very often. As I’ve gotten older, this armoire has come to hold additional items, such as casual clothing that I can’t quite fit into due to baby weight, and shoes that have become too uncomfortable to wear. Rather than simply serving as storage for evening attire, this armoire had become a mortuary of sorts for the items that I just haven’t felt ready to let go of to send them to their final resting place. However, when one of the legs of the armoire cracked, I realized that before purchasing a replacement, I needed to come to peace with the fact that I will never wear some of these items again, and that it was time to send them to a better place (in this case, that better place being Goodwill, so that they could actually be worn instead of gathering dust).

I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis 15 years ago, and in that time my body has seen some changes in response to the disease. I sometimes have nodules on the joints in my hands, and my fingers have drifted slightly toward my pinkies. Those little fingers have become crooked from the ligaments pulling them in awkward directions. Most problematic is my feet. During pregnancy I thought that I could no longer fit into my shoes because of the foot swelling so common for many pregnant women, regardless of whether or not they have an inflammatory disease. However, after I had my baby and time marched on, and my shoes still failed to fit, I realized that it was the increased size of the joints at the base of my big toes that were causing my previously-comfortable shoes to cut into my feet. My rheumatologist confirmed that I had bunions, which can be caused by rheumatoid arthritis, and that the only thing that would decrease the size of these bony formations is surgery. I’m not at the point yet where I’m considering surgery, so I decided to rethink the contents of the shoe racks in my armoire instead.

As I went through the shoes pair by pair, stuffing my feet into each before making the final surrender to the large shopping bag destined for Goodwill, a flood of memories came to me. There was the pair of red high heels that I wore salsa dancing in South America. Another pair of heels I donned for the first time on an early date with my husband, long before our home purchases or the births of our children. I strutted down the Las Vegas strip in another pair of red shoes during a bachelorette party for one of my closest friends. As I held pair after pair of shoes in my hands before placing them in the bag, I wasn’t just saying goodbye to the footwear, I was grieving for the losses rheumatoid arthritis has caused in my body. The first several years after my diagnosis RA mostly plagued my fingers, hands and wrists, and I was still able to make it through an evening in heels. Those days are long gone, and now even a low wedge pump is hard to wear for longer than an hour or two. Going through these shoes was like being visited by ghosts from my past, showing me little glimpses of the greater mobility I had just a decade ago. While this is something that all people experience as they age, rheumatoid arthritis seems to speed up the aging process. I am still in my thirties, yet I have already closed the chapter in my life in which I was literally able to kick up my heels.

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