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Little red sandals

I had a pair of red sandals in first grade.

I treasured them more than any other possession.

My mom would let me keep them on while wading in Monterey Bay. They were the only pair she let me wear in the water, which meant they were more than cute. They were downright magical!

As I splashed around in knee-level water, my dad would swim out toward the horizon. He’d fade into a blur before becoming a dot and then disappearing completely from my sight.

“I hate it when he does that,” my mom mumbled once, long before I understood he felt powerful that he could make her hurt.

I splashed and splashed. My dad was having fun. I was having fun. What could be the problem?

Sometime that year, I dreamed my dad took my younger sister and me to the Bay by himself.

He hoisted me onto his shoulders and began carrying me out into deeper water. I was excited and terrified. I was going to see what he got to see, way out where the big boys swam!

I was confused when he stopped. “You have to take off your sandals before we go,” he explained.

“I won’t,” I told him, looking at my sandals where they dangled just below his shoulders. “I won’t.”

He set me down. The water lapped around my ankles.

He crouched down. “You can’t come with me if you don’t take off your sandals.”

I was not, not, not, no way not ever going to take off those sandals. “Then I can’t come with you.”

“Okay,” he said, before wading alone into deeper water. I watched as he disappeared, and then turned my eyes toward my sandals. Had I made the right choice? I didn’t know yet. I really did want to see where he went when he swam away, but even more than that, I wanted to keep safe my little red sandals.

I searched for seashells with my sister instead of learning what happened at the horizon, and I was happy.

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A flu hit me the morning of a friend’s wedding the month before last.

I cried. I cursed. I moaned at the unjustness of missing the wedding, to which I’d looked forward for a year.

Happily, I felt great the next morning. I felt so great that I buckled my baby son into his carseat and drove to Malibu, where my friend was having her post wedding brunch.

Seeing Sydney was lovely, as was seeing her cousin Emily, who was visiting from her now home in my home state. And then there was an unexpected thrill: I saw on Emily’s feet a pair of sandals almost identical to those I’d coveted as a little girl.

I asked her where she’d gotten them. She told me their name and I thought, I will definitely remember that name! I am getting a pair of those!

This morning, my husband tried wrangling our five-year-old son toward the door for a trip to Disneyland.

Our son really, really wanted to bring a rolling monkey bag he’d stuffed full of all his favorite things. He said he didn’t care if he couldn’t ride any rides with the bag. He wanted to bring it.

“You can go to Disneyland or you can hang onto the bag!” proclaimed his dad with hands on hips. “The bag is not going to Disneyland.”

A sense of simultaneous familiarity and forgetting crept over me. I felt like I’d had this conversation before, though I couldn’t quite place it.

“Oh!” I exclaimed when it hit me. My husband cocked his head in curiosity.

“I–” I stopped talking, picturing Emily’s red sandals. I wracked my brain for the brand name she’d shared. Was there an “S” and a “W”? I sat down at my keyboard and googled “Salt Water sandals.”

I smiled when I saw a big pair of sandals just like my old little red ones.

My dad was more than an abuser.

He was my dad, my hero, my protector when he wasn’t hurting me or my loved ones as he had once been hurt.

He could be tender and gentle, and he made me laugh belly laughs when he’d lay on his back and give me airplane rides on his bare feet.

He let me play Facemaker, King’s Quest and Frogger on his old computer back when home computers were still very new. When I was older, he’d let me write stories and play Pac-Man knock-offs on the very same computer.

In his presence, my heart was confusingly full of both love and trepidation.

I cut off ties to him in my late teens. I was enraged by the lies he still told about my mom. “Those only work with people who weren’t actually there, Dad!” I cried.

In my early twenties, I had a chance for a do-over when he tried getting custody of my youngest sister. The judge couldn’t believe he’d wasted court time trying to get custody of a teenager who didn’t even want to see him, let alone live with him.

I’d been so angry when I last talked to him. So angry I could only remember the trepidation from our earlier adventures, without any of the love. I didn’t want my life to be defined by anger. I wanted to walk a different path, guided by a softer heart.

So I called to my dad, and spoke my mind. I told him I’d needed an all-the-time dad growing up, not an invisible man who’d just as likely sting as smile when he decided to show up.

“I’ll always love you,” I told him. “Always.” But, I continued, there was no room in my life for someone who could not acknowledge he’d ever done anything wrong. Accepting that lack of accountability would be tantamount to welcoming it into my adult life, and that I could not do.

He listened. He nodded. He didn’t say a thing. In his silence, a sound so foreign and gentle, I heard the possibility for accountability someday. I wasn’t going to invest myself in hoping or waiting, but I’d be open to it if it came. Someday.

I walked away light of heart. I’d said farewell, and I’d done so with love.

As I looked at those red Salt Water sandals this morning, it occurred to me I’d learned to say farewell as a six-year-old in a dream.

I could have gone and seen what the big boys saw out there on the horizon, but I chose a little pair of red sandals instead. I missed out on one adventure, but I made myself another kind on my own terms, playing with my little sister in the sand.

Today I’ll buy myself a pair of red sandals.

Someday soon, they’ll reach me by mail. I’ll pull them from their box, smiling as I see not only a pair of red sandals,

but also the little red and brown monkey bag cherished by my oldest son,

and his dad’s lovely look of consternation with the bag,

and all the beauty that has flown

from choosing life on my terms,

love highest among them.

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  1. May 3, 2015 at 10:02 am

    this is beautiful monster. love how you story-tell. enjoy the sunshine 😉

    • May 3, 2015 at 10:04 am

      Thank you! I am about five minutes away from stepping into it, and I’m ready. ♥

      • May 3, 2015 at 10:18 am

        nice! hugz sista blogger xo

  2. May 3, 2015 at 10:26 am

    That brought some of my own memories of treasured objects bobbing back to the surface… 🙂

  3. May 3, 2015 at 12:29 pm

    Oh, this story is simultaneously heart-breakingly and -warmingly poignant. Thanks so much for sharing it, Deborah. Those salt water sandals seemed to squish beyond such sadness so you could discover the real though raw beauty in self-preservation and -love. Smiles upon you!

    • May 3, 2015 at 12:32 pm

      I am so excited to wear the new pair! And yet, it’s sweet being without them, too, and remembering those that were. ♡

      • May 3, 2015 at 12:39 pm

        The little loves both wore those sandals. I remember the littlest love running along a path in them when she didn’t want to stay in the stroller any longer. She ran, and ran, and ran. And I can still hear the sweet pat-pat-patty-pat sounds. I’m glad your memories prompted you to step out and proudly wear them again.

  4. May 3, 2015 at 1:01 pm

    Powerful and beautiful.
    Long may you dance in your red sandals.

  5. May 3, 2015 at 2:34 pm

    Beautiful! It reminds me of the time when he (or was it both mom and him?) left us and went swimming forever, and ever, and I started to get scared that he wasn’t going to come back. Of course, it seemed awesome at first. You and I explored the beach, and found all sorts of fun stuff (including the head of what used to be a gigantic-seeming fish). But then, we waited, and waited, and waited. We kept looking at that endless blue, but didn’t see him coming. I think I remember sitting down and crying, and you tried to use the fish head to cheer me up… That ended up scaring me more, but I still remember the effort!

    • May 3, 2015 at 2:57 pm

      I remember that! What a different time that was, three decades ago. (Imagine parents swimming off and leaving their kids oceanside today!)

      And, oh, the fish head! I don’t remember that, but it feels about right. Sorry. :p

      • May 3, 2015 at 8:15 pm

        Silly, don’t be sorry! I’m pretty sure I was 4ish and you were 5ish! And, I’m still pretty sure you were trying to make the fish be silly and cheer me up!

  6. May 3, 2015 at 5:26 pm

    My dad was rarely in the picture- sporadically. He couldn’t afford to provide dinner, let alone buy me shoes. However, my mom worked hard and bought me a pair of white sandals that went between you big toe and the next and had a little heel and made lots of noise on the tiles of the mall. I made as much noise as I could clicking them on the mall ground. I remember feeling grown up. Amazing what a pair of new shoes could do for you.

  7. May 3, 2015 at 10:17 pm

    Very tender memories, shared beautifully! The sandals will be a very special gift to yourself.

  8. May 5, 2015 at 2:34 am

    The gifts we give ourselves are sometimes the best ones, built on the good memories we have of special moments. ❤

  1. May 6, 2015 at 2:07 pm
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