Converse Chuck Taylors: A Personal Artifact

We met for the first time Christmas day, 2005. Mellifluous carols rang through the halls of my house, coming from the living room stereo next to the tree. The blue spruce stood upright, draped in garlands and lights, beaming with pride. Pleasant and homely, the fire burned in the corner, fueled by birch logs. Scents of oranges, cloves, and hot chocolate melded harmoniously together.

My six year old sister made a dash for the presents, fishing for the packages that wore her name. Each was wrapped in Santa Claus paper. Once she’d finished, it was my turn.

I carefully opened the boxes, holding my breath. Each time, I was grateful, but dismayed. There was one item I desired, more than anything, to be under that spruce. I flattened the paper repeatedly from each item, feeling its smoothness; watching the light reflect off it. Believing I had opened my share and was finished, I resigned myself that the gift of my yearning was not to be found. I began to clean up my mess, when my sister tugged my sleeve and pointed.

The silence of those afternoons was only interrupted by the pavement beneath my shoes; a steady, even heartbeat for my soul.

My gaze followed her finger to the floor under the tree. Tucked behind it, and leaning against a wall rested one last present. Spruce needles scratched my face and fell to the floor as I stretched for the package. I pulled it out and sat cross-legged. In black block letters I read the scribbled message, “To: Sarah Kathleen- Love, Santa.” I traced the shape of the box, then lifted it to my right ear, as I did with every present. Gently, I shook it. My eyes widened, and I held my breath as I delicately removed the paper. The air suddenly rushed from my lungs. The brown and black box whose contents I’d pined for for a whole year stared back at me.

I’d first seen them on the feet of my favorite musicians, and something about that screamed cool and rebellious to me. I was quiet, and mostly teased or ignored as a child. And cool meant being in the popular crowd. It meant friends, invitations, and no more bullies. As a thirteen year old, social concerns were of the utmost importance to me. So, I begged for the Chuck Taylors.

We met on that frigid Christmas Day, seven years ago. From that time forth, I’ve rarely been spotted without my black and white Converse low-top sneakers, affectionately known as “Chucks.” The black canvas shoes with white stitching and rubber soles have become a sort of trademark of mine, without which I am almost naked. Four pairs have been in my possession, each with its own quirks, decorations, and stories. Together they have formed a silent dynasty that has ruled the journey of my life.

Pair I

I was shocked that Christmas morning. Forty dollars was a lot of money to my family then, and I would have been content with another pair of knock off Chucks. Contrition tainted my appreciation for the incredible gift. Something was sacrificed for this. Still in my pajamas, I laced them onto my feet for the first time.

They were personalized shortly thereafter. By Spring 2006, they were mud-stained and scratched, as beautiful as ever, in my eyes. A dear friend had artfully written the word, “Kath,” a nickname from my middle name, on the inside rubber trim. Names of my favorite bands were scattered in the leftover space. The Chucks went everywhere I went, except the shower, and my bed. I trekked gleefully through the melting snow and spring slush of Northern Michigan. Most days after school, I walked two miles to my favorite park, although there were others much closer. The silence of those afternoons was only interrupted by the pavement beneath my shoes; a steady, even heartbeat for my soul.

The summer flew by, as did each before it. Before I knew it, it was my first day of high school. I was agonized by the lore of freshman hazing and general torment that would accompany the difficult classes. “The classes are so much harder than middle school. I got A’s, and now I have C’s,” an upperclassman assured me. Needless to say, I was horrified. I crept into school that day with my eyes fixed on the floor. A student stopped me before the first bell, complimented my Chucks, and I brightened. With my new found confidence, the first few months whisked by.

Slowly, and to my chagrin, the first Chucks began to tear. Barely noticeable at first, the holes expanded. By the time I retired them, the entire span of the black canvas had dislocated from the rest of each shoe.

Pair II

The second pair came before Christmas. I refused to wear them for a month, until my mother threatened punishment, and was resigned to give up the first pair. Lovingly, I laid the exhausted Chuck Taylors in their original box, wrapped in tissue paper, like the shrouded body of a fallen comrade. Under the bed they rested peacefully. I started to wear in the new shoes. Though the new shoes were the same as first pair, they seemed stiff and uncomfortable. In little time, however, I’d worn familiar grooves into the soles, and though I had not forgotten their predecessors, my feet were at home in the second pair.

I met my best friend because of those Chucks. It was right after I scribbled my new favorite band names all over my shoes with a silver sharpie. After the last class, I packed my book bag, and began to round the corner by the media center, when I crashed into a student I barely knew. Apologies gushed from my mouth. I was interrupted by him. I’d written the name of one of his favorite bands on my shoes. “I saw your shoes at lunch. You like the Gorillaz?” We talked away the rest of the afternoon.

Soon we ate together, laughed together, and cried together— my shoes taking me every step of the way. The next autumn, the relationship was agonizingly chopped short.

The day was gloomy, and at 5:23 p.m. I was at home, bundled in blankets, ill with what seemed to be a cold. I curiously wondered why my friend was absent from school, why he hadn’t returned my texts. The phone call came unceremoniously. As I received the news, I dropped the phone. I crawled out of bed and still in my pajamas, slid into my shoes. Dolefully, I gazed at “the Gorillaz,” scratched into my shoe. That conversation would never happen again.

Six days later, I stumbled up the church steps, nearly tripping on my Chucks’ laces. I peeled them off, exchanged them for dress shoes, stuffed the sneakers in my bag, and forced myself inside. I can say my shoes were there that day, though not on my feet. The object that had sparked everything was present at the end. It made a strange circle that somehow felt more complete for me.

The sun rose the next day, and on went the shoes. Days crawled by; I walked alone with my Chucks. I went back to the park. I listened to the pavement once more. Fall eventually faded into winter; winter slowly gave way to spring. Once again, I donned worn Chuck Taylors. The silver sharpie had nearly faded away, leaving faint traces of a time past. The second pair’s reign drew to a close, like the final chapter of a book that leaves the reader unsatisfied and teary eyed. Soon, a new pair was in my possession, so the dynasty continued.

Pair III

I’ve never enjoyed breaking in shoes, and have never met anyone who has. It can be an impersonal feeling, as if they belong on someone else’s feet, and not mine. Yet it never fails to happen: soles smooth and stiff fabrics yield. The Chuck Taylors transformed into perfect casings for my feet again.

A fresh, new summer lounged ahead. I worked at the local candy store, my blue jeans and sneakers a trademark of a small town girl. Almost every day I walked one mile by the lake to the store, and home again, with nothing but the Chucks and my iPod to accompany me.

As the season ended, my dad picked my sister and me up from our mom’s house, and we drove to Kentucky, then Tennessee, and finally, Georgia. The traveling eased my mind, and lifted the weights of home. Of course, the shoes went with me. My dad, my sister, and I hiked through hills, breathed clean air, and climbed through mud and dirt. The Chucks were scarred enough to silently tell the tale.

The parts of that trip spent camping were liberating, though the mornings in Tennessee were by far the most memorable. My dad woke up early each day, before it was even light out, and started a small fire. He’d heat coffee, and the three of us would sit side by side. Slowly, the sun would rise over the Smoky Mountains, staining the sky brilliant reds, oranges, and pinks. With the Chucks on my feet, I’d dart away to explore the surrounding woods before the early morning fog lifted.

Much of that year my family traveled, more than we had before. From Virginia to New York to Illinois, my sneakers carried me down unfamiliar country roads and foreign city sidewalks. Together, we discovered both cities and pastures. I began to realize I had a passion for the journey, not the destination.

Before I realized it, the year had disappeared. I found myself preparing to take senior pictures for the yearbook, to start classes, and to research colleges— all to be done in my Chuck Taylors. Shortly before the pictures were taken I was forced to replace the shoes for the final time to date. Another pseudo-funeral was held, and the old shoes were permitted to join the other pairs under the bed, in their family tomb.

Pair IV

I wore them for the first time during my senior pictures. It was still registering in my mind that my childhood was nearly over. I slipped in some mud from the recent rain, and obtained the first stain for the new shoes. I didn’t bother to wash it off; it was a memento of the day spent. Football practices began, the marching band played, and my high school senior year was underway.

That year was a blur for me, but what I do know is that that spring I wore them, scratched stained, to my high school graduation. They thudded with me across the stage as I graduated.

The next year nearly passed me by also. Suddenly it was spring again, and a year of college was under my belt. The soles stained between rains from crushing cigarettes. The trim has faded yellow. Yet, I managed to preserve the shoes. They journeyed with me again to Washington, D.C. to see my father. For the first time, the Chucks and I flew, and traveled the subway alone. We met strangers, and found ourselves lost in the city. We wandered more than we saw sights.

Those shoes from Christmas 2005 have walked with me into 2011. What started as a trend has successfully ingrained itself into the fabric of my life. That sacrifice my mother had made, whatever it was I’ll never know, spanned years into a dynasty that has quietly walked with me, carrying me through joy, love, fear, and loss. A friend when there was no friend, the Chuck Taylors silently wait by the door, itching for another journey.

Chuck Taylors

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