Clothes are starting to amount on the floor of my small 8X8 ft bedroom, in little piles like ant hills. The cat slinks around them on his way up the bed, to the window. He wines in my direction, walking over me and planting himself across my neck. This makes it slightly difficult to breath and I wonder if that’s his intention, because he’s been trying to get me out of bed for hours. He’s hungry and impatient.
Finally I appease him, rolling into an upright position and angling my feet towards the floor. As I wake up I remember what sleep had fogged over, and I want to crawl back into bed. But the cat is hungry.
On the way to the kitchen and back to his bowl, consciousness recedes in brief lapses. I’m standing in front of a boy I love crying, hyper ventilating because I’ve worked myself up so much. He looks at me impatiently. The cat whines louder, persistent, and I pour the food. Now, I’m on the phone. I hear my own voice pleading with him not to give up on me. In reality I’m still standing over the cat, who is looking back at me suspiciously to make sure I’m not a threat to his meal. My chest feels tight, an echo of heart break. Dutifully, I walk to the bathroom to brush my teeth.
*Sigh*. I look at my reflection in the mirror, resigned. “I’d trade you for him if I could.” Leaning forward, I say with increased resolve, “Please bring him back, please. I’ll do anything, give up anything.” I’m sure I’ve started crying, but my reflection remains expressionless. I imagine her excited, giggling because he’s standing behind her with his arms wrapped around her waist. He’s whispering something into her ear. She’s happy. I’m happy.
But in reality, we are alone brushing our teeth. I spit and rinse, then walk back to my bedroom with the cat trailing me. My body seems extra heavy today and by the time I’ve made it, I feel exhausted. I collapse onto the bed face first and exhale deeply. The cat jumps up and nudges at me, not wanting me to go back to sleep. “I can’t do it” I grumble at him, meaning life. I can’t do it, not alone. I glance up, where the cat is looking at me expectantly. He whines. Girls like me, they’re born to partner up. “I’m a lover…” I mutter, plunging my face back onto the bed. What else am I good for?
I’d like to stay here all day if I could, smoke a joint and manifest an appetite for a frozen pizza, while binge watching Supernatural in bed. The cat would eventually relent to joining me, snuggling up at my feet. Existence wouldn’t feel so hard. But today I can’t do that, I remind myself, because my mom is expecting me. W’ere celebrating the completion of her degree tonight, and for that I can set aside my despair. I bought a gift in anticipation of this occasion months ago, and muster a semblance of excitement at the thought of bestowing it on her: a pair of intricately beaded sage coloured heels, with pointed toes, and delicate ankle straps.
My mom has always had a great collection of shoes, but in recent years has lacked occasion to buy anything particularly festive. As a child I’d parade around the house in every pair, embodying whichever character I imagined wearing them. The cowboy boots were particularly fun: vintage pairs of varying textures that she had collected in her twenties. Suede, leather, and snakeskin, with detailed stitching and silver embellishments.
I felt brave when I wore them. I’d pretend that I was a bounty hunter in the old west, faster and tougher than my male counterparts— no criminal escaped me. And all the while I looked fabulous, long blonde hair blowing back as my trusted steed sped onwards, and my cowboy boots shone brightly in the sun. Never a spec of dirt on them. I laugh recalling this fantasy, and note that it’s the first time I’ve laughed in days. Dragging myself out of bed for the second time, I collect my things.
Two hours later, I meet my mom at the train station in the town I grew up in. She waves from the car as I walk out to the parking lot, and I smile dimly. “Hey mom,” I say as I get into the passenger seat and wrap my arms around her. “Congratulations on finally being done”. The gift I’ve wrapped for her is in my lap, and I can tell that she’s excited about it. She turns to me smiling, and asks what we should do for dinner. We’re stopping at the grocery store.
We end up cooking sausages, my idea, because I haven’t ate a proper meal in a while and I’m lacking protein. It feels easier to eat with her, opposed to at home. In the last couple of weeks I’ve felt so ‘alone’ that it seems hard to do simple things like cook a healthy meal, or exercise. Self-care has been out of the question, but I tell myself I’ll get back to a functional routine eventually. After dinner, she opens her gift. I know that she loves the heels, but perhaps not as much as I do. Unlike me, her first instinct is not to try them on. So I do instead.
They’re half a size too big for me, and I wear them awkwardly like I did as a child. W’ere both laughing, and it’s nice. I clomp up the stairs in the them, where I plan to let them rest in her closet amongst the others: their new permanent home. There, I see the cowboy boots standing to attention in a neat row. They’re beautifully made like the heels, but seem to claim a more functional purpose, not unlike a tool. High heels are a versatile accessory, worn by anyone and everyone, but cowboy boots are tailored to a specific experience. They’re made for cowboys.
I kneel down and one at a time, slide the boots onto my feet. Unlike the heels they’re a perfect fit. As I stand up and walk myself over to a mirror to admire them, I feel a strength emulating throughout my body. Any extra weight I’d felt I was carrying earlier is now in the care of the boots, and they’re unfazed. I look my reflection in the face and discover that she’s grinning— a gun slinger with the fastest hand in the west. No criminals escape her, including ex-boyfriends. “You wouldn’t dare trade me in,” she laughs, “certainly not for a boy.” And I know that she’s right because she is far more capable. I am far more capable.
“Now,” she says, “pull yourself up by the boot straps because we’ve got work to do.” She elicits a few directions, and I nod. Stoically I walk back downstairs where mom and I proceed to snuggle up together on the couch to watch a movie. My silver capped toes poke out beneath the blanket. After that, I light some candles and take a long bath with my legs slung over the tub, naked except for the boots. I only take them off to crawl into bed, calling it an early night, and place them readily beside me for the morning.
I’ll dream of collecting bounties, hunting down each fugitive who broke my heart one by one. My horse will carry both the cat and I across the land. It’s easy work, and with each arrest I feel stronger. I have the sense that I can take care of myself no matter what comes my way. So long as I have my cowboy boots on.