The Richmond Register

January 13, 2014

Confessions of an ex-heel

By Terri Johnson

RICHMOND — It’s hard to believe they’re gone.

We shared the biggest events of my life for more than 30 years.

They lifted me up for jobs and romances as well as good times with friends and family.

They supported me when I graduated from college and buried my 20 year-old brother.

They were my platform when I was my most formidable professionally and when I was intentionally sexy.

To this day, something about them gives me a certain confidence that I can stand tall.

My high heels. Their death has been harder than I thought.

Nine months ago my left foot began to ache. It was obviously a problem with plantar fasciitis, the ugly bump that lots of people get on the side of their foot. Turns out, it was more.

After a visit to the podiatrist, I learned I had hammer toe, as well as the beginnings of arthritis.

“Hammer toe.” What a disgusting name. Sounds like something that should happen to clumsy carpenters. But it made sense. My poor little toe was all shriveled up. It resembled the back of a hammer top.

The doctor, a cute lady with plain navy blue shoes, said I nearly had a hairline fracture, but not quite. She leveled with me and said, “I know you don’t want to, but you’ve got to give up the high heels.”

The repercussions pounded on me worse than my hammer toe. I, a woman with one of the nicest heel wardrobes in town, was destined for the comfortable shoe aisle. What would be next? Elastic waist pants and decorative Halloween sweaters?

“I don’t think I can do that,” I told her. I thought the power of the shoes would be gone.

The doctor seemed bewildered. After all, it was my feet, my body and my health she was addressing here.

However, I quickly got the message. As she stepped out of the exam room to get me some shoe inserts and a list of acceptable footwear brands, I sensed up.

I didn’t have diabetes or cancer. I had a messed-up toe and the beginning stages of something I knew was coming ― arthritis, which is hereditary and which my dear mother has graciously burdened for years.

I could make it better and needed to do what she told me. I knew she was right. Many of my heels were torture.

So I wore tennis shoes to the office, but I had an excuse to look dorky. And yet, I felt sadness. Why did my feet have to confirm that I was no longer 25? My waistline was reminder enough.

A few days after the appointment, I went shopping. I found some leopard print flats and some cute, comfortable espadrilles.

I did physical therapy for three months. The ultrasounds and stretching helped a lot. I wore the same four pairs of shoes to work, but it was okay.

I got rid of about 15 pairs of shoes – mostly the “Sex in the City” shoes. They were shoes that made me gasp when I saw them in the store. I felt happiness when I bought them. I felt smart and chic when I wore them. (How come Carrie Bradshaw never developed hammer toe and named it Mr. Big)?

But good things followed. My physical therapy center transitioned patients into its great fitness facility. It was a place that had nice cars in the parking lot and real bodies in the gym, where grown ups went to work out.

I joined, lost weight and even started running. It was hard on the feet, so now I’m into running shoes. I have a pair for the gym, a pair for running outdoors. I have some other sneakers for running around town and my slip-ons for yoga class.

Foot health is now a facet of my life. I know I can’t wear the shoes I’ve worn in the past because they hurt.

I also now notice women in really high heels and have decided that some of them look sort of trashy. Maybe it’s my way of rationalizing what I’ve lost.

A few weekends ago I was shopping with my dearest friend. I saw some “gasp” shoes ― zebra print with red heels. She agreed they were great. I bought them.

I wore them to work the next week. By noon, they were under my desk. My feet cramped. When no one was looking I did stretches for 20 minutes there in my office.

I wore them out to a restaurant several days later ― just for a couple of hours ― long enough for my friends to appreciate their style. That was better. Everything in moderation.

I am a person who loves fashion, and I can’t apologize for it. My friends love style. My petite 80-year-old mother won’t go out of the house without her makeup and jewelry.

I don’t think its vanity. I’m glad that I care.

I have added some boots and shoes to my closet that are much more wearable. So now my highest heels are resurrected for short periods on special occasions or for very special outfits.

I have moved on, am living with the loss of my most celebrated, albeit insufferable shoes, and when I go to bed each night, my feet rest in peace without pain.

But sometimes when I’m out on the town, I sure do miss those hot-pink patent leather four-inch sandals.


Richmond native Terri Johnson, 48, is marketing and communications professional and a free lance writer.