The water was so cold, it practically stung. But I didn’t mind. Even though it was only minutes after 6am, diving into the pool at Windsor Swim Club in Urbana, Illinois, to swim laps was, for me, the equivalent of sheer bliss. Since childhood I loved how my body felt as the gentle waves pushed against me. But beyond the physical activity, I also cherished the almost meditative state while being submerged underwater. For me, however, it was more than that. This was my time. Because no one else was ever crazy enough to get up that early, I had the entire pool to myself. This meant pure freedom– I could take off my shoes in peace, without becoming self-conscious from stares at my very unnatural looking feet; I could dive into the pool feeling completely uninhibited.
But with only my thoughts to distract, any sense of joy was temporary. As I pushed out my arms and pulled them into the water, my mind returned to the prior day and became overwhelmed by sadness. My friend Courtney and I had gone to the nearby Marketplace Mall. “Meg, you should buy this—it is the perfect color red for you!” She was pointing to an adorable short skirt. I admired it, but shook my head. “Nah, I don’t think it will look right on me.” As we passed through The Limited, our favorite store, I found myself rejecting things that I would otherwise have loved to try on. Instead, I attempted to turn the conversation back to my friend. I picked out a blue dress and offered it to Court, pointing out that it matched her eyes. When she went to try it on, I turned to admire some jewelry, thinking that at least the necklaces would fit me.
As I flipped back for another lap, it was my own harsh reality, and not the crash of the water, that slapped my face. Not being able to wear most types of shoes was more limiting than even the best of my friends could possibly imagine. By not being able to ever wear flats or heels or almost any kind of shoe, I could rarely choose the clothing I would otherwise love to wear. My outfits were always selected knowing I had to wear them with boots, ankle boots, or sneakers in mind. In high school this never really seemed to matter, since mostly we wore jeans. However, in this summer after high school I was growing up and appreciating the full extent of my shoe limitations.
But by the time I lifted myself out of the water, I felt refreshed, even positive. With no one in sight, I walked back and forth around the edge of the pool—just because I could. It felt liberating. When I arrived at home, my Dad was the only one up, reading the paper eating his cereal. “How was your swim?” “Fantastic!” I had already moved on.
“Mommy, when you die, will I get all of your jewelry?” Savanna, at the age of six, already realizes I have an inordinate amount of necklaces, in particular. John, in earshot of our daughter’s blunt and pragmatic comment, laughed aloud. I am actually not surprised by John’s reaction. Every time my husband of thirteen years has bought me anything for an occasion, it has been either a necklace or earrings. I suppose my restrictions are not limited to me—they impact those who want to buy me gifts, or I suppose benefit from any inheritance. Although it has been years since my teenage trips to The Limited, my choices in what to wear continue to revolve around the following question: Can it go with boots, ankle boots, or sneakers?
But something happened this past week about which I am cautiously hopeful. Aviva Drescher (Real House Wives of New York) and I were exchanging emails after her recent Guest Flaunt. Having lost her leg on a conveyor belt at the age of six, Aviva spent much of her childhood like I did, hating the stares. At one point in her essay, Aviva even mentioned that she would cover her prosthetic leg, never wearing shirts or dresses, always choosing pants and long skirts. Finally, at the age of twenty-six, Aviva was able to have revisional surgery to fit into a “better-looking” prosthesis. “Finally I could wear heels!” she exclaimed in her Guest Flaunt. Although Aviva mentioned to me later also having to wear “crazy boots” as a child, she seemed to have ended up with more fashion options than I have, despite my having both legs. So, as I thanked her for her beautifully written piece, I mentioned to Aviva that I would always watch her on the show and live vicariously through her fantastic, gorgeous fancy shoes!
Later that day, I received an unexpected email from her. “Meg, why can’t you wear heels?” So I explained that my one toe on each foot, along with its shape never left me with the option. Aviva’s response startled me. “My prosthesist can do almost anything!” For those of you that have read through the majority of my posts, you’ll know that I have loathed special orthopedic shoes and devices, especially the “moon boots,” created for me when I was in my youth. Yet, after listening to Aviva, I thought, “Is it possible that after all these years, I might be able to wear heels?’
Here is my answer. Perhaps. I don’t know. All I can promise is that I will keep you all updated as I (and to the extent I) explore the possibility. But even if my attempt to finally wear heels and have the long-awaited chance to freely pick my wardrobe actually fails, I am actually fine with that result as well. Here is why: As I sit writing this post, it has been over a week since we lost power in our family home due to the recent hurricane that assaulted the East Coast of the U.S.. Despite the inconvenience, we are very aware of the devastation experienced by so many and we feel fortunate that our family is fine and our home ultimately unscathed. The hardest part has been adjusting to life without electricity.
But this post storm experience has been quite valuable. It reminds me how hard it is to adapt to something we enjoy all the time and certainly take for granted. John, the kids and I are struggling without power, but that’s only because we are used to the convenience in the first place. Would a new prosthetic allowing me the full freedom to shop really be that big of a deal? I think not. That is because I have never had the opportunity of wearing heels and all that might follow, anyway. If I can get that chance, well, that would be icing on the cake. Enjoyable, but not essential. Missing something I have come to rely upon, now that becomes the travesty.
For several days post-storm, John and I stayed at a hotel with the kids to at least temporarily escape our cold, dark house. The kids had been swimming together during the day all week, but on the last day of our retreat, I woke up at the crack of dawn practically. By rising first, here was my chance! When I arrived at the pool, hardly anyone but the woman handing out towels was there. I walked around the length of the pool in my suit with my feet fully exposed, just because I could. The minute I felt the cool water temperature, I became instantly energized and grateful for the unexpected post-storm pleasure. As I flipped to begin my second lap, it suddenly occurred to me that I was wearing my new, favorite suit….the one I had chosen this past summer while in Nantucket. There must have been over a hundred swimming suits, and I purchased the one that I loved the most. In this case, shoes were irrelevant! Completely tickled, I practically grinned underwater (not recommended…). When I returned to the room, John looked up. “How was your swim?” I turned to him and grinned. “Fantastic!” I had once again moved on.