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What is life?
His pupils dilated; desperately trying to will away the stark image before them: the jagged rubber tip of a stiletto pump. Shaking in my hand, the pump remained threatening, implying the annihilation of his eyeball. He attempted a rejection, then an apology, followed by a plea.
My name is Max, which used to be short for Maxine. I was 24 years old when my story began with a pair of shoes.
My father was crushed by a ponderosa that he was attempting to cut down. He had a sick passion for destruction, needless to say. In his eyes, I was a benign tumor; harmless but bothersome, and always at fault, always to blame. My mother passed in childbirth, which he, rightfully or wrongfully, always held against me. This disapproval left little room in his life for me, producing meager fruits of childhood. I don’t remember much, because I was always somewhere else. I dreamed of fantastic places, as far away, of course, as my mind could wander. Though I created many worlds that would satisfy my desire for happiness, the vast majority of my dreams resided in Iceland. In my young mind, Iceland was an obscure, distant, safe utopia, and its name, deriving from deceit, would keep my father and his small mind at bay – he would never find me. I lived in my Icelandic dreams, waiting to break away and be free. My entire life had been lived beneath his thumb, and by someone else. That is, until this great, formidable tree took his life, and gave me mine.
It had been 6 hours since my father had died, and while I kept up the façade of expected grief, in reality, I felt nothing, and there they sat; dignified, graceful, dangerous – everything I was not. Elegantly posed atop my pyramid of tennis shoes; goddesses in an ordinary world. My gaze caressed every inch of the pumps, lapping at the curves of the platforms, and tantalized upwards, along the stiletto heels. My toes quivered just to have a taste. I had never felt so at home in pair of shoes before, so myself, whoever that was. This affair was meant to be.
Consequently, the shoes accompanied me everywhere, from my favorite café to the hall bathroom. My father would have gawked at the 5 inch heel – after all, I was never so…soliciting. I imagined his remarks, implications of behavior I wouldn’t – couldn’t - dream of enacting. His words fired at me from no one, but fell ineffective to my newfound throne. I discarded his nonexistent opinions and continued to pound the pavement, and any other surfaces that came my way. These shoes were my home, and no amount of flak could evict me.
Over the course of a few free days, I shed my old self and adopted a new attitude, a new outlook, a new self. I held my head high, I made eye contact, I wore mascara. In my father’s absence, I was born again, this time free, without blood on my hands. (Both figuratively and literally) Had I previously been caught up with a network of friends and acquaintances, I would have shed them too. However, living under my father’s regime, I had no network – no one to leave in the dust of my revolution; no one, but myself.
My sad, scrawny, sorry self. The “Maxine” who wore turtle necks and reeboks – the kind nurses wear, though I was not a nurse. The “Maxine” who wasn’t allowed – I could end this sentence with anything, and it would make sense. The “Maxine” who didn’t speak unless spoken to, and existed, trapped inside the cold body of a robot. The “Maxine” who was a victim. Ha. Maxine.
Through my new lens, I saw the world for what it was: an infinite swirl of opportunities, not threats. In my father’s absence, I created a new person, a person who lived in an entirely different world, living an entirely different life. I was ecstatic. Though a small snag remained, catching on the silky fabric of my new life. A loose end, a fragment, of the old world still hung around my newborn reality.
Les was a greasy, unshaven, drunk; an unfortunate friend of my father’s. He talked too much, and too loud, and he never used napkins, though he was always eating, and certainly lived up to his name. “Less” than pleasant, “less” than intelligent, “less” than considering. However, he was clinging to the side of a glass I was trying to empty – evidence that “Maxine” existed. While I embraced the new circumstances, and relished what I had become, he still brought reminders of an old reality, one I was readily forgetting.
Les somehow owned (inheritance, perhaps?) the apartment building in which I had lived my entire life. So there he was, greasy old Les, piled on the sidelines of my childhood, a regrettable bystander, never having anything positive, or even remotely appropriate, to say. Though, I imagine if he had had something useful to say, it would have gone inaudible behind the roaring machine that was Les’s mouth. Be it devouring chicken wings, or expelling offensive belches, Les’s mouth was always a collection of horrendous messes. Accompanied by an exponentially pressing curiosity, Les used his loud mouth to squeeze information out of every tenant in the building, though he seemed to focus his drunken sights on me. Hanging the availability of running water over my head, he was usually successful in cornering and degrading me, in one or another. A sexist comment here, a full on insult there, interactions with Les were always events of intense anxiety and frustration. I found his sense of entitlement to my business appalling and infuriating, after all, the “Maxine” he knew, was no more.
One particularly non-“Maxine” night, I was returning home after a late-night cappuccino. I was, of course, proudly atop my non – “Maxine” pumps, and dawning my new non-“Maxine” self. Les intervened most absurdly,
“You know Maxine, Jack always said you’d end up being an unsuccessful prostitute of sorts.”
Jack was my father, and Jack was dead. Les was an idiot, and Les was going to pay.
I gently set my cappuccino down on the dirty counter behind which Les smirked. With my spine straight, and my eyes fixed, I explained,
“My father is dead. Take note.”
Now, this really threw old Les over the edge. He struggled to quickly stand, which only resulted in a series of pathetic, violent movements. However, once standing, and swaying drunkenly, he proceeded to stumble threateningly towards me.
“Woman, I don’t know who you think you are, but it aint nobody good enough to be talkin back to me like that.”
And with that, he proceeded to attempt to push me – a less than formidable task given my frame. I stepped aside, allowing the side of the counter to greet his face. This only aggravated him further, and sobered him a bit. His movements became more precise and absolutely directed at harming me. Thinking logically, in preparation for a mad instinctual flee, I removed my gems of shoes and placed them rightfully beside my cooling cappuccino. The floor was smooth and cold on the bottom of my feet, and the fluorescent lights only emphasized my veins. I could see it so clearly; the strange blue network that entangled my feet. I began to become intrigued when a rapid clap shattered my focus, and my entire head began to throb, particularly the right side of my face, which was searing in the wake of a massive blow. I turned to Les, looking for some explanation of what had just happened, when I registered that he was smiling; not only smiling, laughing, nearly seizing with comedy. And then it happened. Some, like myself, would expect rage; others, fear, but few would expect the quick, precise movements I enacted thereafter.
In the space of a few seconds, I had pinned Les to the flaking paint of his own building’s wall. He was sweating an unfortunate amount, his pores leaking alcohol. His pupils dilated; desperately trying to will away the stark image before them: the jagged rubber tip of my stiletto pump. Shaking in my hand, the pump remained threatening, implying the annihilation of his eyeball. He attempted a rejection, then an apology, followed by a plea. With every word I didn’t want to hear, my hand clenched tighter, crushing the soft leather sides of the shoe.
“I am not Maxine.”
My own statement was summarized by a quick and violent series of pounding. The slender heel sunk into the soft flesh of his eye socket, and penetrated further with each stab, driving it to eventually meet the gelatinous pit of his brain, stopping at the hard shell of his skull. In a quick seven stabs, my intentions had snowballed from blindness to murder. I coldly figured mine was a “no-going-back” type of situation, and discarded the “what-have-I-done” routine. His body was slowly dragged down by the gravity he no longer had the consciousness to fight. Les sank to the floor and remained a sad pile of blood and sweat. I wiped my heel on his dirty Hawaiian shirt, and made a hasty exit. Everything about “Maxine” was now history, all I had left to do was write a new one.
From my seat I can see great plumes of steam escaping from the Earth. The pilot informs us that we are entering Iceland. I can feel anticipation and happiness welling up, and spilling over. My name is Max, and I am free.