Red

A woman should always have a pair of red shoes.

The third time I meet my best friend Ellen Jean is with my Mom during parents weekend in law school and with these ten words, Ellen falls in love with my Mom.

You can hardly blame her, the woman sparkled and even though she was born with crushed wings and a broken soul, she shined so bright it was hard to look away.

Never mind that Mom’s idea of red shoes was ballet flats, and not the Jezebel red platform heels or peep toe wedges that Ellen and I will spend the next ten years stalking, when she made pronouncements, I didn’t just follow them, I internalized them as if made ex-cathedra.

“A woman should always own red lip stick” Mom said when I came home from the Chanel counter in 1991 with a twenty dollar tube of traffic stop red lipstick, my father’s face matching the color when I told him I blew my spending money on a small square black case with entwined Cs at the top. And she gave him a look, an I fucking dare you to contradict me right now look. He shook his head and walks away, as she and I tried on the matte red stain, too blue for her warm skin, just blue enough for mine. My current tube is Dior, in a shade called Marilyn. I don’t wear it often, but when I do, I stop traffic.

Mom knew from an early age the world was cruel, too cruel, it would turn out, to survive in. Yet for decades, she thrived by making others notice her. Blonder she would say to the man who did her hair, blonder I say to the woman who does mine. Tanner she would say, paler I say, make me paler. I need to sparkle, I think, looking in the mirror and seeing her face look back at me.

She didn’t ask for attention, she took it. She created her own magic. She needed a horse, she got a horse. She needed a job she loved that allowed her to be at home with her girls, she invented one. She needed to breed the top golden retriever, she bred her, and then showed the dog herself, flying around a ring in a navy dress with red shoes. She needed a best friend to travel with her, cackle with her, drink with her, cry with her, she got one and kept her for life.

And with those ten words my Mom bound Ellen and me together with magical cords so firm, so flexible, so resilient that while they have stretched a few times, they have never broken.

Put on your red shoes Ellen says when I text her about something hard.

I do. I create my own magic.

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