My sister gave me the most awesome birthday gift: a pair of VANS sneakers. I have coveted these shoes since the new boy showed up in English class wearing a pair. He also wore ripped jeans, listened to punk music and was from Southern California.
Back then, in the stuffy classrooms of Kaiserslautern American High School in Germany, those shoes represented more than the hippest of “hip” in style. To this awkward girl raised by a strict Korean mother, they represented freedom; a type of freedom I dreamed about when closeted in my bedroom, listening to KISS and Judas Priest and Duran Duran.
I already knew about the skateboarding craze lighting up Southern California; knew about the tremendous feats of guys like Tony Alva, Jay Adams and Stacy Peralta (Note: if you want to learn more, I highly suggest you check out the documentary “Dogtown and Z Boys” – very aptly put together by Peralta). I even dragged my friend Pat to see the cheesy movie “Skateboard” because, well, it featured the guys named above, plus it starred Leif Garrett (don’t ask). I learned how to skateboard. It wasn’t easy but boy was it fun (Hint: it’s all about balance). I learned about the punk rock movement; about bands like Black Flag, TSOL, X, the glorious Sex Pistols and PiL.
I moved to New York City at 19. Saw the movie “Surburbia” and longed to live like the homeless kids depicted in the movie, who squatted in abandoned homes and buildings by day and haunted the LA punk scene by night. I managed a little of that lifestyle when I lived in an abandoned apartment in Alphabet city for a few weeks with my friend Rebekah, who lost her apartment. We lived on free coffee and day old bagels that the guy who worked the counter at the Astor Place diner gave us. I eventually found other places to live, and Rebekah went back home to the Midwest.
I dove into the heavy metal scene and never looked back. Sang in bands. Went to see bands. Wrote about bands. Worked at record companies. I truly did live a life of freedom for several years, then moved on. Had to, really, but that’s another story.
I moved south and got myself a career and a family. We moved and moved again to further my career. Somewhere during that time, I grew up. Responsibilities and all that. You know how it goes.
Where I once reveled in a brush with homelessness, I now strove to make sure my son has a roof over his head and food in his stomach. Where I once reveled in a carefree lifestyle, I now stressed over quitting my job without a new one waiting in the wings. I stressed over budgets, groceries, gas, new glasses for Ian. I stressed more than smiled. Hid in the house, going out only when I needed to, to conserve gas.
My sister and I went out to lunch for my birthday, using a gift card I received from Schwartz Brothers Restaurants. Later that week, she called and excitedly urged me to come to her house so she could give me my birthday present, which had just arrived. When she called, I had been stressing about something (I don’t remember now) and didn’t want to leave the house, but I did. She made coffee and thrust a big gift bag into my lap. First, I opened two birthday cards (one funny, one heartfelt). Next, I opened the “smaller” gift – a beautiful book filled with the wisdom of Bruce Lee, accompanied by beautiful photos and artwork. Then, I pulled out a big, oblong box with the familiar “Vans” logo, and stopped. Not only had Kimberly gotten me Vans, she had gotten me special, limited edition “Iron Maiden” Vans. Slip ons, just like I’ve coveted for a long, long time.
I stripped off my socks and jammed my feet into the shoes. Immediately, the years melted away. I’ve worn my Vans grocery shopping. I’ve worn them to go pay bills. And even though my situation hasn’t changed (I still haven’t found a job; we still have budget issues), my problems don’t seem so insurmountable anymore. I know I’m smiling more. There’s definitely a spring in my step.
Today, while standing in line at Starbucks, a woman looked at my shoes and gasped, “Are those Iron Maiden Vans?”
“Yes. Yes they are!” I proudly replied.
“Where did you get them?” she demanded, keeping her eyes trained at my feet.
“My awesome sister got them for me for my birthday,” I answered.
The woman finally looked at me. She seemed to be my age and as our eyes met, I knew exactly what she was feeling. She was coveting my Vans… and dreaming of freedom.