My friend Jessica Gottlieb is the whole package. She’s smart, funny, has a great family, and exceptional taste. Her blog has won awards, she’s been on many national news shows, and yet she never puts her kids or personal life on the back burner. I admire her for many reasons. She’s got a history of scrappiness — of making the best out of less-than-great situations. She’s got rheumatoid arthritis, but vigorously fights it. She plays a mean game of tennis, puts together her own trampolines and BBQ grills, and always — no matter how busy the day — looks well put together.
Jessica’s my opposite in many ways, including fashion. I enjoy having her as a friend, in part because I enjoy the differences we have, and see her as inspirational. In an alternate universe, I like to imagine that I’d be able to organize my time as well, or construct major projects by myself with manuals seemingly written in Sanskrit. I also like to think that maybe one day, with practice, I may not be so fashion-challenged.
It’s not that I don’t recognize nice or higher quality things when I see them. It’s that for some reason (okay, it’s my body type) fashionable things don’t look right on me. I bought a $250 suit last year (a fortune for a writer!) to attend an important business meeting and even had it tailored. I still felt frumpy, but also like a waste of good fabric — like a “Project Runway” experiment gone bad. But shoes? Shoes are different, right? Maybe that’s why I like them so much. Even if a person has lumpy, misshapen feet, shoes can hide their sins.
Comfort is important to me, particularly in the Tucson summer (when no one wants to wear socks), but I like to think that comfortable doesn’t have to mean unattractive. So I was very happy when my daughter picked up on my love of Teva’s and sent these as a belated birthday present. I even posted a pic to Facebook:
Oh, no! A few of my friends compared them to Crocs. I was like whaaa–? I would never wear Crocs. Crocs are ugly. That’s when my friend Jessica piped in and said she was ready to be part of the solution. “Send me your size,” she wrote with a firm, loving hand. I did, and a couple of weeks later these were at my door.
Cute, right? But after turning them this way and that, I decided that they weren’t for me. They were very comfortable, but what Jessica saw as red, I saw as pink. Plus, they were Mary Jane’s. I’ve never worn a pair of Mary Jane’s in my life. I used to have a short, perky artist friend in California who wore colored Mary Jane’s all the time. To me, they’ve always felt like a Linda shoe — like that was her thing more than anyone else’s. I felt kind of bad that Jess put so much effort into helping me find my more fashionable side only to have me return her gift, but I reasoned that she’d want me to wear what was bought. I know, I thought excitedly, I’ll get something I wouldn’t normally buy. One really nice pair of shoes instead of two or three cheaper ones. So I bought these:
See the stitching details? Feminine, right? Fashionable? And there was even a slight heel. Unfortunately, when they arrived they were much too narrow for my wide feet. Zappos didn’t have the same style in a wide, so I ordered this pair. Same brand, but different width:
Alright, these aren’t nearly as fancy as the previous pair, but they’re shiny. Shiny, I thought, has to count for something in femme fashion, especially since I own nothing else with this kind of sheen, not even lingerie. Alas, these shoes were too wide and my feet fell out of them. Back to Zappos they went. I was beginning to feel like a returns leper. I was sure Zappos was going to take away my VIP membership and disinvite me from ever shopping there again.
I scoured the site looking for something I knew would fit. I considered a pair of Uggs that were on sale, but I could practically hear the resounding “no effing way” from Jessica in Los Angeles. I searched high and low, in every category from clogs to sandals. In the end, I chose these:
A practical pair of winter boots and a kind of sporty pair of barefoot sneakers. They fit, they’re comfortable, and they’re probably not very cute at all, except that they’re not Crocs, and they’re not Uggs.
“They’re exactly like everything else you always get,” another friend said to me with an exasperated sigh. She had voted for me to keep the Mary Jane’s.
“But they’re really not. My old boots are black, not brown, and they’re worn out. And the Tevas are totally different than these Vivobarefoot’s.”
“I think you owe your friend an apology, or lunch, or something.”
“Maybe I’ll just send her a nice button-down shirt or H&M blazer for her birthday.”
“I thought you said she was your friend?”
Okay, lunch it is, then.
Thank you, Jess, for the gift, but most especially for your friendship. We may be day/night, Lucy/Ethel, Anniston/Etheridge in some ways, but to me you’re like that sister I look up to, who inspires and challenges me to try new things. Even if the lessons don’t always take, even if they may not be right for me in the moment, they are there, and somehow always motivating. To me, that’s the best and most generous gift one friend can give another.