The Spangled Pearl White Shoes

Every day, we have to make dozens of choices. Some choices, such as what to wear and what movie to watch, are simple to make. Have you ever faced the situation that you have no right to choose? If so, would you be willing to accept or deny choices other people made for you? Some of you may never regret, but some will.

Whenever I go to a shoe store and see many varieties of shoes, I always want to look for the pair that I never had the chance to own when I was a child in Taiwan. It was a pair of spangled pearl white shoes with a pink bow, which I miss deeply. Until this day, even though I often spend much time in children’s shoe stores finding the shoes for my girls, I still cannot find the exact same pair. Decades have gone by, and I am no longer a little girl. I studied hard and graduated from a prominent university with a decent degree in my country. Although I live a happy life now, married to a nice man who is an executive in a machinery company and can buy as many pairs of shoes as I want, I know that pair of spangled pearl white shoes with the pink bow that I miss deeply will never come back to my life. That pair of shoes remains an unforgettable memory from my childhood because it symbolized my resentment of growing up poor.

In my country, Taiwan, every public school student wears almost the same uniform: girls wear white shirts on top with knee-length blue pleated skirts, and boys also wear the white shirts but with short blue pants. We all need to wear the black shoes as part of the uniform; this is the policy everyone has to follow. During the beginning of each new semester, parents are busy preparing the children’s school supplies. For example, my parents would take my brother Huendun and me to shop for some new clothing for the new school year. However, we did not buy things each time because it depended on the condition of my old clothing. If the clothes were torn or ripped with a big hole and were not wearable, my parents would take us to buy new ones. If my parents said we needed new clothes, my brother and I would cheer for many days because we usually did not have new clothes to wear.

My parents were both working in an eyeglass frame factory. Their jobs were to assemble each part of frames to make eyeglasses, and their jobs did not earn them a lot of money to raise a family. I remember at the end of each month, our money was always tight. We often ate rice with only soy sauce and nothing else. We knew we may not have enough money for that month. When the new semester came, I often felt my parents would worry if they would have the extra money to buy our school supplies.

When I was in the fourth grade, I had a pair of black shoes that were really worn out and were becoming small for me, even if I tried to bend my toes. I had been wearing this old pair of shoes since I was in the second grade. My parents would always buy shoes that were a couple sizes too big for my brother and me, so we could wear them longer. Therefore, most of the shoes I wore back then were much bigger than my feet at that time. Because of the loosely fit oversized shoes, embarrassment happened to me so many times from having to go back and pick up my shoes when I ran too fast; it drew a lot of laughter from other students. Finally, I told my parents I really needed a new pair of shoes although I thought they would refuse. One night after dinner, my mom was washing dishes. The sound of water flowing down from the faucet almost made my voice inaudible. I raised my voice and said to my mom, “Ni ker yi mai yi shuang xin xie gei wo ma? Jio der na shuang chuan bu xia ler.” (Could you buy me a new pair of shoes? The old ones cannot fit me anymore.) I showed my old pair of shoes to her, but she continued to wash the dishes. I asked myself, “What if she didn’t hear me?” I was nervous that I did not speak loud enough.

My mom did not answer; the water continued to flow. She may not buy me a pair this year, I thought. Just when I was ready to turn around and go back to my room, I heard her say, ”Hau, wo men zhao shi jian qu xie dian.” (Fine, we will find time to go to the shoe store.) I could not believe what I heard—she finally agreed. But she told me to wait for next month when they had enough money, and she would take me to buy a new pair of shoes.

I counted day after day, and finally the big day arrived! My parents told me they would take me to the shoe store in the afternoon. I could not wait for a second; I was full of joy and cheer because I had been to the only shoe store in our small town so many times to search for my new shoes on my own. The pair in the display behind the window looked so beautiful. Whenever I went home from school, I would always detour to the shoe store to see that pair. They were beautiful pearl white shoes without too much design, and they looked neat and trim. They drew my attention immediately when I saw them the very first time, because this pair of shoes was similar to the one that my neighborhood girl had. She lived in a big house on the top of a hill with a tall fence. Nobody knew her name or what the house looked like inside. All we knew that she was a wealthy businessman’s daughter, probably the same age as me. However, I had never talked or played with her, and neither had my playmates living on the same street.
One time I saw the neighbor girl shopping at the shoe store with her mother. She was wearing a pink, puffy princess dress with this pair of white shoes. The way she dressed looked like a girl from a movie that was so elegant and unreachable. I liked what she wore. I always wished I could be born in her family and wear new clothes every day; then, I would look like her.

This pair of white shoes were the shoes she wore. This was the pair I had dreamed of for a long time, and I was really determined to get them.

When my parents brought me to the store, I went in first and told the clerk that I wanted him to bring me that pair of white shoes. He brought them to me, and when I wore the shoes, I felt I looked as elegant as the rich neighborhood girl. I thought my parents would like them, too. But my parents brought me a black pair of shoes instead and said, “Ba na shuang bai xie tuo diao, chuan zher shuang hei xie. Wo men bu huei mai na shuang bai xie.” (Take off the white ones and wear these black ones. We are not going to buy that pair of white shoes.)

“Wo wei sher mer bu ker yi mai na shuang bai xie?” (Why can I not get this white pair of shoes?) I said it out loud with all my courage. I knew my parents would ignore what I said. “Ni bu ren wei zher shuang bai xie bi jiao shi her wo ma?” (Don’t you think this pair fits me better?) But my parents said I needed to wear black shoes to school, not white shoes, and they could not afford to buy both pairs. I hated that I was born in this blue-collar family and could not have anything I wanted.

“Wo zhi xi huan zher shuang bai xie, ni men jin tian ruo bu mai gei wo, wo jio dai zai zher li zhi dao ni mai gei wo.” (I only like that white pair. If you do not buy that pair today, I will stay here until you buy it for me.) I could not believe how those daring words came out from my mouth. My parents did not say a word. They turned around and went home. I felt so embarrassed standing there. I reluctantly took off the shoes and my eyes filled with tears, and I thought, “Why can I not get that white pair of shoes? Why are my parents so cruel to me? Why was I born in this family? Why can I not be like the girl who lived in that big house? She probably has many pairs of shoes to choose from each day.” I cried on the way home. I did not care how other people looked at me. All I wanted was that pair of white shoes.

When I went home, I threw myself into the bed and cried sadly until I fell into a deep sleep. When I woke up, it was dark outside and my pillow was wet with my tears. I knew I must have cried for a long time. I went downstairs to see if my parents were generous enough to buy me that pair of white shoes. However, the reality was not what I had hoped for. They did not buy me the white pair of shoes that I wanted. Instead, I saw the dull black pair of shoes lying on the table.

I still remember that silent, emotionless despair. That was what I got for fourth grade. From that day on, I knew there was no fairy tale. Not everything will happen according to our wishes. Since then, I had learned not to expect things that are beyond my control or capabilities. I do not blame my parents for not buying me that pair of shoes; I do not resent that there was no fairy tale, either. I know with all the efforts that I make, right now I am the person who can make my own choices and make a better life.

~Meiling I

This essay earned third place in the annual student contest for the Liberal Arts Network for Development (LAND). LAND provides a network for the development of the liberal arts in Michigan’s community colleges.