Ruby Slippers, Redux

What shoes should I wear?

I am jetlagged as hell.  I have just stumbled into my apartment, freshly off a flight from Heathrow — I have less than an hour to freshen my makeup and perhaps change my shoes before heading to a gala in midtown.

When I was slightly younger, I was starry-eyed over events like these.  Now that I am older, and my friends are on the benefit committees, the parties are less intriguing.  They mean that I will have to make small-talk, or that I will find myself drinking more than I want, or that I will have to whip out my wallet and auspiciously make a donation.

When I was younger, things would’ve been different.  After the wheels touched down, I’d have been met by my husband.  He’d have met me at the American Airlines terminal at JFK.  The scaffold would still have been up, and the worker bees would’ve been removing the stunning stained glass from the facade of the building.  We always flew American.  We were creatures of habit, and we liked the airmiles.

But then there was that day in 2008, when I stumbled through passport control in the Delta Terminal — damp, damaged and disoriented — back from West Africa.  But there was nothing, no one to greet me but my beat-up suitcase on the conveyor in baggage claim.

To that point, I’d always been the kind of woman who had someone to meet her at the airport.  And suddenly, caked with red dirt and covered in mosquito bites, I was not.  I was Eve Who Had Eaten the Apple.

I digress.

Fast forward to now, and, earlier, I’d emerged from Customs wearing a black dress, and carrying a black bag, and a black brief case.  I was greeted by a stranger holding a card with my name.  It had taken two hours to go through Hurricane-ravaged Queens to Manhattan.

And now, standing in my stocking feet, staring at myself in the mirror and applying lipstick: What shoes should I wear?

Do you have an objective?

Yes.  To stay awake!  Beyond that, no.

He teases me a bit for my choice of the plain dress that I describe to him, and then he picks out the Red Delicious shoes to go with the somber black wool dress I am wearing.  I detail the finished package, and he says it doesn’t matter, that it’s what’s inside that counts.

I laugh a sort-of rueful laugh because I know he believes it.

With that, I end the conversation and head for midtown.  The shoes do not really match the outfit, but it was worth it, maybe, to play the little game for a quiet half-hour before facing the world again.  It was nice to be the filling and not merely the package for a few moments — even if it was just the little game we play.

Now I am older, and I wonder if I really am less starry-eyed; I wonder if things are all that different after all.

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