From time to time, I might post old pieces that I want to keep track of, or that I think are worth revisiting. This was originally written 27 August, 2012.
A decade ago, the word “boots” would have meant ankle-height, black leather with a low, chunky heel. Something stylish and comfortable that I could stand in at work for eight or more hours. And that would be the end of this piece. Okay, if I’m being totally honest, it might have included a brief fantasy about knee-high, laced up, stiletto-heeled, these-boots-are-made-for-sexin’ footwear.
Now, though, I see a pair of tan, size 13, authorized ACU boots.
I see long laces of 550 cord pulled tight and clasped with the little spring-loaded gizmo I don’t know the name for and the excess hidden in the top. Or I see the laces ends come out of hiding, and the clasp move to the end while fingers pull slack into each section. If there is such a thing as ceremony in this house, it might be this twice-daily ritual of lacing and unlacing the tan, rough-side-out cattle hide leather, side-vented regulation army boots. They go on last at the feet, but they signify an invisible mantle that settles over the head of the wearer – the attitude of the professional soldier. At home in the evening, they come off first and it’s like everybody relaxes at the same time – not a Soldier now, just Dad and Husband.
I love to see them sit neatly side by side at the door, brushed clean and softly slouched at the top. It means the feet that go in them are home, propped up bare on the couch or getting exceptionally stinky as they sweat in tennis shoes behind the lawn mower. Maybe they’re tapping against the bottom rung of the stool, in time to the music that plays over the work bench. The boots are relaxed and so am I.
Sometimes I see row after row of them, lined up, stiff and straight. They’re clean, of course, but also worn and tired, scuffed smooth by a year of desert sand. I hear the sound they make, dozens clapping the ground in unison, a staccato rhythm of discipline and business. I see them in formation and it comforts me, those pylons in an upside-down sea of digital camouflage, marking individual pillars of soldiers. It scares me a little, too. They all look the same, but I know they are different.
I know a woman with boots in her house that will never be worn again. She leaves them by the door anyway because she can’t bear to put them away. That strikes me as both ridiculously self-indulgent and unutterably sad. I can’t seem to reconcile my need for pragmatic sensibility with the feeling that there is an encyclopedic wealth of subtext contained within a pair of boots.
I’m fearful of the day when the boots get put away for good. They’re our link to a way of life that defines our existence and a vernacular that has fused with our consciousness. What happens when those small daily ceremonies no longer bookend our day? What happens to old boots that have lost their purpose? Where to Army boots go to retire?
And will I ever think of “boots” again without first seeing my spouse, my partner in uniform? I hope not.