For those of you who missed the title’s reference, a musical interlude!
Believe it or not, I hate drawing attention to myself in public spaces. Granted, it’s different in a kink setting, such as a play party, where there’s the inherent expectation of performance.
When I walk in the rest of the world, however, the thought of being evaluated by strangers’ eyes fills me with inexplicable anxiety. I think it developed in high school, as so many insecurities do. Back then, I had a pair of velvet ankle boots with a chunky heel that was oh so popular in the late ’90s. The first day I worked up the chutzpa to wear them to school was mortifying. Not because of anything anyone did or said, but because of my own internal narrative. No one else was wearing dress boots. I went through the day dead convinced that I was being stared at, picked apart my my classmates and people passing by me on the street. It took me a year or so before I tried to venture out in them again.
I thought back to those boots as I tottered down Michigan Ave wearing five inch black stiletto heels.
It was a sun-bleached Saturday afternoon, and the tourists were out in force along the Magnificent Mile. I leaned slightly on my male companion’s arm as I navigated the crowds and unforgiving pavement.
“I feel ridiculous.” I said in his ear, smiling through clenched teeth.
“Nonsense,” he beamed a wicked smile. “You look gorgeous. There’s no need to feel ridiculous.” He gestured to a young women who had stopped to take a picture. She was wearing leggings styled to look like jeans and a tank top stretched a bit too tightly around her frame. “Now she should feel ridiculous. You, my dear, should feel fabulous.”
I narrowed my eyes at him. His smile grew Cheshire Cat wide.
My outfit felt a bit more demure when I’d met him for coffee the day before. Purple tank top tucked into a knee length pencil skirt and cinched with a wide black belt. Then again, when I met him for our date, I was wearing a sensible pair of sandals.
He sauntered next to me in dark jeans, a button down shirt, and technicolor sneakers. I could have sworn I saw a people glance from him to me as we walked past.
“People must think I’m a prostitute or something.”
He shrugged. “So, what if they do? At least you’re a well dressed prostitute.”
Eyeing the flip-flops and flats breezing past, I longed for my sandals.
To add insult to injury, I’d just purchased the implements of my demise. Earlier that morning, we were planning the day, and discussing a leisurely walk to Millennium Park. He expressed mild disappointment that I hadn’t shown up to our date in heels.
I explained that since I didn’t know what the date had in store or how much walking we were going to do, black sandals seemed most appropriate.
“However,” I offered, being ever so helpful, “If it means that much to you, Nordstrom Rack is not all that far away. I can probably find an inexpensive pair of heels to wear.”
Famous last words.
Much as it pains me to admit it, I’m not above the influence of consumer culture. I have a deep appreciation for beautiful things, and I love playing dress up. Call it a weakness. I browsed the sales racks of Nordstrom. After considering a few options and giving my companion an abbreviated fashion show, I found the infamous black stilettos. They fit well, looked pretty, and were actually within my budget. The sales lady gave me a meaningful look as I walked back and forth in front of a nearby mirror.
“Wow.” She said. “They fit you perfect.”
I glanced at my companion for verification. He gave an enigmatic smile and nodded in agreement. I sat next to him, the heels dangling from my fingers. As I started packing them in their box, my companion gently touched my shoulder.
“You do realize,” He said “That if you get those shoes, you’ll have to wear them all the way to Millennium Park.”
Millennium Park was just shy of a mile away. When not wearing heels, I can walk that distance without a second thought. I glanced at the shoes, then at him, then at the surgical scars on my left ankle. It’s been almost two years since I broke my ankle, but it still flares up when I overstrain it by doing things such as… I don’t know… walking in heels on concrete for extended periods of time.
“You’re kidding me.” My face was a mask of incredulity.
My companion’s voice was firm. “You will walk in them from here to the park.”
“Can I at least bring my sandals to change into for the walk back?”
“Your sandals can stay in the hotel room.”
“Oh hell no!” I spat. “Absolutely not!”
A Small Detour
By the time we hit Michigan and Wacker, my ankles started to give. My companion noted the change in my gait, and looped his arm around my waist to give me more support.
A gaggle of giggling teenagers cut in front of us.
“I hope alligators devour you.” I menaced as best I could.
His demeanor remained unchanged. “Just keep your head up. We still have a ways to go.”
“God,” I mused aloud, regarding my now wobbly gait “Now people are probably going to think I’m drunk or something.”
“Bah,” He waved the comment off with his free hand. “To give people that impression, we’d really have to sell it. You’d have to rush over to a trash can and pretend to dry heave. But then, you’d have to run up to the trash can in order to make it believable. Judging by how you’re walking now, I don’t think you have the speed to really pull it off. I should have thought of that when we started out. Now I know for next time.”
“Alligators!” I threatened.
“Now here’s a thought.” My companion mused, “I should find a store and buy you an even higher pair of heels for you to walk back in. Doesn’t that sound like fun?”
I muttered a profanity or two under my breath.
Before long, the corner of Millennium Park came into view. I breathed a sigh of relief, thinking excitedly of the many benches the park must contain.
“Well, we’re here.” I beamed as winning a smile as I could muster. “Almost time to go back, right?”
“No.” His voice was that of a patient school teacher. “I didn’t say we’d walk to the edge of the park. We are walking to the other end of the park.”
I opened my mouth and promptly closed it.
We were about to pass the Chicago Cultural Center, when he stopped for a moment.
“Have you ever been to the Chicago Cultural Center?” He asked me.
“Yes,” I regarded him with suspicion. “Why do you ask?”
“I’d like to check it out. And just think of all that marble flooring. It’ll be good for you.”
I forced a grin, bearing my teeth. “Of course it will.”
Thankfully, the Cultural Center had more carpeting than he had anticipated. We walked silently for a while, admiring the intricate moldings, ornate columns and vaulted ceilings. My companion led me up a few flights of stairs. We walked in aimless circles. When he decided he’d had enough of the Cultural Center, we left. Much to my surprise, my companion turned us towards State Street and away from Millenium Park.
“Where are we going?”
My companion’s smile was as enigmatic as ever.
Holy shit, it dawned on me, the bastard was serious!
Price to Pay
Within minutes of scanning the racks of discounted designer shoes, I found a beautiful pair of Ferragamo peep toe sandals. I’d never seen anything like them. They were made of pale rose and antique violet leather, with intricate designs along the sides and along the toe. While I’m not one to put that much stock in name brands, I don’t think I’d ever seen a pair of Ferragamos up close. I thought they were myths told by trophy wives and perpetuated on by Sex and the City reruns. Even I knew that finding a pair of those shoes for under 200 dollars was almost unheard of. My companion looked on as I admired the shoes.
“The heel looks a little low.” Said my companion. They were 4 1/2 inch heels. “But they are quite beautiful.”
It almost pained me to take them off. “Well, they’re a definite possibility.” I said.
I started to walk away with the black stilettos dangling from my fingers. My companion shot me a meaningful look. I heaved a sigh and put them back on.
My companion kept a slight distance as I browsed aisle after aisle of shoes, falling ever more in love with the Ferragamos. None of the other shoes stacked up. This pair was too chunky, that heel was too low. Another pair looked too much like the pair on my feet. I eventually returned to the Ferragamos.
My companion flashed me a predatory smile, coming close enough to hiss in my ear. “I will buy you those shoes if you like them, but only under the following conditions.” His voice was low and calm. “You will wear them all the way back to the hotel. I will stay behind you and will not support you. You will support your own weight the whole way back.”
I swallowed hard. Ok, that would be difficult, but not impossible. If I took my time, I might be able to endure the journey.
“That’s not all.” My companion continued, “Every time we pass by a trash can, you will go up to it an pretend to dry heave into it.”
I went pale as he spoke. The very thought of fulfilling his demands wrenched at my stomach.
“No.” I pleaded, my eyes growing wide. “Oh please no. Please don’t make me!”
My companion barely even blinked.
Words all but failed me as panic took hold of my voice. “I’ll walk… I’ll walk all the way but not that. Just… Please. Please Don’t make me.” Tears started to blur my vision.
My companion’s expression did not waver. “That’s the deal. I’ll be downstairs by the cashiers.” I stared after him as he vanished down the escalator and then regarded the heels in my hands.
Decisions and Consequences
It wasn’t about the shoes. Not entirely, at least. Hell’s bells,[*] I probably needed another pair of shoes like I needed a hole in the head. My companion’s ultimatum pitted my stubbornness against my pride. The stubborn streak in me didn’t want me to fail my companion’s expectation. Ironically enough, I teach a class where I stress both the challenges and the importance of respecting one’s own limits. I was really feeling the challenge bit in that moment. If I came down the escalator empty handed, I’d have to admit both to him and myself that I hit a wall. On the other hand, just how far was I willing to go? Was proving a point and getting the shoes worth drawing that much negative attention to myself?
My companion was waiting for me at the bottom of the escalator, typing something on his phone. He glanced up at me as I stepped onto the escalator.
I looked him in the eye when I reached the bottom.
My hands were empty.
“I can’t.” I said flatly. My companion’s face was inscrutable. “I just can’t.”
In that moment, his entire posture relaxed. He looked relieved, almost overjoyed.
“You know,” he said, “I really would have been heartbroken if you came down the escalator with those shoes.”
He held me close. It took me a while to register his words.
“Go,” He said, eyes beaming. “Get the shoes. I’ll meet you at the checkout line, and then we’ll take a cab back. You can wear them out if you like.”
I blinked at him in astonishment. “You really don’t have to.” I stammered.
“I know.” He replied. Another smile wrinkled the corners of his eyes. This one was warm and inviting. “Now, go get your shoes.”