Alice was the daughter of one of my parents’ close friends. Growing up, I was around her often as she was my babysitter. She was 6 years older than I was, so when I was in grade school, she had started middle school. By the time Alice had entered high school, I was just learning how to multiply.
Alice did come from one of the more well off families as only her father had to work and they owned a nice home near the end of the school boundary. As a result of their location, Alice would always have to walk a block or two to the last school bus stop. She went to a decent public school in the area. It wasn’t great, as it had its fair share of bad apples, but it was better than most.
I’ve always thought of Alice as a sweet girl. I was obviously biased as she was the one who watched over me since I was learning how to count. It wasn’t until her junior year that I learned how cruel the world could really be.
I was almost done with elementary school and on to the next challenge of middle school and just starting to learn about what made kids cool at school. One of the most obvious things was cool shoes, Nike shoes to be exact. All the cool kids had the shoes that had air bubbles in them. The more air bubbles you had, the cooler you were (and also the more expensive they were). I was absolutely obsessed with these shoes. I wanted desperately to look cool.
My parents would take me to the local mall and I would always beg them to take me to Foot Locker so that I could see the newest shoes.
“Look at all these bubbles,” I would say, not even knowing what they did. But the hype behind the marketing worked on this little kid.
My parents would shake their heads at the price tag and tell me to put them back. I was afforded maybe one, at most two, pairs of shoes a year. I would always hold out for one of the Nikes with the air bubbles, but they were out of the budget my parents had set for me. The point is, these were shoes that I’ve always wanted.
One day, when Alice came to babysit, I noticed she had on a pair of brand new Air Max 95s in pink. When she took them off to enter the house, I immediately grabbed them and asked her about them.
“Oh, they’re just shoes,” Alice would say, smiling at my enthusiasm.
“Can you convince my parents to get me a pair?”
“Maybe you can save your allowance for it,” Alice would reply.
“That will take forever!”
“Tell you what,” Alice said, “if you finish with at least 4 A’s, I’ll split a pair with you.”
“What do you mean?”
“You save half, and I’ll pay the rest.”
Like I said, Alice was always sweet to me. She taught me to save for goals and work hard for what you really want. I didn’t know it at the time, but she was setting me up for some real life lessons.
The one thing that I will always remember about Alice was those Air Max 95s. It was through those shoes that I not only learned a valuable lesson about working hard for a goal, but also, the world was a cruel place.
Now, I’m not going to claim that Alice was innocent and didn’t start shit on her own. But because I was a kid and I only knew her as my babysitter, I thought the world of her. However, over the next few weeks, Alice inadvertently crushed my dreams.
During one of our routine visits to the mall, I begged to go to Foot Locker again. That’s when my parents decided to have a talk with me. They didn’t go into much detail except that Alice got in trouble at school over shoes. They didn’t say if it was Alice’s shoes or someone else’s, but whatever the case was, something happened.
My parents started instilling in me that owning expensive shoes was bad and would draw the wrong sort of attention. They didn’t want me going down that path. As a young kid, I believed them. I’m sure they were relieved when I stopped asking them about Foot Locker or talking about air bubbles at the dinner table. I still noticed the cool kids wearing the cool shoes at school, but I knew that I would never be one of them.
Alice came by to babysit again almost a month after my parents had pulled me aside to tell me that Alice had been in trouble at school. I assume it wasn’t Alice’s fault or my parents wouldn’t have asked her to come by and leave their child with her.
When Alice entered the house, she took off her shoes revealing her white sporty socks. This time however, her shoes were different. They were a plain pair of black shoes with no real discernible brand markings. They almost looked like a black color swap of nurse’s shoes.
“What happened to your cool Nikes?” I blurted out when Alice and I were alone.
“Nothing,” Alice said, “I just didn’t want to wear them anymore.”
“Are they not cool anymore?”
“No, they’re not cool anymore.”
“Oh,” my heart sank as a part of me still really wanted cool Nike shoes, but not if Alice thought they were lame.
After a few activities, I revisited the topic again.
“If I had a pair of Nikes with air bubbles, would I be cool?”
“You? Of course,” Alice smiled, but she seemed bothered or annoyed by my questions.
“Are you still going to help me?”
“I think I’m going to get 5 A’s this year,” I said, quietly. I was disappointed she had forgotten.
“Oh, I will! Of course I will! That’s great news!” Alice said, “but are you sure you want Nikes? What if you saved that money for something else?”
“Video games? or maybe a new bike?”
“I really want cool shoes so I can be cool too.”
“You are cool,” Alice said.
“But those shoes would make me cooler!” I whined.
I think that was the tipping point. Alice finally broke and decided to tell me a story.
“I’m not wearing my Nikes anymore because they were stolen,” Alice began matter-of-factly.
Alice told me about some bad girls in her school that were a year older than her. She and her friends had always had issues with the girls. Again, I was biased, so immediately those bad girls were the enemy. The bad girls had never gotten along with Alice and their rivalry went all the way back to their elementary school days. From what she simplified, it had to do with Alice working hard and having everything and those mean girls failing at all things in life.
I can verify, from what my parents had told me, that Alice was in fact an honor roll student, and her parents were in fact very well off. I could see why that would irk someone the wrong way, especially if Alice was cocky at school. I knew, also for a fact, that Alice was one of the cool kids. My friends’ older sibling all knew of her and I would say that yes, Alice was very popular.
So Alice continued her story. Alice had gotten dropped off earlier at school so she didn’t ride the bus as usual. This was her mistake. When she arrived at her locker, the mean girls were already waiting for her. Alice’s friends hadn’t arrived yet. From what Alice could gather, this was something the mean girls had planned for a long time. Alice had arrived early because she wanted to see if she made the volleyball team. The rosters were posted late after school. One of the mean girls had tried out as well and Alice assumed the mean girls didn’t see Alice checking for her name after school that Alice would be there the next morning. If that was the case, then their assumption was correct.
The hallways were near empty save for a few students that had extra curricular activities in the morning. Alice walked to her locker first to drop off her books and bag before she was on her way to check the roster. Instead, the mean girls surrounded her and pushed her around. They were calling her names, but she said they didn’t throw a punch. They threatened to beat Alice up unless she followed them outside. Helpless, Alice obliged.
They took her to the back parking lot – out of sight from parents dropping their kids off. There were a few people who walked by, but Alice didn’t dare make a scene out of fear that one of the girls would punch her, or worse, stab her.
The mean girls asked Alice to empty her wallet. Alice obliged. She was scared. She took out the $20 her parents had given her for lunch and an afternoon snack.
The mean girls then dug through Alice’s change purse and took its contents as well. Not satisfied with their haul from the rich girl, the mean girls started to think out loud in threats.
“Take her shirt too,” one of the mean girls would say.
But I guess there was an unwritten rule that even those mean girl bullies wouldn’t break. Instead, the mean girls looked Alice up and down and obviously they knew Alice had her Air Max 95s on.
“Give us your shoes!”
“Take ’em off, now!”
Alice was scared. Alice described how ferocious these girls were as they barked their orders at her.
“Do it now or we’ll beat you up and then take them!” one of the mean girls ordered.
Alice reluctantly knelt and began to untie her laces.
This is when the mean girls grew impatient. They grabbed Alice’s arms and held them back. The mean girls then forcefully pried the shoes off Alice’s feet. The mean girls then fled with Alice’s shoes laughing along the way. Alice was left behind in the parking lot with nothing on her feet except her white socks and completely penniless.
Alice said she had a choice, she could either run home in her socks because she had no money to call for a ride, or deal with it at school and go home in the afternoon with the school bus. Alice chose the latter option, though it had crossed her mind many, many, times to just run away.
When Alice sat down with the principal, still in her socked feet, the principal actually told her to go put some shoes on. This upset Alice even more because she obviously would have if she had a spare pair. The principal did call all of the mean girls down to question them on Alice’s shoe and money theft. The mean girls presented a united front and denied everything. They left the office, pointing and laughing at Alice’s lack of footwear.
Alice said she skipped her first few classes because she cried by herself in the back of the library. She said she started crying when she first stepped foot in the hallways with her socked feet. It was like that was the painful realization of what had happened. Like going to school naked in a nightmare, only to realize you weren’t dreaming. Alice had to hide because she didn’t want to let her bullies know they had won. It wasn’t until lunch that Alice’s friends found out what had happened. I guess walking to the cafeteria in her socked feet was a dead giveaway. One of Alice’s friends did help her out as she lent Alice her gym shoes to wear for the rest of the day.
Alice’s parents were distraught that something like this could happen to their daughter. After this point, her parents wouldn’t buy her anything expensive in hopes that there would be no repeat incidents.
Sadly, because of Alice, my parents refused to buy me nice shoes as well. And because of Alice’s story, the money I saved up, I wound up using for some stupid toys instead.
As a side note, Alice and I still talk from time to time – our age difference no longer being too big of a barrier. She now owns a fairly impressive collection of Jordan shoes that she uses for display purposes only.
As for me, I never did get into the fancy sneaker game.