The shoe aisle was narrow and crowded. I did not have enough room to step back to fully see all the stacked rows of shoes. Different colors made of everything from canvas to leather, jutted out like noses through a puppy gate, begging to be adopted. I was trying to discreetly bend down and grab a pair of heels from the bottom shelf when the voice of an irritated teen passing behind me made me drop the shoes. I stood, startled.
"You just don't get it, Dad!" she shouted. Glancing at me, her eyes flashed from anger to embarrassment. "Sorry, I didn't mean to shout in your ear," she told me as she stormed off.
The dad stopped behind me. I had nowhere to go as I had to remain in place until he passed to collect the shoes I dropped. Too absorbed in his daughter's scolding, he did not seem to notice the small line of impatient women forming behind him. He mumbled something that sounded a lot like curse words before crossing his arms as if to restrain himself from saying something he might regret. "This," he replied, "This is just too complicated!"
They were carbon copies of one another. The girl had her father's stocky build, blazing blue eyes, and apparent stubbornness. The teen turned and weaved her way back through the crowd until she stood within arm's reach of her father. She shook her head.
"No, it's not complicated, Dad. You just have to know me to understand what I like. You aren't even looking at shoes in the right season, much less in any style I would ever wear. But that would take you paying attention, now wouldn't it?"
"You little -." His arms unfolded, and a fear hit me when I saw his face redden that he might strike his child. Without waiting to find out if my intuition was correct, I spoke. "Sorry, I just need to get these shoes." I pointed to the ground. The dad looked as if to notice for the first time the pumps… and me. He did not move. I spoke again, this time stepping between him and his daughter, giving her my back and him my eyes. "Do you mind stepping back a bit? I dropped them, as you can see. I am clumsy that way." He gave me a cold stare that was both a little too lingering and a little too telling.
“Humph,” he grunted. A vile grin formed on his face as his tongue licked the dryness from his bottom lip. "Yeah, you do that. How about I help you?"
I did not respond, but he was soon face-to-face with me stooping on the ground. "Kids, right?" he laughed. His breath was close enough to move my hair, and it smelt of alcohol. "This one was raised by her mama. You'd think a woman would've done a better job raising her kid. Isn't that what ya'll were made to do? Mating and mothering?" He laughed, once again keeping his eyes on me in a way that made my face redden equal to his.
We stood at the same time. He had one of my pumps in his hand. I held the other. I would be lying if I did not confess that, for a moment, I vividly contemplated all that I could do with a 3-inch, pointed high heel in my hand. Thankfully, my mind returned to me before my imagination took over. I waited for him to give me the shoe.
"Hand her the shoe, Dad," the daughter commanded. Once again, her voice startled me. I almost forget she was behind me. I stepped back as the girl came beside me – just barely enough room for us to stand shoulder to shoulder.
The dad handed me the shoe as the girl looked at him and said, "See, now this is the type of shoe I like. Something I can wear with anything… jeans or dresses."
The dad's wide-spread fingers went through his hair. "Dresses? Just like your mama. I never wanted no girl, you know?"
"I know," the daughter replied, more as a statement of resignation.
He nodded and cleared his throat. "I'll let you shop. I'll see you in the car." Before he turned around and walked away, I caught his final glimpse at his daughter. He looked painfully sad. He looked as if he wished he could hug her, but the distance was much further than physical.
Looking at the girl, once again, I noticed she was a carbon copy of her father. They both wore the same expression of immense pain and sadness. She nodded and cleared her throat, masking her words with a laugh. "Well," she said under her breath, "I never wanted a dad like him, you know?"
I ended up shoe shopping with the girl, spending no more than fifteen minutes with her. She was looking for shoes to wear to prom, she told me, and her dad wanted to come with her to be included in the experience. "But he got to thinking about my mom again like he always does. And he drank too much. Like he always does."
She saw the concern on my face. "Don’t worry. He’ll be asleep in the passenger seat by the time I get to the car. I’ll drive us home. Like I always do. He’ll wake up and apologize. He isn’t so bad sober.”
That day I went looking for one pair of shoes. I ended up buying two pairs. As the girl thanked me, I could not help but watch her leave. I had just gone shopping with my daughter the weekend before for her prom dress and shoes. The time I shared with my daughter was a beautiful memory. Now my heart physically hurt for this girl, the one that I regret never asking her name. I know this stranger has memories… pits of pain… that probably few will ever see but have left deep scars just the same.
We never know what someone is going through. This is a worn statement, but it absolutely true. There are layers upon layers to us all. No matter the age, the wardrobe, the gender, the command of the language, or the width and attractiveness of the smile… there is always more, and there are usually scars. Most monsters, after all, do not start out wanting to become monsters. And I believe, to some extent, there is a little bit of monster in us all. A little bit (perhaps more) that we need to confess, forgive, heal, and surrender to the Savior who knows it all and loves us even in our worst.
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” Romans 5:8.
May we be slow to judge and quick to love, recognizing the depth of our own scars. And may we greet one another as peacemakers, standing in faith for those who need strength and hope. Because we know all too well, many have once (and will again) stand in faith for us.
Tiffany Kaye Chartier is a Christian author and opinion columnist. Submit feedback and connect for more soul lifts on Facebook: Tiffany Kaye Chartier; Instagram:@tiffanysgly; and Twitter: @tiffanychartier. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Texoma Marketing and Media Group.