Tommy’s Shoes

Tommy’s Shoes

From A 5th Portion of Chicken Soup for the Soul

Tommy’s Shoes

I had in my mind to give those shoes to Cameron and Christy if I could just remember where I’d put them. Already having looked everywhere obvious that an old pair of track shoes were likely to be, I was straining for new possibilities. Even though I’d kept them for the better part of twenty-five years, they seemed a pretty lame remembrance to give to the thirteen-year-old twins whose father had just died at the age of forty.

I’d met Cameron and Christy probably on half a dozen occasions when they were little, but I’m sure they were too young then to recognize me now. Oh, Great Gift Bearer of Worn-out Shoes. How could I explain it to them? Their father meant so many firsts in my life. Some of which I can say and others I never will.

The first time I seriously considered running away, I called Tommy. He and his brother and two sisters were all adopted. I thought it was just amazing that people would adopt four kids and actually have a functional family. I still do. I figured he might have some perspective to offer me that I hadn’t imagined, and of course he did. Tommy was never short on perspective, and at times his view of the world confused me, but that night I appreciated it because I didn’t run away.

Tommy was part magician. If he went out and caught a twelve-inch catfish, it’d be eighteen inches by the time it flopped into the pan, and two feet long when the butter sizzled in the skillet to fry it up. I don’t think I did right by Tommy in this regard when we were teenagers. Sometimes I defended him and other times I doubted. But to Tommy, it appeared to make little difference. He was not afraid of things like ridicule that kept many of us that age in a wasteland, too nearsighted to catch even a glimpse of his vision.

Tommy loved challenges. “Yeah, right, Tommy. You can get me a summer job.” The next Saturday I was in the fields picking watermelons. And when the land was picked clean he got me my second job, as a painter’s helper. The summer after that I was a landscaper, thanks to Tommy.

To say that we were best friends wouldn’t be exactly accurate, but to say we had a whole boat load of best times together wouldn’t be a lie. I guess Tommy always made me feel like his best friend when we were together. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one.

He used to wear these blue running shoes made out of some kind of parachute canvas when he’d do the mile and the half-mile in high school. He wasn’t the greatest long-distance runner in the state, but for a boy with a bad heart, he placed respectably in quite a few meets. I’d holler at him from inside the track all the way around, telling him where his closest competitor was. “Dig in, Tommy! Stretch it out! You’re the man!” And when it was my turn to run my quarter of the mile relay, there was no one in the stadium shouting louder or harder for me than him.

When I had my first near-death experience, he was there. We were on our way home from the beach. I was driving, my girlfriend’s head resting on my lap. Tommy had pulled the back cushions out of his red Barracuda convertible so he could get to the trunk from the inside, where he was sleeping. Everyone in dreamland with me cruising along at about eighty-five miles an hour in a drizzly rain. When I hit that curve, I could feel the air swirling around me thick and fast, lifting the car completely off the surface of the pavement, as if a huge window had been cracked open and then slammed shut in almost the same instant. The four tires grabbed the asphalt road again. But I know we’d have all been dead if God had wanted it so.

It was three days later before Tommy ever acknowledged the event. He came up to me in the locker room, popped me with a towel and said, “You nearly lost it on the beach road Saturday, didn’t ya?”

“I thought you were asleep,” I said. He laughed at me, and I punched him in the arm as many times as I could before he got even.

Punching was a big thing for us. I remember Tommy nearly broke his hand punching out a stop sign, he was so upset over a fight he’d had with his girlfriend. He married Melanie a short while after that. She was a country girl who matched his spirit fine. Sweet and pretty, but not inclined to take any sass from the likes of Tommy. He cried so much saying his wedding vows I didn’t think he was going to make it, he was so happy to get her.

The twins were born and as the seasons passed, we seemed to drift in and out of each other’s lives with less frequency. The last times that represented any consistency for us were during the University of Florida Gators’ home football games. Tommy was in charge of the crew that supplied hot dogs for the entire stadium, and I was his lieutenant. Part of that responsibility meant meeting at the field by 4:00 A.M. to prepare for the assembly of ten thousand hot dogs. Let me tell you, when you get up in the middle of a weekend night to work your buns off alongside a guy passing you weenies all day just for the sheer pleasure of punching him in the arm every once in a while—well, you love him.

I think why I did so much is because when I was with him, we shared things. Partly because we were pretty close to the same size, and maybe too because sometimes it wasn’t easy to feel like we fit anywhere.

I guess that’s why passing back the shoes feels important. He gave me many things, including these running shoes, and I’m frustrated from looking and not finding. Rummaging through the final box in the back corner of the barn, I see a shoe toe that I recognize instantly. I pull it out like a prize from a cereal box and brush away the cockroach that has taken up residence inside. But there’s only one shoe. The left mate is missing. How can I give the offspring of my old friend one beat-up, worn-out shoe that belonged to their father a quarter of a century ago? Feeling deflated, I close my eyes and ask Tommy what he thinks I should do. His response, as usual, is quick and decisive. “Give the kids the dang shoe and move on.”

Tommy never did steer me in the wrong direction.

Samuel P. Clark

You are currently enjoying a preview of this book.

Sign up here to get a Chicken Soup for the Soul story emailed to you every day for free!

Please note: Our premium story access has been discontinued (see more info).

view counter

More stories from our partners