The Pink High-Tops

The Pink High-Tops

From Chicken Soup for Every Mom's Soul

The Pink High-Tops

It was late November. We wandered the mall, shopping with the multitudes during the pre-Christmas rush. My two little ones and my mum moseyed along, taking in the holiday gala.

Then I spotted them, a pair of pink high-top sneakers.

I delighted in their pastel cockiness, gentle pale pink on aggressive high-tops. I had found my Christmas present. “That’s what I want Mum, those sneakers,” I said.

She looked at me as if I had lost my mind. I am sure she had expected me to suggest a cashmere sweater for Christmas, but instead I had found an inexpensive but delightful bit of fun.

A week later, when I returned from a conference in Washington, D.C., the pain in my lower back was unbearable. I went to the hospital, underwent some tests and was admitted. Surgery was scheduled for the next day. No big deal, I thought. Take out three discs, be home in four days, a few weeks off. We’ll manage.

Something went wrong.

I vaguely remember waking in the recovery room screaming in pain. I remember my mother sitting beside my bed and saying her rosary. In a stupor, I could only begin to imagine what character-building events lay ahead.

While I lay in the hospital, my husband, Tom, had to shop and wrap. My father visited faithfully every day and watered my miniature Christmas tree. Two days before Christmas, with much pleading, I was released from the hospital and taken home heavily sedated, bent at forty-five degrees on a walker.

The words from the day before kept ringing through my head. My husband was sitting nearby, incredulous. The surgeon, my nemesis, chart in hand, spoke. His words were crisp, clear and delivered unemotionally: “You will never walk unassisted again. But with therapy, we can help straighten you some, and with time the pain will gradually subside until it can be managed.”

Who is he talking to? He can’t mean me. All I kept thinking was, I have two young children. I’m only 31 years old. Of course I’ll walk upright again.

At home I felt as if I were in a fog shrouded in pain. The tree was up. Presents were piled beneath it. I was laid in a recliner on an egg crate mattress. The recliner accommodated the bend in my body. The codeine and other drugs helped block the overwhelming pain and fear.

On Christmas morning, Mum and Dad came for breakfast. As the gifts were being opened, Mum said, “Tom, you did a fine job. Everything looks lovely.” I noticed the sparkle of the paper. Looking closer, I saw that everything was wrapped in “Happy Hanukkah” paper. I couldn’t laugh. It hurt to just turn my head. Poor Tom, he’d tried. But the paper—what a kick. Our Hanukkah Christmas is still a wonderful memory.

The little ones helped me open my gifts. And there they were, a pair of pink high-tops; I’d forgotten all about them.

I started to weep, loving them yet wondering whether I would ever be able to wear them. I wept uncontrollably. The kids didn’t have a clue what was wrong. Tom rushed them to the kitchen for blueberry pancakes, the annual Christmas fare. My mother, unflappable as always, just looked at me without as much as a question and said, “You’ll wear them.”

Three weeks later, my beloved dad died unexpectedly— another bad dream—and I was back in the hospital for the first of the many tests and hospitalizations to follow. I was put into traction and finally a full-body cast, and slowly I worked my way back to some semblance of an upright position.

At first, I was bent at the waist, face to the floor. I wore weights on my ankles and a body cast. I moved on a walker. There were no high heels, no fancy dresses. There were only sweat clothes to fit over the body hardware, but my feet were dressed in pretty pink. Everywhere I went I wore my pink high-tops. For the first year, they were truly all I saw when attempting to learn to walk again.

It took three full years of pain, perseverance, faith in God and a deliberate belief in myself. It took family support, but I learned to walk and endure and to stand tall. I finally had to part with the worn and cracked pink high-tops. They were tossed reluctantly. Oddly enough, they had been a part of a time in my life I didn’t want to forget.

Time went full circle, and I moved into my mother’s home to tend to her during her last few years. On the eve of my mother’s death, before she slipped into a morphine-induced sleep she said to me, “How lucky I was to have had my family and to have shared yours.” She dozed momentarily. When she woke, while stroking my hand, she quietly said, “We had a special relationship. You are not average, Dotty. Don’t ever forget. You are extraordinary. Always stand tall, just as if you’re wearing your pink feet.” She said little else that night as I sat by her side and remembered every nuance of our lives together.

Now when I put the pink angel on the top of the tree, I always stretch tall and straight and remember that terrifying Christmas and the faith and love evident in my mother’s gift to me. It was a basic message, one of courage and strength, emblazoned in a simple pair of pink high-tops.

Dorothy Raymond Gilchrest

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