I went off to law school with a pair of low-cut blue suede Converse All-Stars. They were so cool and made me feel like an athlete. I wore them to my first game on Donnie Zee’s volleyball team. It was also my last game. I might have felt athletic but my feelings did not translate into actual prowess and Donnie kicked me off the team after a ball dropped at my feet. Short-lived was my career as a server.
Not so for Mitchell, my new-found lover. He actually was athletic. He had won not only the Scholar-Athlete Award at Woodmere Academy but the Good Sportsmanship Award as well. He was such a good sport that he did not outright laugh at my abrupt banishment to the sidelines; he merely snickered. He, too, wore Converse All-Stars as he ran back and forth on the varnished wood of the Law School Gym/Auditorium. But, he pointed out to me, his sneakers were not just Converse All-Stars, they were Chuck Taylor, red suede high-top All-Stars. They saw him through three years of volleyball and pick-up basketball games and into our marriage. He wore them on the courts at our first apartment complex in Watervliet, our townhouse in Mechanicville and finally, his cherished concrete driveway where he could take shot after shot into his own basketball hoop. He had installed it himself on a warm spring day, pouring too much concrete into a too-deep hole to anchor the pole upon which he fastened the backboard and hung the net. We all scratched our names into the concrete to memorialize one of his few successful home handyman efforts.
He wore the sneakers for only a short time after that. One of our cats, Merlin, the one his mother had given us, peed on the sneakers in a fit of pique after the birth of our son. The sneakers ended up in the trash and the cat at the vet. I still believe that it was the cat’s desecration of the red suede treasures that earned his demise, not the snarling and hissing at our newborn son.
No more high-tops for Mitchell. Until August 9, 1988.
He had just been transferred from Champlain Valley Physician’s Hospital to Ellis Hospital. He had traded his fancy, nylon-coated, rotating, compartmentalized bed in Plattsburgh for a regular hospital bed in the Neuro ICU in Schenectady. During my late-night consultation with his new doctors on August 8, they informed me that he would need a pair of high-top sneakers to wear in bed to keep his feet from flopping forward, shortening the muscles and tendons in his legs. I sent my father-in-law out to get them for me and he, unknowingly, chose white Converse All-Stars high-tops. I brought them to the hospital on August 9.
Mitch looked tired. I attributed it to the long journey the day before. But he smiled when I showed him the sneakers and mouthed the question “no red suede?”
“When you get out,” I promised him, with an answering smile.
He died before he could wear the sneakers.
When they brought me to him that last time, the first thing I noticed when I walked into the room where he lay silent and unmoving, was the stark white of the high-tops, sitting on a shelf near his bed.
I threw them in the trash.