Life has its little cringe-worthy moments. Nothing worth crying out over, or even losing sleep over. But your face can’t help but contort in a mixture of shame, disgust, and embarrassment at that very instant. Hindsight is 20/20, as they say, and I have cringe-worthy memories. I reflect and experience this vague chagrin that I never felt in the original moment. A realization occurs.

I was stumbling along in a group of hot, twenty-something girls at a bachelorette party in the middle of College Town, Arizona. We pull up as a collective, drunken force at an intersection crosswalk, which was already starting to become populated by other pedestrians. I hop the curb and feel a slight presence beneath my foot. It quickly pulls itself out from underneath. I turn around, first facing the ground, to see a white Nike athletic shoe–now somewhat mucked up at the tip–pulling away from my own shoe. I move my gaze upward to see a young, angered face–eyes white, pupils focused directly on mine, intent. Beyond peeved, almost slighted.

“Sorry, man. Didn’t mean to mess up your kicks,” I say.

Still, the angry gaze bores into me. The stare is unwavering.

“They’re just shoes, man. Relax,” as I walk away.

He also began to cross the crosswalk. There was no dramatic moment of pause where either of us stood in reverie at the event that had just taken place. But there was that same pensive, angry look in his eyes–this time directed at the ground, at his smudged Nike as it traversed the pavement.

Later that night, after the booze wore off and my companions returned home, the look in that young man’s eyes returned to my mind’s forefront. I quickly felt like an idiot–like the biggest, whitest, most-privileged, entitled, self-righteous asshole in the world. Because I realize that they weren’t just shoes to this kid. I’m not going to pretend like I knew what those shoes meant to him, but I know they weren’t just shoes.

And who was I say say that anything was just anything to anybody?

Smoke by Stephen Sheffield (Etsy)

artist: stephen sheffield

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