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My First Pair of Combat Boots (draft and partial Introduction)

December 31, 2017

The breezeway closet of my grandparent’s house was cool and dark like a cellar. Even in the heat of a Midwest summer it preserved seasonal fruit at the perfect temperature. In the deepest place, where the closet got smaller under the slanted ceiling decades-old shirt boxes, reused each Christmas, took up the majority of space. Their fragile tissue paper never refolded to fit perfectly, lapped out the sides of the boxes like brittle hangover tongues. That side of the closet smelled faintly of “Evening in Paris,” my grandmother’s favorite perfume. My grandfather’s precious WWII souvenirs were stored in a small metal box on their own shelf to be easily accessed for an impromptu show and tell. His wool Army trench coat camouflaged itself against the wood paneling of the closet where it remained invisible unless you knew what to look for it. This coat was so heavy that it took until I was well into my teens to be big enough to try it on. Old winter coats and a box of miscellaneous hats, scarves, and mittens occupied the space directly inside the door. Shoes and boots of various sizes, materials, and styles stood smartly along the baseboard of the breezeway closet as if waiting to get picked for a team or called into battle.

The night I heard Depeche Mode’s song “Blasphemous Rumors” for the first time I was sitting alone in my grandparent’s kitchen doing homework and having a snack of Saltine’s with Blue Bonnet Margarine and sugar. A live performance from Depeche Mode’s 1984-5 tour broadcast via Westwood One Radio into our tiny kitchen counter top radio. The song was the first I heard that I fully and completely related to, which is perfectly tragic given the lyrics and that I was about 16 at the time. I knew nothing of the band or other New Wave bands like it. Prior to that fateful night I was making mixtapes from U93.3 FM with tunes by easy listening bands like Duran Duran, Pat Benatar, and Tears for Fears. I also knew Big Band and Jazz Standards from the Lawrence Welk Show and the few records my grandmother occasionally played on the portable record player. Music Video Television, John Hughes movies, and puberty came together to form a perfect pyramid with Depeche Mode,  specifically “Blasphemous Rumors,” as the apex.  Soon after that night I found my way into my grandparent’s breezeway closet and back out again with my first pair of combat boots.

The boots I found, the ones that only fit if I wore two pairs of socks, belonged to my grandmother. A pair of gently used snow boots made fake black leather; eight-eyelet lace-ups with a black and white knit lining that stuck out the top, like slouchy socks. I began wearing them immediately, along with my grandfather’s houndstooth suit coat and a broken pocket watch. I didn’t consider my boots “combat boots” at the time, but simply part of my new New Wave wardrobe. I had no inkling that wearing those boots would instantly mark me as an outsider even within my own family. Neither could I have anticipated that they would be the first pair of dozens that I’ve worn since, including those issued to me in 1988 by the United States Air Force during Basic Military Training.

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