The Shoes of My Life
This story is about the pairs of shoes that have walked with Romy throughout her life, starting with the ones her grandfather bought her all the way up to the safety boots she bought here in Canada. Romy’s story also speaks to the challenges and gifts of being a parent of an autistic child in a new country and reminds us that sometimes certain books come to us for a reason.
When I first came to Canada, I felt fear, uncertainty, and joy at the same time. Everything was new to me. I felt a deep hole in my heart. I felt many emotions that I can’t begin to describe. I remember the song that my mother sang, as I boarded the plane to leave. These are the lyrics of the song that I remember: You wipe away all tears / You mend the broken hear / You’re the answer to it all, Jesus.
I also remember the words that she told me: “Never lower your gaze. You are a prepared and brave woman.”
One of the things I love about Canada is the fall season. It’s when I feel my senses come alive, and it reminds me of the smiles of my mother and grandfather.
The first shoes I remember are my first pair of formal shoes that my grandfather bought me for school. They were impeccable heels that went with my uniform. I have a book that I inherited from him, a book in Spanish. It’s about universal literature, like a premonition of my future. I keep it on my desk because every time I see it, I feel as strong as its casing. The vanilla scent of its pages motivates me.
I also remember fondly the shoes that my mother bought me. She has always been careful when choosing shoes. She says they should highlight your style. I looked so similar to my mother when she saw me wearing the same shoes she wore. She may not know it, but that is the most memorable and valuable memory I have of my childhood.
My third most memorable pair of shoes are the heels that I bought myself with my first paycheque. They were black with an elegant sheen. They made me feel safe and stylish when I walked. I had to be more careful with each step I took. I liked the versatility of the heels because I could wear them with different styles of clothing.
It was the beginning of winter when I started my first job in Canada at a packaging factory. I needed safety boots for work. That experience marked the beginning of my life here in Canada.
One day I came across a book that I felt a connection to: Love Anthony, a novel by American writer Lisa Genova. I was drawn to the title because my older brother’s name is Anthony. My brother was with me through thick and thin. When we were children, we said that we’d never be separated. We always shared everything and made simple things our most unforgettable experiences. He was more analytical and I was more practical; we were like a nut and a bolt. I learned a lot from him. Since I didn’t have an active father, Anthony compensated for that lack with his example of courage and perseverance. For me, he is a clear reminder that sacrifice has its reward. Love Anthony is a story about a mother dealing with the death of her autistic son and finally finds the courage to start over. When I finished the book, I understood the meaning of motherhood. I don’t know if it was a coincidence or if God paved the way, but unfortunately, my son was diagnosed with autism too. I found another reason on top of millions of reasons to run after the doctor disclosed my son’s syndrome. I ran until my heart told me to stop.
When I finally stopped, my new shoes appeared: my comfortable shoes that I run, walk, and do everything in during a single day. These are my green Converse sneakers—the shoes that make me feel happy and empowered, the shoes that I ran the Women’s Mental Health run in, pushing my son in his stroller, both of us helping the other cross the finish line.
My son doesn’t like to wear shoes right now. But I’m hoping to buy green sneakers for him eventually. I hope he’ll wear them alongside me and feel empowered too.
Romy Alza is from Peru. She arrived in Canada in 2019. Her academic background is in Business Administration. In 2021, she worked as a pandemic response representative at Women’s College Hospital. She volunteers in organizations that help vulnerable individuals (CSSP). In 2022, she joined Toronto Centre of Learning and Development’s (CLD)’s Immigrant Women Integration Program (IWIP). Through Community Based Participatory Action Research (CBPAR), she hopes to help newcomer families, particularly those with special needs children. She hopes her story will encourage other women not to give up.