Elizabeth Meneses Del Castillo
I was walking from Queen’s Park to my office on University Avenue when I noticed a pair of men’s sandals on the sidewalk in front of Mount Sinai Hospital. Shoes have been the focus of my attention for many years—when I stare at them in a shop window, or when I see them on people as they travel through their daily lives, and especially since I became a member of the Shoe Project.
This time, they caught my attention because they were cast-off shoes.
On my way back to work, I speculated about who the owner was. Why were these shoes on the street?
I learned at an early age that the shoes that I had grown out of or no longer wore could be used by relatives. My sister passed down her worn Mary Jane shoes to me, and I passed my “zapatos de charol” “shiny shoes” to my cousins [kasins] on my mom’s side. My mom was one of 11 children. She grew up without her mother and with little money, always thinking of ways to help her siblings.
Since I moved to Canada, I save my used shoes and when my mom visits, she takes them back to Colombia for our family.
But there was one time I didn’t wait for my mom. It was right after I had my daughter Amelia. I had my second C-section and some complications after surgery. I started to feel older, and most of the time, tired.
I decided to get rid of a pair of black five-inch-heel boots. I didn’t want them anymore because it was going to be painful to wear them. But I loved those boots; I really did.
I was single and in my middle twenties when I wore them to work, to meet friends, to dance, dance and dance. I wanted to be noticed, and those boots did that for me.
I’m not that woman anymore. So, I donated them to Goodwill.
Every day, I go to work, trying to look my best from head to toe, to feel part of the Canadian world. I walk my kids to school, take them to ballet, music and swimming lessons, to English school on Saturday and church on Sunday. I’m on my feet most of the time.
Ah, but these boots, these perfect red boots. I hardly wore them. They are so beautiful to look at, to hold… I simply haven’t been able to give them up.
But it really is time to get rid of them. I think, why don’t I keep them for one of my daughters? The truth is I don’t see my girls walking in my shoes. They live a different life…and also, they are way taller than me, so they won’t need them.
I know I should give them to Goodwill. Or leave them on the street for someone to find them.
There are many abandoned shoes all over Toronto. I have seen them at Harbourfront, in front of the American embassy, at bus stops, on the streetcar and even, in gardens, used as flower pots.
I like to think there’s a story behind every cast-off shoe, that it was once a part of someone’s life, was useful or loved.
I like to imagine someone’s life—and soul—in these shoes.
So, if I do leave my beautiful red boots on the street or at the Goodwill, who will find them? Someone young and single, and who can probably walk in them all day long, even dance in them, as I once did?
ELIZABETH MENESES DEL CASTILLO is a communications strategist with Ontario Public Service. A former TV reporter from Colombia, Elizabeth has also worked with CNN Spanish edition and CityTV in Toronto.
She has also published several articles for Spanish and English publications, including TrustLaw, a Thompson Reuters Foundation and women’s rights blog, El Tiempo, Colombia’s largest daily newspaper, and Correo Canadiense, a Spanish language newspaper in Toronto.
With her husband Andrew, Elizabeth guides her daughters Penelope and Amelia to navigate the beauty of being from two cultures, Canadian and Colombian, while enjoying the ride herself.