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My Polka-dot Princess Boots

I’m a 60-year-old kid who just lost her anchor

By Catherine KenwellPublished 2 years ago 7 min read

I’m turning 60. My Dad died last month. And my dog ate my favorite boots.

Let’s start with the boots.

Those boots of mine had an auspicious beginning. I found them in a little shop when we were in between movies at Toronto After Dark, a horror/sci-fi film festival. I write horror, so I was already in my element, but then I discovered the boots. I was over the moon. They were buttery-soft combat boots with chains and ribbons for laces.

They grew to have a history; I wore them to my first horror book signing, and then my second non-fiction book signing, and then to awards ceremonies. They were unique and edgy, and as comfortable as slippers. They completed every outfit perfectly.

And then…my dog ate them.

I admit, we’d been a little negligent in the ‘dog attention’ department.

See, my dad took ill in June and we had to scramble to arrange hospital care and new accommodations. We had to empty his large apartment. Much of it was heart-wrenching work, as we realized we were preparing our loved Dad and ourselves for the final chapter of his life. For three months we were preoccupied with errands and checklists and visits.

Meanwhile, as a mediator, I had lined up several adjudication hearings, plus I was working in a retail shop and writing as much as I could muster. My husband was working full-time, albeit from home, but he was in meetings most of the time. We had started up a small business during COVID, and we had orders to fill. We were juggling and simply trying to keep all the balls in the air.

I suppose Sunny, our 14-year-old border collie, felt slighted. For the first time since we brought him home 13 years ago, he wasn’t the center of attention. We simply didn’t have the time or the wherewithal to keep him amused.

So, Sunny created his own new game, called something to the effect of “get into everything you can find and chew it up”. First were some tissues and toilet paper. He soon graduated to anything paper, including the recycling. Then came the boots. They weren’t easy prey—in fact, he had to stick pretty much his entire body into a large shopping tote to secure his ‘treat’. He pulled one out and ate it. The other, he ate and left the remains in the bag.

Normally, I would have been screaming up a storm; instead, exhausted by grief and despair, I was simply and sadly silent. Of course, as dog ‘parents’ do, I picked up the remains of one boot and shook it at him.

“Did you do this?” I asked him. “Did you?” He bowed his head and looked away. Of course, he did. And it was his way of telling me that everything was not alright. The household stress level had been astronomical; there had been a heart-weary pain woven through every task, every conversation, every disruption of routine. I just shook my head and walked away.

When my dad ended up back in hospital, now with congestive heart failure and two broken vertebrae, we all figured his earthly journey was almost over. We prepared ourselves as best we could; each of us visited him on daily rotation, as COVID dictated he was allowed one visitor for one hour each day. He’d rally, then he’d be delirious. One visit, he’d be thrilled to see us, and then he wouldn’t even fully wake up during the next. It was an exhausting roller coaster, every hour, every day.

On the home front, we’d pulled all of Dad’s papers together; his will, insurance policies, and other documents we’d need on hand at the end.

Sunny ate the insurance policies.

Thankfully, we could still make out the policy numbers on the remnants he had left scattered on the floor.

Again, we couldn’t scold him. We were all grieving, in our own ways. Papa was one of Sunny’s favorite humans. And the love was reciprocal; Dad always used to call Sunny his favorite grandchild. Of course, he had two other beautiful human grandchildren, but he and the dog had a special bond. They understood each other.

As good dogs do (and all dogs are good dogs, IMHO), when Dad suddenly passed away on a bright October morning, he knew what to do. When we returned home from the final hospital visit, Sunny was there to kiss away our tears. He was attentive. He understood his role. His assault on my boots and the papers were forgotten. Well, almost.

I was still on the hunt for replacement boots. I scoured the internet and my favorite online stores. We have no shoe stores in my city, so I had to be creative. I ordered a pair that were like what I’d had; when they arrived, I didn’t want them. They were fine; they were simply not what I needed now. They were too much like the ‘before’, when my dad was still with us, and I wasn’t a 60-year-old orphan.

I decided to return the ‘before’-style boots to the retail version of the online store. It was the first time I’d been in a shoe store for over a year, and I was dazzled and a little overwhelmed by the choices I had. There were so many black combat boots on the shelves, many with the details I had originally been looking for. I didn’t want any of them.

And then…

I spotted them—the most ridiculous, black-and-white polka-dot Doc Martens platform boots I’d ever seen.

Yes, they were perfect for a heartbroken 60-year-old orphan who was reassessing her place in the world.

“No,” I shook my head. “These are not boots for a woman my age.”

So, I returned to the displays featuring the middlingly gorgeous black boots. There were patent versions, imprinted patterns, even Docs with Jean-Michel Basquiat art on them. But my eyes kept flittering back to the polka-dot Docs.

I sat down and considered my options.

I thought of my dad, and how he was so careful with money. His jaw would drop at the price, which made me grin a little guiltily. I remembered that last morning when I brushed back his white hair and kissed his forehead. How I held his hand before, during, and after he left earth. How much my place in the world changed with the passing of my parents. See, I don’t have children, so I am forever a child and never a parent. I’m a 60-year-old kid who just lost her anchor. I’m lost, I’m free, and I’m navigating life in a forever altered and often vulnerable way.

Of course, they had my size. Of course, I tried them on, and of course, they fit perfectly. I bounced around the store (they are the boots with the bouncy soles!) and I couldn’t take my eyes off my reflection.

I must say, practicality won over. Would I ever even wear them?

My wardrobe is ‘old punk chic’ if I were to give it a name. I’m confident in my personal style. And yes, these black-and-white polka-dot boots would go with pretty much everything in my closet.

I heard my dad’s voice whisper the one thing he told me repeatedly in the months before he died: “My little princess…you get more beautiful every time I see you.”

To which I’d respond: “Dad, you need stronger glasses.”

He forever called me his little princess. I’m 60 years old. I’m a senior who is learning what it’s like to live as peanut butter and jam with no bread to sandwich it into. It’s a little messy.

I can’t help but feel that my dad would laugh at these ridiculously fun boots, and then tell me I’m more beautiful than the last time he saw me.

Now, I smile every time I even glance at my Polka-dot Princess boots. I created a memory I’ll cherish, that quiet little conversation I had with myself in a noisy, bright shoe store. I might feel lost sometimes and I will continue to find it difficult to balance the tether of bereavement and gratitude.

I’ll probably think of my dad whenever I lace up those polka-dot platform boots. I'll remember that I'm beautiful. And you can bet I’ll be keeping them right beside my bed and far away from the dog’s reach.


About the Creator

Catherine Kenwell

I live with a broken brain and PTSD--but that doesn't stop me! I'm an author, artist, and qualified mediator who loves life's detours.

I co-authored NOT CANCELLED: Canadian Kindness in the Face of COVID-19. I also publish horror stories.

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