I recently saw a Twitter post about chunky wedge-heeled platform shoes coming back into style. Everything that is old is new again, I suppose. I immediately thought of the platform shoes I wore in 10th grade, taking me back almost exactly 16 years ago.
It was early October 2003. School of Rock, Kill Bill: Volume I and Elf were about to open in theatres. “Crazy in Love” by Beyoncé was on repeat on every iPod, back when it still had a clicky wheel. (I’m looking at pictures of the third-generation iPod and it legit looks hilarious.)
Tenth grade Jill Hamilton didn’t have an iPod though. She had a Discman. It was my second month of high school and the experience of it all was still anxiety-inducing; my bus ride was now about an hour and a half each way and I had gone from a junior high school to a massive high school by comparison. When in ninth grade, my class had around 40 students in it. My graduating class in 2007 had over 900.
When The Spice Girls hit it big in the 1990s, platform shoes made their first appearance in my life. I was always the shortest kid in class so the appeal of shoes that could make me look considerably taller appealed to me. When the trend came back around before I began high school, I found a pair of black platform shoes with a solid heel and I made them mine.
The heel was maybe three full inches high across the bottom of these shoes. They were practically fetish-wear. And I loved them.
And I saw no problem whatsoever with wearing these platform shoes with an ankle-length denim skirt.
I know. I know.
I’ve never known how to dress stylishly. It has never been one of my skills or interests. Nowadays, I mostly go with a uniform of jeans and a graphic tee. I wish I had adapted my wardrobe to that simplicity back in October 2003.
With only five minutes between classes and a massive, over-populated, poorly-designed building to navigate, one had to have laser focus to get to their next class on time. A small rip in my backpack caused colored pencils to fly out in the hallway as I walked and I didn’t notice until I was at the top of a set of stairs that lead down to one of the most crowded areas of the entire building. Between classes, this convergence of two hallways was jam-packed and, to be quite honest, probably a fire hazard.
Distracted, I tripped on my skirt and went hurtling down the stairs. I somehow ended up falling head-first and face-up; I still have no explanation for how that happened. It is likely the only reason my glasses remained unbroken by the fall. The back of my head hit every stair going down and I’m thankful I was the only one on the staircase at the time because I definitely would have taken other students out, like a bowling ball striking pins.
I remember hearing someone shout that someone was falling down the stairs and in that moment, I decided to close my eyes and keep them closed for a moment. Why? Because I knew the difference it would and did ultimately make:
If someone falls down the stairs and isn’t hurt, they look silly and could be considered clumsy and be teased for it. But if someone falls down the stairs and appears knocked unconscious by it, it is a cause for concern and not a laughing matter.
That split-second decision occurred because I was afraid of being laughed at. And it worked. Several students rushed to my aid once the back of my head hit the floor and I slowly opened my eyes. I was fairly banged up and I cried a little as a teacher walked me down the length of the school to the office where sick and injured students are taken.
Not a great start to my high school career.
If anyone asked me what happened, I told them I fell and was knocked out. I stuck by that lie for years.
I never wore platform shoes again, those or any others. I never wore my long denim skirt again, which is probably for the best because, well, it was a long denim skirt.
My tumble down the stairs helped me realize that I wasn’t tricking people into thinking I was taller. It was showing people that I was short and that I didn’t want to be short. It let people know that my short stature made me stand out and that it bothered me to stand out. It made people think that I thought of my 4’9″ stature as a serious negative that had to be resolved with the use of dangerous footwear; that being short was worth the risk.
I wasn’t seriously hurt by my fall… but I could have been. I could have broken an arm or a leg or had a serious head injury. I could have smashed my glasses and injured my eyes. And, in part, because of my stupid shoes and my stupid shame about my height. I’ve worn comfortable sneakers ever since.
But my fall helped me get over that and for that, I am grateful.