The girl with neon shoes: lessons I learned from my classmate

Accepting myself through the kindness of others

The girl with neon shoes: lessons I learned from my classmate

Iman Malik, Staff Writer

Physical education has always been my least favorite period of the day. Every day, we all change into the same drab, gray uniforms and wear the same faded black shorts. Everyone laces up their ragged shoes, covered with holes and dirt that serve as a reminder of every puddle we’ve jumped into and every mile we’ve run.

So when I walked onto the blacktop and saw a girl with brand new neon pink shoes (later on she told me they were salmon), it’s fair to say I was taken off guard. When I looked down at my own shoes and saw frayed laces on the verge of unraveling, the peeling Nike logo and caked mud, I knew I needed shoe advice from this girl immediately.

And that’s when I met her.

Her short, once black hair was highlighted brown from swimming. She had a smile that never left her face. She wore a different sweatshirt every day over her uniform and tall, brightly colored socks. Her laugh was a sound I cherished and waited to hear —warm and genuine, just like her.

She was everything I wasn’t. She had a positive attitude towards herself and others. One day, when I was feeling down, she looked down at her sweatshirt and read the words, “I am too fond of the stars to be fearful of the night.” But most importantly, being around her helped me come to terms with myself and helped me love who I am.

Slowly but surely I changed my routine. Every night I asked myself what I learned, the three best moments of my day and something new I would try tomorrow. I brushed off the sting of other people’s judgments and learned to listen to my own voice. Now, I can look in the mirror and smile at myself. I feel proud of how far I’ve come from the insecure middle schooler I used to be. I tell myself that I can do it, without choking on the words. All thanks to her, the girl who brought out the best in me with nothing but kindness.

She wore neon shoes and brought a stuffed pineapple to class every day because she didn’t care what other people thought about her. She swam against the current of judgment with a smile on her face. Every day, she encouraged me to answer the question, “If you had to write an autobiography, and each day was a page, would the story be amazing or just a book with the same thing over and over again?”

After that day, I’ve tried to fill up the pages of my autobiography with something new. So the summer before high school, I went shoe shopping. There were tons of choices, and most of them looked similar. The same shapes and colors. My hand moved towards the plain black shoes, the ones that everyone would be wearing. In a few months they would be worn out, and I would buy some other shoes to replace them. But then I remembered her. I imagined what she would choose if she were standing next to me. And I knew with certainty which ones I wanted.

I reached over and picked up the neon shoes.