I get it. My feet are, as some would say, large. Abnormally so, if I might add. Hell, if they weren’t attached to my body, I’d probably have some level of fascination with them my damn self. That being said, good sir, the size of my feet doesn’t give you the right to sidle up next to me while I’m riding the subway at 10 p.m. and, while being oh-so inconspicuous, slide your much more petite foot next to mine while your homeboy tries to discretely take a picture.* Yeah, I noticed that. And quite frankly, I’m not amused. So I hope that you weren’t at all surprised when I gently and politely asked, “What the fuck are you doing?”

You see, my feet are a very sensitive topic for me. While I’ve gotten used to the stares and the questions now that I’ve reached my 30s, that wasn’t always the case. My shoe size was fairly normal at first — meaning that it wasn’t uncommon for me to find shoes in the store in every style and color I could want. But somewhere around the third grade, things took a turn. That’s when my shoe size crept into the double digits and I began to wear a size 10. Not necessarily a large size, but pretty big for a nine-year-old. I still remember the shoes, all-black Macgregors (which I’m not even sure they make anymore) that my folks got from either K-Mart or Montgomery Ward. They squeaked when I walked.

My feet didn’t stay a size 10 for long, though. By fourth grade, I’d crept up to an 11. By fifth, a 12. Sixth grade saw me split the school year between a size 13 and a size 14. Needless to say, the shoe size thing was becoming a problem. Not only was it garnering the stares, pointing and teasing that every pre-adolescent kid dreads, but it was also increasingly becoming a pain just to find decent shoes. Every shopping trip usually ended in disappointment as all the hot, trendy shoes stopped just shy of the size I was wearing.

By seventh and eighth grade, I began noticing a trend. As my foot grew, it seemed each size I moved on from suddenly grew in popularity. Shoes sized 13 and 14 seemed to be having a renaissance. Dress shoes, sandals, sneakers, work boots, cowboy boots, clogs, even tap shoes suddenly seemed to be available. By then, though, I was firmly in a size 15, meaning that my shoe choices usually leaned toward something athletic, like a basketball or football shoe (at one point, I even had to wear cleats to class on a regular basis for a few months). I’d begun dreaming of experimental surgeries that would make my feet smaller. Maybe if they could just cut off my toes (who needs those, right?), then I could go down to a size as small as a 12! Note: 13-year-olds don’t use a lot of logic.

Ninth grade came, and with it came another rise in shoe size, this time to a 16. I mourned the passing as I watched the availability of styles in size 15 quadruple before my eyes. It was also at this time that I started to notice a shift. Thanks to the rise of shoe culture in the Black community (which, admittedly, had been happening for a while but I didn’t really take notice of until around this time), people were becoming sneaker collectors and openly judging those who couldn’t snag the hottest shoes. Being that I was from a solidly lower-middle-class family of five, I couldn’t have dreamed of really competing, but my shoe size made it even more difficult.

I’d subscribed to Eastbay, a catalog which prided itself on carrying large-size shoes. However, the most sought-after releases all had one thing in common: they topped out at a size 15. If I’d owned a crystal punch bowl at the time, that would’ve been the point that I’d thrown it to the ground Florida Evans style and screamed, “Damn, damn, damn!” I began to teach myself how to want the shoes that were, in comparison, relatively plain and uninteresting. Hey, at least my black or white shoes would match any possible outfit I could wear, right? It would come in handy as my shoe size careened upward still to a size 17. Happily, though, that number would be my shoe size’s final destination.

I’ve been at a 17 for roughly 17 years now and it’s gotten better. I’ve traded in my mostly black-and-white for occasional pops of color and was even able to find a few pairs of boots that I don’t hate. Still, it can be a struggle and to this day I hate the prospect of shoe shopping (it’s pretty much one long game of lowered expectations). The rise of online shopping and destinations like Oddball.com have made this even easier, as well. However, I’m still waiting for the size 17 explosion and a time when I can ask a sales associate if they have my size without getting a guffaw as they call their homie over to gawk at my large feet — and probably will be waiting for quite some time.

So no, I’ll never be a hypebeast and you’ll never hear about me clamoring for the latest pair of LeBrons (sidenote: why do they name shoes after basketball players, who notoriously have large feet, yet never seem to make those shoes in large sizes?) or waiting in line for the latest hot shoe. And you know what, I’ve made my peace with that.

That being said, buddy, if you decide to try and sneak a pic of my foot like I’m an animal in the zoo, you’ll find out what it feels like to be on the business end of a size 17. Capiche?

*Yes, this actually happened in real life.

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