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					                                       Lisa DiGiacomo’s Nikes
                                            By Tracy McArdle

                                                1223 words

“Who is Lisa DiGiacomo?”

I’d mentioned the name; it was only natural for my therapist to ask the question. She was wondering if I
felt it increased my value as a person to spend over three hundred dollars on a pair of shoes. Yes, I’d
replied. It had started in junior high. With Lisa DiGiacomo, I tried to explain.

“I never felt so ugly in my entire life,” I began, remembering Lisa and the gaggle of gorgeous
cheerleaders and - even worse - majorettes who ruled the school with their Sasson jeans and Farrah hair.

“I see.”

“Everyone wanted to be her. I remember she had those perfect Nikes – the red, white and blue ones.”

She waited. A hideous memory shot through me.

“I smelled them once,” I said.

She looked up.


“Because…” but there wasn’t one sentence that could explain.

I remember wondering as a miserable adolescent what popularity was like for adults. After some thought
on the matter I concluded that the popular kids in the adult world must be celebrities. My parents were
regular people like me, but celebrities must be the adult versions of the prom queen, the class president,
the captain of the cheerleading squad – people like Lisa DiGiacomo. I desperately wanted to be Lisa
DiGiacomo, perhaps that’s why, later in life, I ended up working with celebrities, and buying overpriced

Lisa DiGiacomo was the reigning queen of our junior high. She had dirty blonde hair that rolled down to
her shoulders in two perfect seventh grade sausage curls, flawless olive skin, and the body of a 20-year-
old stripper. She was a cheerleader. She was also our brother’s girlfriend.

Our brother was captain of the football team and the baseball team. Back then he had a lot of hair and
looked like Matt Dillon on steroids. He was very popular. He and Lisa had been going out since the
beginning of the school year. She would come over after school and they would slink off to his room,
where they’d listen to Boston, Journey and Steve Miller Band records and presumably earn the reputation
the school had secretly bestowed upon them. It was rumored they had gone to third base.

We didn’t know for sure of course, my sister and me. Not that we had any idea what third base was aside
from being a very big deal. I was 12 and spent most of my time at the horse farm down the street. People
often mistook me for a young lad with a budding weight problem. The boy I secretly liked in school,
Bobby Fitzpatrick, would neigh when he saw me coming down the hall. I was somewhat plump and had
unfortunate bangs. I had no breasts and no hips, facts which were glaringly apparent in my hand-me-
down Levi’s corduroys and green velour V-neck sweater. My brother and I could not have been at more
opposite ends of adolescence’s ruthless sociological rainbow. My sister was only in the 5th grade but
already suffering her own political rejections for not having the right color ribbon-wrapped barrettes.

In addition to being a cheerleader, Lisa was on the softball team, even though she didn’t play much. She
looked cruelly beautiful in her polyester blue and white uniform that was unforgiving at best for the rest
of us. When the team had physicals at the beginning of the school year, we were lined up in the nurse’s
office wearing nothing but paper johnnys with a plastic string belt. Lisa’s body made her johnny look
like Prada had made it. I remember wanting to look as good in my best dress as Lisa looked in her paper
johnny. It was not to be.

When Lisa came over to “hang out” with our brother, she would take off her shoes and leave them in the
hallway at the bottom of the stairs. When I came home from the barn each afternoon I would pass by
them, sitting there smugly on my carpet - the podiatry perfection of Lisa DiGiacomo personified in these
particular Nikes.

The Ladies Cortez, in red white and blue, was the most sought after athletic shoe in the entire school. If
you ever hoped to have a boyfriend or get asked to the dance you’d better have a pair. In public schools
of suburban Massachusetts they were as mandatory as the plaid skirts of New Jersey’s parochial schools.
You simply had to have them. You had to. God forbid your parents couldn’t afford to shell out $42.99 for
sneakers. If your mother couldn’t buy you the right pair of Nikes there was just no forgiving available.

Desperate, baffled parents would try to reassure their kids that footwear didn’t matter, a sneaker was a
sneaker. Perhaps you too, were once told, “it’s what’s on the inside that counts!” Right. When you’re

For our mother, the answer was Kmart’s Jox. A sorry substitute, Jox spelled certain social doom for
anyone foolish enough to don them in 1982. You were better off going to school with plastic bags on
your feet. An early candidate for fame, Lisa DiGiacomo knew this. The rules only came to me a few
years ago when I first started therapy.

There they were. Neatly removed from her princess feet, one leaned up against the other, cuteness oozing
from every stitch, every lace hole, each perfectly wrinkled bit of nylon down to the beaming red swipe
that said I am pretty and popular and you’re NOT!

I stopped in the hallway and looked down at the shoes. I was in my riding boots, covered with wood
shavings from the barn. Behind my brother’s door, Journey blared.

One love feeds the fire
On hear burns desire
I wonder
Who’s cryin’ now…

She was so perfect, what was it like? What could it possibly feel like to be the most popular girl in
school? What was it like to have the prettiest clothes, to have a new outfit every day for two weeks
straight, to have every girl want to be you and every guy - including my brother - want to be with you?
Did she have any flaws at all?

Two hearts born to run
Who’ll be the lonely one?
I wonder
Who’s cryin’ now…

Did she have any self doubts? Did she worry about ANYTHING? Did she have the problems of normal
people? Did HER FEET SMELL?

I had to know. I had to be assured that there was one normal thing about her, a single simple detail that
made her human. There had to be something she could be vulnerable about. Otherwise life was

I picked up one of the shoes. I glanced toward my brother’s room. No one would know, and I’d be so
much happier if I knew that Lisa DiGiacomo had smelly feet. I could write it in my journal over and over
again and be reassured that no matter how many times Bobby Fitzpatrick whinnied in my direction, I
knew the truth.

I held the unsuspecting footwear up to my face and looked deep into its cavernous arch, the space that
carried Lisa DiGiacomo through her sunny world every day. I looked both ways and sniffed deeply.

It smelled just like my Jox.


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