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The Dartmouth
June 19, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Reflection: The Things We Carry, Part 2

Walk four years in Caris White’s shoes.

Courtesy of Caris White

Currently, there is a pair of Nike Blazer high-tops sitting upstairs on the bottom of my shoe rack, covered in on-night grime. Somehow, even after all this time, there are still no holes in them. One of the laces is nicked from the time I had to cut the feet off my onesie on bid night because they wouldn’t fit over my shoes. The soles are just intact enough to be worn in the rain — and to stop the warm keystone from seeping in when I step in the occasional basement puddle.

When I bought these shoes, they were off-white suede, with the kind of gum colored soles that real skaters use. I thought they looked so cool, as I sat in the back of CHEM 5 my freshman winter, online shopping instead of taking notes. I should’ve known then that pre-med wasn’t my real passion. I never online shop during art history classes.

So I bought those shoes freshman winter. I had just recently come out, and I wanted a cool skater boy aesthetic to match my newly minted identity. I hadn’t quite given up on skinny jeans yet, but I was getting there. These Nike Blazers were supposed to help me usher in a new, cooler, gayer era.

Although the snow and ice kept me wearing boots for most of the winter, I treasured those silly little high tops. I’ve locked away a lot of that winter in my memory. It was so good, and when COVID-19 came and took everything away, I didn’t want to let myself remember what I was missing. It was too painful to remember the happiest term of my life, so I forgot it.

But there’s a picture from my last day of freshman winter — which really ended up being the last day of my whole freshman year. It was an unseasonably sunny day in March, right at the tail end of finals. I’d been summoned by my friends to the Sanborn steps, to enjoy the sunshine under the pretense of editing final papers. In the photo, I’m sitting next to my then-girlfriend, balancing her laptop in one hand and waving to the camera with the other. Everyone looked so happy, and my new Nike shoes were tied securely to my feet. I’d finally brought them out, to celebrate the end of winter. Ten days later, by email, we’d receive notice that our freshman year was coming to an end due to COVID.

When I came home for spring break that year, I brought only a duffel. Anticipating my swift return to campus, I left my favorite shoes in Mid Fay, since I didn’t want to ruin them on the surf trip I was supposed to attend. The surf trip, of course, was canceled. And I never saw the inside of my dorm room again. Spring break turned into spring term and then summer, and I missed everything about Dartmouth. But weirdly, one of the things I missed most was my stupid little shoes. 

I finally made it back to the Upper Valley during my sophomore fall. I was off from classes, working as a TA and research assistant and generally trying to piece together a semblance of the college experience. In October, I finally had the chance to pick up my things from controlled storage. At last, 8 months later, I reunited with my shoes. Although I was considerably worse for the wear after the time that had passed, they were as clean as when I took them off on March 9, 2020. I’d already changed so much, but they hadn’t changed at all. 

Somehow, I thought that being reunited with the physical evidence of my freshman existence might help me feel reconnected with the increasingly distant joy of my Dartmouth experience. While I was glad to have the shoes back, the idea of my future self that they’d once manifested felt misplaced. The rose-colored future that I had projected from the back of CHEM 5 didn’t exist, in a way that the rest of the world and I never could have seen coming. Everything was different, and the hopeful sheen of Dartmouth had worn off of me. It felt like my shoes were too clean to match it.

So instead of keeping them pristine, I got them dirty. I wore them on walks and to house parties. “I like your shoes!” was the first point of introduction between me and a girl who would circle back into my life (and then out again) many months later. 

Somewhere along the line, their clean white suede became stained with spilled beer and mud puddle splashes. Somewhere along the line, I started to rekindle my relationship with Dartmouth as well. It was a slow burn. I rushed KDE sophomore winter. Bid night depressingly took place on Zoom, but I still had a good feeling about it. In the spring, I tracked those same Blazers into the basement to play a semi-illicit game of harbor with some of the ’21s. 

Sophomore summer is starting to feel like a long time ago, which makes me feel old. It was chaotic, at times awful, and overall the most fun I’ve had in my entire life. When I look back at pictures, I can track the time by the accumulation of dirt on my shoes, which hardly left my feet that summer. The Nike Blazers followed me to Masters — honestly one of the best days of my life — and I didn’t even win. That day marked their final transition from semi-decent to frat shoes, but I didn’t care. We were all so happy, playing and watching our funny little version of ping pong, feeling on top of the world. 

Junior year was when it felt like the joy had finally been returned to campus. Sophomore summer was wonderful, but once the leaves started to change, it felt like Dartmouth was finally returning to the rhythms of its old self, and not just some crazy summertime intermission.

The shoes were my constant on-night companions, and they saw me through all of the shenanigans of someone who finally felt ready to be in a relationship again, but couldn’t find the right fit. These shoes were also the ones that I left on the Ledyard dock during senior week, in my first (and last) attempt at completing the iconic challenge. They were kindly returned to me by the Safety and Security officer who fished me out of the river onto the unforgiving deck of his pontoon boat. 

But now it’s my senior spring, and soon I’ll be moving across the country yet again. I don’t think my Nike Blazers will make it out of Hanover this time. They’re too smudged and beer stained for the real world, and the arch support is really wearing thin. I plan on giving them the ride of their life during senior week, but I’ll be sad to throw them out when it’s time. 

The life of these shoes started at Dartmouth, emerging from my freshman year when I yearned to look like the person I felt I was becoming. And their journey will end here too, along with mine. But I think we both have a little bit left to give. There are Woccoms to walk and pong games to play and at least one more decent DJ set to dance to in a basement somewhere. My grown-up era isn’t fully upon me, and there’s still a ways to go until June. The Blazers will stay on my shoe rack for now. I’m not quite ready to say goodbye. 

Caris White

Caris is a '23 from Long Beach, CA and is majoring in religion modified with art history. When not editing stories for the Mirror, you can find her playing club soccer, snowboarding at the Skiway or sipping coffee in Sherman Art Library. After college, she plans on attending graduate school in religion.