I must have been about five when I first saw the Wizard of Oz. There was a little video store in the heart of the small fishing village where I lived. My family and I would walk there and wander the dimly lit rows of shelves filled with more movies than I’d ever see. I’d run my fingers through the dust settled on the Betamax section, and always beg my Mom for a quarter for the gumball machine. I’d snap my gum as I looked at the pictures on the video cases, trying to find one that caught my eye. On one such occasion, I spotted a picture of a beautiful girl and a rainbow and some peculiar characters around her and pulled it off the shelf.
“The Wizard of Oz? Great choice, Lulu.” Mom said as she pulled her membership card from her purse and handed the man across the counter some money. “That was Mommy’s favourite, too.”
The Wizard of Oz, I thought as I ran my fingers over the letters on the case.
Trudging home, I blew bubbles with my gum while I held my Dad’s hand and clutched the bag from the video store. I wondered what a wizard was.
“Mommy, what’s a wizard?” I asked as I kicked off my flip-flops inside our front door.
“Well, honey, a wizard is like a witch, only a man. Wizards are make-believe, though. They’re not real.”
“So, wizards can do magic?”
“Supposedly, Pork Chop.” My Dad piped up. “It’s all a bunch of horseshit to me.”
“Horse poop, Daddy.”
“Of course, hun. Horse poop.”
Later that evening, all snug in my jammies, tucked between my parents on our couch, I watched the Wizard of Oz.
I had never been so terrified in my life.
It wasn’t the bad witch who scared me, nor the prospect of being a little girl lost far away from home. It wasn’t the tornado or the flying monkeys or even the munchkins. No, the thing that scared little five-year-old GM, was the image of the feet sticking out from under that goddamned house.
And the shoes.
Those fucking shoes.
To me, they seemed disproportionate, those ruby red shoes, as they hung from the lifeless, striped feet. They seemed big. That night I began a long bout with nightmares. Years would go by, during which I would toss and turn unnerved in my sleep, envisioning huge ruby shoes. Huge, ungodly ruby shoes.
Maybe a year or so later, in that same video store, alongside my brand new brother’s stroller, I chose Pippi Longstocking from the vast selection of kids movies. We walked home with it dangling in a bag from the handle of my brother’s stroller, and later that evening, I sat, once again, snug between my parents, sporting my jammies and waited for the movie to start.
Within moments I had my face buried in my Mom’s arm.
“What’s the matter, Dolly?” My mom asked.
“Her shoes! They’re too big!” I shuddered.
With a little reassurance, I was talked into watching the rest of the movie, but I clung tightly to my Mom’s arm and my nightmares were later sparked into overdrive. They were no longer ruby shoes that danced in my head every night, causing my little body to writhe in a cold sweat. No. They were oversized, beaten up leather boots with threateningly curved toes.
I could no longer handle the image of Ronald McDonald. Clowns were fine unless they were the sort of menacing douchebag clowns who were big enough assholes to wear those fucking shoes that made their feet look ten times bigger than they actually were. Those fuckers made me point and yell, “There’s not enough foot to fill that shoe! Why don’t you wear shoes that fit?” I knew those shoes were filled with mostly air. That didn’t just bother me, it fucking terrified me. I couldn’t deal with elves at Christmas, with those shoes that had curly-ass toes, and when my friends played dress-up and wore their parents’ shoes, I had to leave and go home.
I still shudder at the sight of big shoes, but I have learned to manage my phobia. Now, when I see a pair that bother me, I take a breath. I stop and draw air in through my nose, and let it out slowly through my mouth. That’s usually enough to avoid the shoe-induced panic attack.
Every once in a while, though, I still have those nightmares. Whether it’s Ol’ Ronnie Mac’s giant red shoes, those glittering ruby slippers sticking out from under that godforsaken house, or Pippi’s unnaturally-toed pauper boots, I toss and turn and force myself to wake up in any way I can, just to avoid big shoes.
Tell me about your strange fear in the comments.