My Biggest Secret, My Vintage Boots, & How Freedom Started It All

It was my biggest secret. I found out at 13. I was re-told at 19. It turns out, anorexia is not fertility’s best friend; the two don’t get along. I can still remember bits & pieces of what my doctor at the time said to me: “It’s no secret you did this to yourself. You’re lucky this is all you lost. Most women who put their body through what you put yours through are never able to have children. But don’t worry. It’s not rare.”

“Wow, I’m so glad I’m not rare.”

Though many women endure infertility and child loss, it isn't widely socially unacceptable to announce-- even in this day and age, so our shames stay covered up and our truths are whispered in hushed tones. This is not something that makes people comfortable. This is not something that makes women feel gorgeous, flawless, or supremely desirable. For many of us, it’s our biggest secret.

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Though I recovered most of my nutrients through rehabilitation after battling anorexia for years, there was this one thing I could not recover. Yes, my bones were strong enough to run now, and yes, I finally had a healthy mindset of healthy eating and body image, but at ages 15-19, there was still this one thing, this one inadequacy that I still longed to be cured of. I didn’t tell boyfriends—in fear that they’d leave me. I didn’t tell friends—in fear that they wouldn’t understand me. I kept it all inside… until one day.

I was 19 and booked to speak at a girl’s conference in Anaheim, CA, where—for some reason, I opened up about this truth of mine. Though I only hit on it briefly, I was so overcome with emotion from saying it out loud at all, that when I got into my car after the event, I turned on my recorder (a common thing I did at the time, free-styling into a recorder as I drove, or walked, or whenever I could) and bawled my eyes out as I spilled out the truth that I was holding inside. I free-styled (or recklessly poured out emotions like floods being set free from the walls of the Hoover Dam) the piece that is now known as “Vintage Boots.” (Watch here.) This piece, the most raw and honest thing I had come up with at the time, spoke on a pair of boots I had been saving for my daughter since high school, but alas, I’ve been told I would be saving them in vain. This piece was the first time I really admitted the truth about what I was going through.

At the Great Wall of China, minutes before performing "Vintage Boots" in 2010.

At the Great Wall of China, minutes before performing "Vintage Boots" in 2010.

I ended up memorizing this free-style and performing it at a small venue in Anaheim later that week. The owner of a lounge in Beverly Hills (whose wife was in a similar situation) was there and asked me to perform it at his venue the next week. I was eventually asked by multiple venues and emcees to perform at various events all over the area. I performed at underground slams (slam poetry/spoken word competitions), headlined at concerts, and featured in shows all over the Los Angeles/Orange County area, and quickly became known as “The Girls with the Boots.” It wasn’t too long until I was performing “Vintage Boots” all over the state, then at the Bowery Poetry Club in New York, and then at the Great Wall of China in Beijing.

Up until this point, I had actively performed poetry for years. Why was this the piece that my audience all of a sudden connected with? It was honest. People crave honesty. We are so over the perfect, flawless, fake type of people we see not only in the media but also in our own lives—we want authenticity. The one thing that made me feel the most disgusting was actually the one thing that connected the most with people. I mean, let’s think about this—I was called the “The Girl with the Boots," I was defined by my brokenness. But this is why I kept going: there has never been one time in 5 years where I have performed “Vintage Boots” and there wasn’t at least one woman who was going through exactly this and needed to know she wasn’t alone. Turns out, we like hearing we’re not alone.

The pair of boots that started it all– purchased at the Painted Bird in San Francisco in 2005. Photo taken by Gerrod Martinez for upcoming album, “Maps, Boots, & Other Ways We Get There,” available June 4, 2013.

The pair of boots that started it all– purchased at the Painted Bird in San Francisco in 2005. Photo taken by Gerrod Martinez for upcoming album, “Maps, Boots, & Other Ways We Get There,” available June 4, 2013.

We live in a world of secrets. Instead of speaking to each other and knowing each other, we are whispering around each other. Are we trying to impress people? Do we want them to think we are not broken? Better than them? Above them looking down? We are so busy trying to be who we think the world wants to see, when who we really are, where we’ve really been, and what we’re really struggling with is what will actually bridge the gap and create true community. You’re perfect? You’re not relatable. Also, you’re fake. If we could all just tear down these walls we’ve built around us, we could be better than a world of secrets—we could be a world without strangers. We could know one another.

This poem, “Vintage Boots,” began what is now my full-time ministry and career of exposing lies, telling secrets, and proclaiming truths. Nowadays, many of my deepest hurts, fears, and ugly pictures of my past are on display when I get on stage. The story of my boots is now far from the most vulnerable or uncomfortable stories I speak of in front of an audience (it's shocking the things people let me say). But I know now more than ever that the truth sets people free. I know when I share my truths, I get to be a part of freedom. That’s worth living for.

Are you set free? Have you spoken out loud about your past—your brokenness? Are you setting others free? Are being a beacon of realness and honesty in your own community? Truly, this is something rare. But with every person who tells the truth, others are inspired to tell their truths, and then others their truths, until the ripple effect of honesty has freed us all from the walls we have hidden behind. I hope and dream and live for the day where we all wear our truths on our sleeves and I can honestly say, “Wow, I’m so glad I’m not rare.”

People don’t want to be alone. People don’t want to be impressed. People want to be free.

What’s your biggest secret?

It could start with you.