Allison Reynolds: You do everything everyone tells you to do and that is a problem.
Andrew Clark: Okay, fine, but I didn’t dump my purse out on the couch and invite everyone into my problems.
-from The Breakfast Club (1985)
My Italian grandmother teased me when I tried to carry too many things in my arms at once. I have very small hands, and I believe I can run into the grocery store for a few things only to end up lugging, and yes, dropping along the way, ten cumbersome items, cold, lumpy, heavy things with wet sharp edges. I have the logistic prowess of a golden retriever puppy.
It wasn’t until late in high school that I carried a purse for personal hygiene products.
I don’t remember where I put those thick maxi pads. Not with the ink cartridges.
I didn’t carry a lunchbox with an ice pack. That would have made my day, well, frosty.
Maybe in my lunch sack. No, I put my retainer there.
There are no pockets in Catholic school uniform plaid skirts or blessed-Virgin-Mary blue popovers to crush and hide the puppies, so not there.
No book bag. No backpack.
My ex-husband, embarrassed by my lack of symmetry, among other traits, would warn you that I carried assorted things in assorted paper bags on nice-place vacations. I was in my 40s before I had a set of somewhat-matching luggage. I don’t remember anything about his luggage.
Last month, for a road trip to Lillian, Alabama, to visit my friends, Liz and John, I filled up one carry-on paper bag from Whole Foods with four cans of vegan lentil soup, coconut oil, popcorn, paper bags (for microwaving said popcorn), and some Cuties, those lovely tiny tangerines. And my computer and phone charger cords. And a map of Mississippi. And a huge jar of crunchy peanut butter. And bottles of green tea. That bag was heavy but oh-so-sturdy with its cardboard handles.
That kind of paper bag inspires confidence.
In Italian, the word for purse is borsa. If you have a big and heavy purse, you say the word louder, BORSA! Starting in college I started carrying a BORSA much like the one used by Mary Poppins. I filled it as if I were going across the desert, along the Silk Road, selling wares to strangers in a strange land, strangers just like me. I do not pack light: I am ready for any event to occur, except rain. I never carry an umbrella. Ever.
I am in no danger of melting in the rain. The water evaporates quickly off an older woman who no longer has a need for tampons.
I carry a brownish-green heavy cloth messenger bag, the Bag of Holding from Dungeons and Dragons. I carry tidbits: tickets, motes as big as planks, lunch, books, lip gloss. No pencils. Green tea and nice pens. Grade books for three classes. Essays to grade. Essays to write. Nuts. Nuts. Nuts. Salt and Pepper. No tampons. A bottle of Aleve. A fortune from the Vietnamese restaurant where we go to eat pho: A small lucky package is on its way to you soon.
I keep these necessities in the bag’s many pockets kept closed and protected by metal buttons and zippers. I seem organized when I carry it down the street or the hall. Kept on one shoulder, the strap is not so wide and strong as to keep me from becoming a bent hoary crone: it is a heavy mother.
Everything in its place and a place for everything, my mother says, but she thinks the bag is too heavy, too mannish. When I carry it, she believes that I look like a Communist.
I shrug, pick up my bag, and put my hands in my pockets.
Editor’s Note: This series originally appeared on the now-defunct Wildflower Magazine.