Before I go, I have something to say

The Purse as a Necessary Evil

A few weeks ago, I bought a new purse. There are women who do this every month, regarding their handbags as just another thing they wear. This has always struck me as weird, since I like to keep my hands free (for handshaking, if not hand-to-hand combat) and even when my purse is really cool, I’d rather find a place to stash it than carry it around at work or a party.

But you have to be careful – purses usually have at least few things inside that would cause great consternation if lost. I’m talking credit cards, library cards, cold cash, not to mention all the sentimental stuff too many of us haul around. Pictures of the kids, love poems from the husband. All it takes is one unguarded moment, and all of it’s gone.

I once left my purse on top of my car while strapping my infant son into his car seat. If you’ve never tried to fit a squirming baby into a contraption full of belts and buckles, well, take my word for it, it’s a challenge. Once that was accomplished, I went to the other side, put the car in drive, and was on my way. I was many blocks from the mall by the time I realized what I’d done.

I did a U-turn on the highway and headed back, coming upon my handbag in the middle of the road just as another driver was reaching to – well, I’ll never know. Either to rescue it and get it back to its owner, or to check it out and see what goodies he could play with. (See above: cold cash, credit card, etc.)

Shouting to him, “That’s mine!” we managed an exchange in the middle of traffic. I didn’t inspect it for damage until we got home. Smashed: one lipstick, one checkbook calculator. Saved: everything else.

It seems to me that women need purses not as attractive accessories but as receptacles to tote their stuff. Stuff they need for shopping, for child care, for personal beautification. I know women with gigantic, brightly colored bags that must weigh twenty-five pounds. Just looking at those monstrosities makes me weary.

That’s why I was so happy when I came upon this new purse at Younkers. It had pockets, it had zippers, it had a magnetic snap. I was sick and tired of my current purse. For one thing, it was black, and I liked this bag’s more spring-like hue. All of my stuff fit. Well, it sort of fit. There was no special place for my lipstick, which my black purse has, and which I find not only cute as heck but very useful. You never know when you’re going to need to touch up your lipstick in a hurry. When I have pockets, that’s where it goes, but much of women’s clothing is irritatingly pocket-free. It’s as if the clothing manufacturers assume we all carry purses.

Here is what’s wrong with this purse. Or rather, what’s wrong with me when I carry it. I can’t seem to remember where everything is. This is cute, the first couple of times it happens. “Oh, darn, I just can’t seem to figure this new purse out!” Ransacking it systematically reminds me of a poem, a 14-line sonnet in which each line is the same: “Not in this drawer. / Not in this drawer.” and so on.

Either I’m a person with a lousy purse, or one with a lousy memory. This nice new purse is making me feel like the latter. Or do I have too much stuff in there? I don’t think so. I’ve seen other women’s purses, whose contents greatly resemble what I might put in my carry-on bag for a journey by air. In my everyday purse, I do not pack sandwiches, or an emergency pair of high heels, or a can of Throwback Pepsi. It’s just the essentials. And when something is essential, it’s doubly frustrating when it cannot be found.

I’ll admit that I tend toward catastrophizing when I can’t find something. Any time my wallet becomes mired in the depths, my first thought is, “I knew it! It finally happened! Somebody stole my wallet!” I do not say this aloud, so it’s slightly less embarrassing when the wallet turns up on the other side of the center pocket, or in the spot supposedly reserved for my hand lotion.

In fact I’ve only ever had one thing stolen, and that was my car radio, and that was the night I forgot to lock the car. (It kills me when people write to the editor of the local paper bemoaning the theft of some yard ornament. They always say, “I sure hope the thief who took it is enjoying it.” Really? I hope they trip over it and bust their shins. If anyone ever has the nerve to steal my purse, I hope they get just as lost in it as I do.)

But I digress. And that’s because I’m really talking about so much more than pocketbooks. For a woman of a certain age, the inability to produce a given object – keys, AAA card, M&Ms smuggled into the theater – sets up a whole flotilla of red flags. Oh no, we think. I’m not just losing my stuff, I’m losing my mind.

If the first sign of dementia is not being able to find something in your purse, then I’m doomed. Thankfully, it is not. Still, I’m thinking of constructing a map of my purse, or an index, a table of contents. I’ll keep it in my purse. But where? The inside zipper? The outside flap? The cell phone pocket my phone won’t fit into? Got a pen? I can’t seem to find mine.

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