Four days after my ovaries, uterus, and cervix were unexpectedly cut away, we broke up. We both knew it had been coming for some time, it was now just a matter of getting the last of my belongings out of his place and saying goodbye. Our relationship had always been one of convenience, not desire, and I often found myself shouldering the weight of everything we supposedly shared. So after 28 years, ever by my side, I had a conscious uncoupling—with my purse.
It started as a flirtation. A crush, really. All of the women I knew had a little something on the side, dangling from their shoulders, on display for the whole world to see. But the truth behind what kept their relationship together was zipped away in a little inner compartment. Secrets completely off limits. Personal. Purses were so public and so private at the same time. I was infatuated.
I remember my first time. The awkwardness and fumbling as I showed up to middle school with my purse slung over my shoulder, confirming the whispers behind my back, that I had experienced a scarlet rite of passage between my legs. For the next few months, my purse was an ever-present proclamation that something had changed. I was now, and would be evermore, a woman.
I thought we would be so good together. I thought I was ready. I thought I knew what it meant to have a real purse in my life, but I didn’t. I was just too young for such a big responsibility and I did not understand the gravity of what I was taking on. There were times when the weight of it all was just too much and I literally walked away and left my purse, knowing I could always come back and he would be right there waiting for me. We would wake up and break up every three weeks or so when my purse would not-so-subtly hint at all of the private details of my intimate goings-on to everyone around me. But what business was it of theirs, anyway? Overall, I was pretty sure of myself; it was my biological clock that occasionally went off schedule. What became a problem was when I unexpectedly needed my purse, and he wasn’t there for me. My purse demanded a commitment. I finally swallowed my pride and settled. I would be in it for the long haul with my handbag.
I decided I might as well make the most of it. I went all-out pouring myself into him, filling my purse with everything we could possibly need. He put on weight. I didn’t mention it, knowing that this sort of thing happens over time. But then he started hiding things from me. Forcing me to dig deep to pull out the least little details. Gum. Sunglasses. Bank card. Once he hid my keys so I couldn’t leave. So passive-aggressive and such a time drain, that even though every twenty-eight days we would have a week of intimate time, the rest of the month I was beginning to see him for who he had become—unwanted baggage completely full of crap. He held on to too much of the past and never carried enough for the future. Something had to be done.
I sought some heavy-duty retail therapy. He trimmed down and we went for a designer label. I made an effort to hold him, instead of just expecting him to tag along at my hip. I was intentional with our time together and treated him like the expensive treasure Neiman Marcus proclaimed him to be. But our relationship became familiar. Sure, there were times we dressed up and went out on the town. Times I even flaunted how good we looked together. But the truth was, for the most part, we slumped through the everyday errands that made up our stale relationship and the slightest wear and tear seamed to distress my handbag. And I had to keep an eye on him all of the time now. If I left him alone for even a second in a crowded bar, he might go home with someone else that night.
I started to have needs that weren’t being met. Something wasn’t right. I was losing more of myself all of the time. Too much sometimes. And once it would start, it wouldn’t stop. It just kept going. What should have been a once-a-month need from that secret, zippered, inner compartment, had quickly become an everyday dependency. One that often emptied out and used up every scrap of femininity I had tucked away in there. I decided to see a doctor about our situation.
It turned out, my purse was not the only unwanted mass I had been carrying around. I had several growths, one the size of a grapefruit, that had to be removed in the next two weeks. I was beginning to think my purse should be amputated right along with it.
We set out to be together in sickness and in health. But when I was ill, my purse couldn’t handle all of the forms, pills and changes of clothes for my upcoming tests and procedures. When I needed him most, he refused to take on any more and so, I looked elsewhere for comfort and slipped into the open straps of a small backpack.
What started as a one-time infidelity became more and more frequent over the next two weeks, until it was a full-blown affair. Finally, I decided to leave my purse at home altogether as I took the next four days, away in the hospital recovering from my surgery, to think about what I was willing to carry with me from here on out. I had always been a woman who needed a purse. Would I still be one when I did not?
I came home from the hospital and sat down with my purse. I looked deep inside. Every pocket, every flap, every crease. I unpacked that little, inner, secret, compartment and pulled out every feminine fragment. Then I zipped that chapter closed.
No, my backpack and I are no longer together. He held everything together when I just couldn’t do it myself and I am grateful. He had my back through a rough time, but in the end, he was just more unnecessary baggage.
And sure, on occasion, my purse and I go out together, but we’re not codependent anymore. It’s a good familiar feeling, but one I can live without. And the minute things start getting too heavy, I put my purse back in its place—the closet.
I don’t need a purse to be whole. And despite my missing accessories, on both the inside and the outside, I am still just as much a woman. That’s something no amputating of appendages, especially those of the retail variety, can take away from me.
I have officially moved on. I even have a new adornment in my life. A wallet/phone-case combo. I don’t need it, but I like having it around, for now. We’re taking it one day at a time.
Laura Becker is an essayist who currently resides in Redondo Beach with her screenwriting partner/husband. Born in Missouri. Raised in Kansas. Adolescence/young adulthood in Iowa which, according to Walter Neft, DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944), makes her a native Californian. She writes, quips, muses and laughs about almost anything…almost. She finds her coffee to be jolting/bitter/rich/flavorful all whipped up with a lot of hot air and kinda hard to swallow. A lot like adulthood.