About two years ago, I decided I needed to find the purse that defined me as a person. To men, at least to straight men, this decision is meaningless. To women, especially women who live in a city, this decision is monumental.
I think of my mother's purse from when I was a kid, its mysterious contents--Winston cigarettes, lipstick, bits of folded paper with hastily scrawled phone numbers smelling of perfume and pizza, the gritty flotsam of a single mother's edgily eked-out existence--and how it was the one object I was not, under any circumtances, ever, to the point of bodily harm, allowed to touch. The purse is, in many ways, the totem of the woman who carries it. Like the secret contents of a shaman's pouch, a purse holds a woman's self. The purse is power.
I first realized the power of the handbag when on a whim at the age of eleven, I bought this four-in-one bag set that had smaller and smaller bags nesting inside of one another, like those wooden Russian dolls that end in a weird little doll nubbin, often painted to look, incongruosly, like Yeltsin. I had gone to visit some family friends in Greenwich, Connecticut, and I was completely aware of the class disparity of the homes around me and the renovated two-room schoolhouse where I lived in the middle of nowhere Vermont
So when I had to go and meet some of the local kids, I brought my purse.
And they thought I was cool. Sophisticated.
If they only knew. I had so pulled one over on them.
So the purse was something I was not unaware of. And yet, I refused to carry one even into adulthood, choosing instead to cram my pockets with my wallet, keys, iPod, lipgloss, condoms, and so on. If I did carry a purse, it was not serious. It was clearly a joke purse, an irony purse, a purse so clearly meant to call out all the trappings of femalehood as to announce itself as something that made fun of the act of being a girl, and did not, in any way, buy into it.
Clowns carry better purses than I have.
Until one day when I started looking around me on the streets of New York, and I realized with a kind of burning-bush epiphany that I was purseless.
Let it not go unacknowledged the Freudian ramifications of the purse. The purse, like the pussy, opens up. The purse, like the pussy, has lips. The purse, like the pussy, holds within its black abyss mysteries, pleasures, interesting smells, as well as necessary objects. And the purse, like the pussy, is distinctly feminine.
And one day I realized I wanted to be a girl.
So I searched for the purse that would mark me as one.
Reader, I found it. And last week, I bought it.
Purple, fulsome, buttery soft and capacious, it's the Ur-Purse. It's a status purse. It makes shopgirls treat me better. It opens doors. It holds my condoms. And it has a secret compartment for lube. And short of cars and computers, I've never spent so much money (which I don't really have) on anything.