The Goddess Speaks
Caught holding the bag between young and old
HER NAME is Lani, but to me she's the Beautiful One. The daughter of a close friend in Seattle, she was my house guest some summers ago, when she was all of 21, with the world at her feet.
As I was approaching my mid-40s; she was a blinding reflection of what I wasn't: young. Until then, through all the challenges of single-parenting, I had forgotten how fun it was to be a Girl.
I remember her stay fondly, but what intrigues me to this day is her teeny purse. It was all of 10 by 4 by 2 inches thick. What could she possibly fit in it?
"Lipstick, keys, cell phone and credit card," she said, eyes twinkling. "That's all I need."
I glared at my bulky handbag, overstuffed with the trappings of a ready-for-anything mentality, coming apart at the seams. It had become an eyesore and a health hazard, its weight representing life on my shoulder, pinching my neck nerves and causing pain that seemed more noble to cast off as stress.
The one girly gear I've managed to keep well oiled is shopping, and to save myself from the depths of impending midlife crisis, I did exactly that, hoping to come across the perfect purse. (Cheaper than buying a red convertible Mercedes, I thought.) I dragged a buddy along, a real pal to have accompanied ultimate-power shopper "moi."
IN AND OUT of Ala Moana Center stores we weaved. No luck. What exactly was I looking for?
"The perfect purse," I said. "Something not too big, not too small. It has to be just right."
"What brought this on, anyway?" he said, keeping my pace.
"It's time for a new one," I said, as if scrapping my old would somehow make magic happen. "I don't need to carry so much. Lani's purse is so tiny."
With a wry grin he said, "You know what purses stand for, don't you?" his gaze departing mine, traveling south, past my navel.
"Way," he said. "Now, it's been a while since college, and I may be rusty in literature, but from what I recall, that's the symbolism; notice guys don't carry one?"
Either he was delirious from shopping or I must have dozed off during that part of the English class lecture way back when. Before that moment a woman's purse was just a purse, purely utility, and the type carried depended on trends, practicality and her wherewithal to really give a darn.
I observed women parading around the mall with their -- purses -- and in my head matched each one's with her stage in life.
School backpacks aside, young girls have no need for anything but a coin purse, at least until puberty, when boys and fashion come into the periphery. Still virtually carefree as 'tweens, all that's needed is something big enough to carry a cell phone, bus fare, allowance.
Then comes a driver's license and a smidge more satchel space for makeup, perfume, car keys.
As they get older, the purse grows with loss of innocence and gain of responsibility -- along with jobs, rent, car payments, marriage and mortgages.
When infants arrive, along with bigger purses, women carry diaper bags the size of a belly five months pregnant, ever ready with baby food, spare clothes and toys.
Once its time to ditch the diaper bag, the pocketbook shrinks, though seldom back to prenatal size.
Outings to escape routine, whether for dinner, clubbing or a show, usually entail downsizing -- a clutch small enough for essentials: lipstick, keys, cell phone and credit card -- all you need when you're as young as you feel.
When I returned empty-handed from shopping that day, I did what any curious person would: I Googled my friend's purse-body-part analogy, and skimmed a blog with a few references to Shakespeare and some to Freud. It's all subjective. The psychoanalyst himself said, "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar."
I didn't find that perfect purse during Lani's stay, but I did find her sitting on my stoop just weeks after she unpacked her boxes.
She had arrived planning to enroll at the University of Hawaii, but looking up at me teary-eyed, she said, "I made a mistake. This isn't the place for me. ... I just want to go home."
"You're young," I said. "If you change your mind when you get older, you can always come back."
Youth allows plenty of room to make mistakes, the kind you hope you'll be wise enough to avoid when you're older. I wouldn't want to relive that feeling of unrest again, and understand more Picasso's quote, "It takes a long time to grow young."
In a week, Lani was back in Seattle, taking her little purse with her, leaving behind some enlightenment for a not-so-old bag.
Ruby Mata-Viti is a writer and page designer at the Star-Bulletin.
The Goddess Speaks is a feature column by and about women. If you have something to say, write "The Goddess Speaks," 7 Waterfront Plaza, Suite 210,
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