The Goddess Speaks

Tuesday, March 9, 1999

It takes time to
bag the baggage

By Cynthia Oi


MORE than a year ago, the perfect handbag broke. I've been without it for more than a year now, its absence creating a daily struggle to organize the important things I need when I venture from home.

I found the bag several years ago at the gift shop at the Academy of Arts. I was with a friend who liked to go there to browse through the cool, placid spaces filled with art and gardens.

The bag was made in Bali from leather and an antique mat of finely woven rattan. It was bigger than bags I'd had before, but at the time, I'd had to add a pair of reading glasses to my clutch of stuff, so bigger was better.

Cynthia Oi My friend encouraged me to get it, as friends will do when they know something is right for you.

For years, this was my bag. It went to the Big Island, Arizona, Kauai, Wyoming, South Dakota, Nevada, Montana, New Mexico, Washington, D.C., Washington State, Oregon and Idaho. It went to office and mall, supermarket and restaurant, bookstore and craft fair. It even went on an impromptu snowy hike in Whitefish, Mont.

It lasted through the end of my friendship with the Academy browser. We'd met in college and roomed together after graduation. Later on, although we had moved on to different lives in different parts of the country, we stayed in touch, visiting each other when we could. When our careers brought us both back to Hawaii, we tried to renew the friendship, but people change.

One day, we argued -- about what who can remember -- and the friendship snapped.

And one day, the strap on my bag -- yanked and bullied dozens of times a day -- succumbed. The stitching pulled loose, leaving the strap dangling uselessly.

I let it sit near my bed for a few days, then pushed it away out of sight. Time to move on, I thought, and began looking for a new perfect purse.

My heart wasn't in it, though, so the search at first was desultory. Soon, however, it became apparent that I'd have to get serious. My stuff wouldn't fit in the other bags I own, so I'd have to pick and choose contents and hope that I wouldn't need what was left behind that day.

I sacrificed a weekend day to the hunt. I commando-shopped, striking at one store, then the next, dodging from mall to mall. I rambled across the price range, from Prada and Ferragamo to Kmart and Sears. Zip, zero, nada, nothing.

Through all of this, the broken bag sat in a corner of the bedroom, stuffed behind a box of misfitting hiking boots. I think I was punishing it for disappointing me; I had needed it and it had failed me.

I was driving down Kapiolani last month and saw a shoe repair shop. It occurred to me that I could have the strap stitched back. I dusted the bag off; it appeared more battered than I remembered, but its familiar shape was comforting.

At the repair shop, the clerk admired it. She ran her hands over the rattan and told me fixing the strap would be easy. Yes, it was a little worn, and yes, it was old, she said, but its age made it beautiful, valuable.

A few days ago, my bag was fixed. It wasn't as good as new, but I think the experiences I've had since that day that I found it at the gift shop has made it more precious.

I am thinking of the Academy browser, of all the stuff we needed and received from each other, of the places we'd been together, all the failure, fun and disappointment. The friendship, however battered, may still have value. Maybe it is time to repair that, too.

Cynthia Oi is a Star-Bulletin staff reporter.

The Goddess Speaks runs every Tuesday
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