Let’s Get Personal: Six Years, Six Cities, Six Bags

How bags anchor memories of people, places, and personal change

New York, July 2012

From the eleventh floor of a sterile dorm building, I watched pairs of headlights pass from Manhattan to Brooklyn, and from Brooklyn to Manhattan, every night. Summer in the city was lonelier than I’d predicted, far lonelier than long breaks spent at Princeton, when campus emptied of my thin, tanned, rich classmates who carried MacBooks to class in weight-warped Goyards.

I didn’t own a Goyard. Every morning, I hauled too many things in a grayish-blue Longchamp Pliage: a water bottle, an unwieldy laptop, novels, makeup bag, and more, from the Lower East Side to a Hell’s Kitchen office until the bag’s brown leather straps sagged, and until the corners of the tote wore down to gray nubs. On weekends, I carried the same heavy bag from coffee shop to coffee shop, checking emails on my computer and hoping to catch my boyfriend, N., online while he staffed a music festival hundreds of miles away…but he was busy and our schedules rarely matched.

It didn’t rain much that summer, but the few days it did, I raised my Longchamp over my head and ran for it, too-large ballet flats smacking the concrete, cringing when city-browned puddle water splashed up around my ankles and lingered.

Princeton, May 2015

Sixteen hundred miles spent listening to the rumble of a V8 engine, and our road trip concluded on a balmy evening a few minutes from the campus where we first met. There was no air conditioning anywhere we went, and in my little blue Kate Spade Crossbody—an unexpected anniversary gift from N.—I kept wet wipes and hair ties to beat the heat.

We slept soundly that night, and the next day on campus we walked from dining hall to library to dormitory building, touching stones and glass and marveling at the gulf between old memory and new reality. It’s one thing to remember days spent napping in common room arm chairs and cramming exam material with friends, and quite another to find yourself newly locked out of the spaces in which you once did those things.

More than once, when approaching a closed door, I reached into my bag to retrieve my student ID/key card, only to remember I no longer had one that worked. We had nightmares about growing older for weeks after that.

Paris, March 2016

I picked Paris on a whim when he told me it was my turn to choose where we would meet up that spring. After living apart for nearly two years, and much if it on opposite sides of the Atlantic, I felt we needed to be somewhere romantic: a city of honey sunsets, glittering nightlife and dramatic stone facades. Painstakingly, I planned a full week’s worth of outfits, dinners, coffee jaunts, and scenic riverside walks.

I did not plan for the bitter cold. In every photo, I am peevishly cocooned in a too-thin wool coat, nothing exposed aside from the equestrian face of my black suede-and-smooth-leather Chloé Faye, which I had brought along to help me blend in with the French. And blend in she did—under cupolas, on crowded bridges, and atop red brasserie tables on every broad avenue.

It was threateningly gray outside for days, until rain broke through at last. Without an umbrella, I feared for the Faye, but the drops that fell at first were so soft I felt minute pinpricks on my arms—nothing else.

Then, as if bent on underscoring my departure with cinematic flair, it poured the morning of my flight home. At the bus stop, we joked that I would be delayed, but reading the forecast, we both knew the rain would dissipate well before the sun rose and the bus reached the airport. Thoughtfully, N. wrapped my suede-trimmed purse in a plastic shopping bag from the Louvre to protect it from the downpour, helped me up the bus steps, and waved until we turned a corner and I couldn’t see him under the opéra streetlamps anymore.

I must have cried the entire flight home.

Amsterdam, February 2017

But the simple black Dior Diorama with soft gold hardware warranted a confident nod.

“This one feels architectural,” N. told me. “It suits you.”

N. patiently waited while the salesman set out variation after variation of the same handbag on the glass counter, offering little other than the occasional nod or frown. Brushed, bronzy studs: frown. Metallic silver leather: frown. But the simple black Dior Diorama with soft gold hardware warranted a confident nod.

“This one feels architectural,” N. told me. “It suits you.”

The salesman had followed a lover from the States to the Netherlands, too. He wished us the best.

After dinner in a darkened tearoom full of black marble and grandfather clocks, N. and I stood huddled for warmth on a train station platform, watching our exhalations snake upwards in little white tendrils. In one numb, freezing hand I dangled a heavy beribboned bag carrying my new acquisition, and with the other I clasped and swung N.’s hand back and forth.

We hadn’t seen each other in months, and after this trip, we wouldn’t again for another few.

Houston, 2015 – 2017

When home is a person to you, and not a place, what does your geographic home come to mean instead? In between international assignments and brief connections and N’s too-short holiday stays, my hometown became a place of pain in the span of three years. Staying in the city I grew up in meant catching up by the glow of a phone screen late at night, staring across the dinner table at an empty seat, feeling traces of a missing person in the form of birthday cards displayed or a shirt left behind.

Friends and family suggested I find a hobby to distract from the tension, the loneliness, and the fights. So I did—I bought a DSLR camera and a large, black Céline Luggage Tote in quick succession, justifying the latter by telling myself I needed a camera bag that didn’t look like the average camera bag— tenuous excuse at best.

Photography got me out of the house and in front of friends, always in search of interesting light or a lively subject. I filled the spaces in my life with people’s smiles, their pets, their weddings, and their birthday celebrations. To this day I can’t look at a Céline without remembering its role in helping me repopulate my daily life.

Seattle, November 2018

We still argue, but now about closet space in our tiny city apartment instead of time zone differences or travel schedules.

our personal history and handbag history have finally converged in the same postcode for the first time in years

I take up a disproportionate chunk of the closet, N. tells me, showing me where my section ends and his meager one begins. And he’s right, I do hog the closet, but all the bags that I’ve accumulated over the years demand it, especially now that I’ve acquired actual, unwieldy photographer’s supplies, like a bulky canvas ONA camera bag, for our photo trips to the Olympic Peninsula. My Céline, in her dust bag, is taking a well-deserved camera break, and may need her weight-stretched handles serviced soon.

No word yet on who’s winning the closet space wars, and for now I think we’re content without a resolution on that front…especially since our personal history and handbag history have finally converged in the same postcode for the first time in years.