The Things We Carried

Back at home, I’d managed to pack my messenger bag for storage before I packed the things I was bringing to New York. I was so aggravated with myself over this, I vowed to bring my laptop to work everyday in the only bag I hadn’t packed: a dumb thin H&M tote bag that featured a graphic of a gun tied in a bow, and the text: Knot Violence. Detached, cutesy pacifism. Cool, Adrianne.

The straps to this tote bag are narrow blades, and the seams strained under the laptop’s weight. Every day I threw in a tupperware full of salad, two smartphones, a charger, a large wallet, and a notebook, and I frowned my way into work for the past week. My shoulder usually had a bright red indent on it, my shirts pulled and stretched. I debated replacing the bag, but in one week I had already gone through my budget for the month. The other night I actually logged in to view my bank statements and went through all my transactions to verify there hadn’t been any fraud. Surely someone stole that money from me, right? Some power-drunk teen in a Best Buy? Nope. I was the one paying for all those things. Living is just expensive, here. A new bag, especially a new bag whose functional twin lay packed back in Minneapolis, was a luxury I couldn’t afford. And didn’t deserve, obviously. Yeah! Stupid box-packin’ asshole!

The other day as I heaved open the first door to our apartment building, the doorknob caught on the tote bag’s strap and then swung closed behind me. My bag sang a short swan song as it tore a full third of the way down.


I cried out a brief denial. Gritted my teeth.

“It’s fine, it’s fine. You’ll still use it.”

That will teach you, to pack away something important. That will teach you, to spend five dollars on butter, nine dollars on almond bars.

But the next day as I put the laptop back into the bag, it ripped some more. It ripped again when I reached in to grab my wallet at the subway, and again when I dug for my phone. It was starting to hang funny off my shoulder, jutting out at odd angles and banging into strangers as I walked. I wondered if I’d snag it on another benign object, sending everything I needed to function in this city scattering onto the train tracks, a puddle of rancid oils and hamburger wrappers.

Two blocks away from my apartment, I had recently become aware of a Brooklyn Industries store. I’ve never been a huge fan of any pricier business whose main design element is their logo. But I was entering a forgiving mood toward myself; and forgiveness has a tendency to extend, the length of its radius in direct proportion to the strength of its core.

My universal forgiveness at that point, handily, was at about two blocks. I walked in with my tattered Knot Violence bag, set my laptop on the store counter. “Can you help me? I need something that will fit this. That I can use to commute to work on the subway, and maybe bicycle.”

“Oh. My. Gosh. Yes,” the sales girl told me. “I’m pretty much obsessed with this one.”

That ranks as one of the dumber things anyone’s ever said to me about a backpack, but I decided to hear her out. “I know, I know. It’s a . . . backpack. I said I’d never be the girl with the backpack, you know? But this one’s different somehow. It’s pretty fashion-forward.” She repeated that a few more times, fashion-forward. I was feeling her word choice, the way her pale hands ran along its green velvety waxed canvas like a QVC model. I was also feeling its zippered compartments, its slender profile and padded straps, its bright red lining. “Done,” I said.

I wore it into work this morning, and I have to be honest, I’m pretty much obsessed with it.

Above: all my possessions jammed in not-so-trusty bag number one. And relocated into bag number two, my new friend in navigating this city.

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