I didn’t set out last weekend to spend an inexcusable amount of money on a handbag shaped like a potted succulent.
But then, how do you plan for that? If you leave your house with your Vince Vega roll every morning hoping to find the potted succulent purse of your dreams, you will often come home disappointed.
I was in Seattle, which is where most trouble starts. This is the home of my oldest friends and my very close-knit family, the people who are most likely to indulge and permit me to be a Carrie Bradshaw in a Hannah Hovath world. I was going to the Seattle Sounders game with my dad, and we had some time to kill before the game that ended up at Southcenter Mall, ye olde back-to-school shopping destination of my youth. The mall itself has been renamed and restructured practically to oblivion, but the Nordstrom has remained relatively untouched (except for a new smoothie bar on the top floor and the shift of BP from next to the café to floor 2, which is all stupid but I digress). I was coming down the escalator with my mom and was complaining about the last week at work, which was abominable. Most weeks are placid and the rare one is good, but this was one that made me want to light my cubicle on fire.
But all of those grievances fluttered away when I saw something blooming in front of the purse department.
“What…is happening here…” I said, flying past the MAC counter and Jo Malone candles to the Kate Spade Pre-Fall 2017 Fresh Release Front Table.
Is that…. a potted succulent…. as a purse???
Dear reader, ’twas so.
A Kate Spade novelty purse from her new cactus-inspired summer line, with leather desert flowers and glitter gravel. It looked exactly like what I saw four years ago, when I had to pick a house on Craigslist that would be our new Tucson home. I found a place with tile floors and bright turquoise kitchen cabinets, all aesthetics that would be garish and comical in the relentlessly gray northwest. I plugged the address into Google Maps and zoomed into the front yard. It was a sea of gravel flecks, buoying a single barrel cactus.
“Guess we’ll have to sell our lawn mower,” Matt said. That was the first time after he’d been offered the job transfer that I cried.
I held the (admittedly) ridiculous bag to my heart, and the anti-theft string caught. A reminder that it would only be mine if I coughed up the card.
My mom flipped up the price tag and laughed, then when I didn’t join, gave me the side-eye. “Really?” She said.
“I can’t,” I said.
“It is very cute,” she conceded.
But Kate Spade’s wicker camel is cute. Prada’s monster backpack is cute. Dolce and Gabanna’s pizza tote is dumb. I didn’t want this purse because it was adorbs. I wanted it because it told a story of my life in leather and glitter and clasps.
I followed Mom out to the Nordstrom Café Bar, where my dad waited, catching up on Sounders stats on his phone.
I didn’t say a proper goodbye.
I mean, I’d just set it back down on that table like it was, I don’t know, a Tory Burch clutch or some such basic shit. I didn’t even get a sales associate over to marvel over how incredible it was, how I’d be certain to get a Nordstrom Note with it if I activated my Triple Points, how few they had in stock, how new it was.
“I’ll be right back,” I told my parents, and slipped back through the yawning entrance into the handbag department.
I’m going to stand here, I told myself, and if someone comes over to help me, it’s meant to be.
I stood there, next to the locked cactus, for a minute. Two. Three. I picked it up, set it down. Opened it up to reveal the bright pink insides, the same color as the bougainvillea that bloomed outside our front door. It shaded the peppers I planted that grew so wildly, I couldn’t keep up with eating them, and they turned red and wrinkled on the vine. I remember the heft of the front screen door and its slam every afternoon when I got home from an hour-long commute. I’d head straight for the brick patio we decorated with Edison bulbs and pots of succulents like this one that you didn’t have to keep inside and next to a heater vent. I’d check my lemon tree for any signs of ripe fruit, but they were never ready until I finally left the state for home in Oregon. I only made it a little over a year.
We had one Christmas. I covered the front yard barrel cactus in shiny ornament balls and a light-up star. I turned gravel into glitter.
Until I couldn’t anymore, and the homesickness outweighed the adventure.
After a few minutes, a broad man in a well-tailored suit sidled up next to the Estee Lauder counter, directly across from me. He held his arms like the guys who surrounded our party at Tao, sizing up my Oceans Eleven abilities.
“Hello,” I said.
“Hello,” he said with the slightest stammer, as if surprised he’d been spotted.
“Do you work here?” I asked.
“I can…help you…if you need something.”
“Well. I’ve been standing by this bag for the last few minutes thinking I’ll probably buy it if anyone comes by to help me, and…”
By the time a smiling associate was wrapping Chloe (the cactus) in tissue, my mom had caught me. And gave me less of a side eye and more of an I’m-testifying-against-you-in-the-inevitable-divorce-hearing eye.
“Seriously?” She wanted to know.
It was happening.
The next morning, I debuted Chloe at brunch with my dear friend Christian, who’d been warned: I did something really bad. “Tabitha. As you friend.” He began.
“But lookit the little gravel bits!”
He held her in his hands. “Well. If she’s going to make you smile that big.”
Most people I know would have done the sensible thing, which is to invest that chunk of change I committed to Chloe on ink commemorating a strange time in their life that changed their style, that made them reassess their needs and tolerances, and prove what they would and would not do for happiness. But I hate tattoos. I wear my story in my dress prints, in the detailing on my shoes, in my jewelry, and o nmy scarves. I connect with details not because they’re trendy or come from a name with cache, but because their details are my details. My wardrobe isn’t subtle; you can read it.
I couldn’t take my favorite parts of Tucson back to Portland with me. The barrel cactus is still in the gravel yard. The bougainvillea greets a new girl now. Matt had to place the lemon tree in the care of a coworker, lest it be confiscated on the border with California, or otherwise wither and die on our rainy back porch. What was at first bizarre became routine, and evaporated into nostalgia. The difficulties sanded into fond memories. My heart cannot resist.