An Interview With My Bag

Do you ever wonder if objects have memories? Not actual cognitive thought memories obviously, but that they kind of soak up the feelings of their surroundings? I like to think that some do (you know that old saying about houses, if these walls could talk?), but I wonder about other objects. What would they say if we could interview them? What would you talk to?

I think I'd like to talk to my backpack.

Meet my dual compartment, navy blue, Jansport backpack, circa 1997. If you need an example of an object with personal history, this is it. And if it could talk, I'm sure it would have plenty of stories to tell.

I first bought this backpack my junior year of high school. I was midway through the semester, and had finally admitted that the "cool" way just carrying my books around in a stack in my arms was no longer working for me. For one, I had too many books. For another, I kept dropping the smaller yet necessary items like pencils and calculators and random papers. Like Hansel and Gretel, I was leaving a trail of school supply breadcrumbs wherever I went. So I gave in, bought a backpack, and dumped all my crap paraphernalia in it instead. And with that unassuming start, my backpack's story with me begins.

For instance, I'm sure it could tell you about the time that I made the poor choice of keeping a banana in the front compartment, and subsequently, how hard it is to clean mashed brown banana out of the buttons of your calculator. Good thing the bag itself is machine washable.

It could tell you about how in a fit of inspiration, I pinned metal buttons with witty sayings all over it my junior year of high school. I'd spent weeks making them with a button machine, and was very proud of them displayed all over my bag. (Right up until I removed them all again after a few months because it turns out that all those buttons are heavy!) It wouldn't, however, be the last time I decorated it.

It could tell you how I only carried it by one shoulder strap, usually over my right shoulder, because despite making you walk hunched over on one side, one strap was cool while two straps was just dorky. (This is something I still continue to do, not so much out of coolness, but because of sheer habit. I do trade off on the shoulders now in deference to my spine).

It could tell you how I used it as a ruck sack when we traveled for flag corp competitions, and did double-duty as a pillow when sleeping in the hallways of the host schools surrounded by hundreds of other high school girls, and drifting off to the snapping sounds of countless flags whipping through the air in unison as various groups practiced around us in the night.

It could attest to the sheer weight and size of the books needed for senior year, including the three needed AP English alone. (Could it even still recite the William Carlos Williams poem about the red wheelbarrow, glazed with rain water, beside the white chickens? Because I can. Even though it does absolutely nothing for me today besides take up much needed space in my brain).

It could point to the dab of white paint on the bottom from when I slung it too close to my workstation in the art room where I went to visit a sympathetic teacher under the guise of finishing my painting assignment instead of sitting through overloud basketball pep rallies. (Yes, I was a school spirit-challenged dork...what of it?)

It could recall being my carry on luggage for my senior trip through Europe, and how Mrs. Smith insisted that we all pin large artificial sunflowers on all of our luggage so that they would be easy to spot amongst the rest of England's luggage. And she was right, although I'm not sure the guys on our trip appreciated them, or being referred to as the "sunflower crew" everywhere we went.

Speaking of England, it was there when I dropped my passport on the floor of a bank where we had stopped to exchange traveler's checks. Did it stare from my back at the little blue book as I walked away, knowing that the passport was supposed to be stowed safely inside itself instead of blending seamlessly into the bank carpet that was the exact same shade? (If it did, I wished it would have spoken up then, instead of me spending the the time three days later traveling back to Bath from London to retrieve it and completely missing Stonehenge in the process).

It was there when I made the trip from home to college for the first time. It was there when I purchased outrageously expensive new textbooks for all my 101 classes, and when I walked the route for my classes in nervous anticipation.

It can also probably recall my disastrous attempt to smuggle potato soup out of the cafeteria in a wax paper cup during my soup eating phase. (You will be glad to know that potato soup washes easily out of a backpack...melted wax is slightly harder).

It got kicked around the floor several times in frustration as Nicole and I crammed for our Latin 101 final. (What possessed us to take Latin I'll never know. More useless than the Red Wheelbarrow poem). I will say that it was the last Latin class I took, and I'm sure the backpack sighed in relief with me when I switched to Portuguese shortly after.

It served as food and drink transporter (not potato soup) the night that we camped out for tickets to the UT-Florida football game our freshman year. Nicole and I were stupid with sleep deprivation from the all night partying of our fellow line mates, but we were not hungry thanks to the contents of my bag. (And incidentally, there were plenty of tickets to be had the next day, so camping out in line proved totally unnecessary except as a rite of collegial passage).

It went through the entire four years of college with me, with the exception of one semester when I cast it aside for a fancy laptop bag. I thought the computer bag looked more professional for my business classes, and I suppose it did for the one semester it lasted before the strap frayed and the velcro closures started pulling away. After that I went back to the trusty Jansport and just tossed my laptop into my backpack with everything else. Turns out it can survive without fancy computer padding just fine.

After graduation, it moved fragile items and important documents from my dorm room to my first apartment in Atlanta, and then to my first place with Tony in Virginia a few years later, and then to our first house back here a few years after that.

Then for a while, the only ones getting use of out of it were the cats, who enjoy sleeping on it in the floor of the closet. I'm not sure if it's the feel of the fabric, or the whisper of scents from the places its gone, or maybe it just smells like me, but they all seem to gravitate to it. (And consequently, so does the cat hair. I never leave home without it).

Then I went back to school for my masters, and the books and papers and calculators made a resurgence. This time, the Early American Poetry and Latin 101 gave way to Consumer Buyer Behavior and Advanced Statistics. Either way, the books were still heavy and still expensive. And the backpack still carried them.

It was infested with ants when I left chocolate in it and forgot it out on the back porch one night.

It carried my graduate thesis on the day I gave the presentation that I'd been working on for 8 months. Could it feel my nerves when I walked into that room? Does that kind of energy soak into its fibers? Did it silently rejoice when I made it through, or is the role of a backpack more ambivalent in nature? (I'm sure that it is glad that its back-up use as vomit-catcher wasn't necessary after all).

After that graduation, it went backpacking with me on day hikes through the mountains, carrying water and my camera and dry socks and snacks.

Now, I pull it out for trips, what with it being the perfect carry-on size. It's been through hundreds of airport security machines. It's been pulled aside for random searches, checked by drug-sniffing dogs, and shoved under numerous seats on countless airplanes. It's gone to Europe, Jamaica, Mexico, on a couple of cruises, and all over the continental US. It smells like sunscreen from my recent trip to Tampa and has a leftover bright red carry-on tag from American Airlines looped around one strap.

I've certainly put it through its paces for the past 13 years, and despite all the abuse, it's held up remarkably well for its age. Probably better than I have myself. Like me, it has scuffs and scars and maybe a tiny hole or two, but that just gives it character. And I like to imagine that like all objects, it waits patiently in the dark of my closet, reliving old adventures and waiting for the new ones.