We were supposed to be in the car, ready to drive to the wedding venue ten minutes ago. I was supposed to have eaten lunch an hour ago, after showering and wriggling into an outfit from the “fancy” part of my closet. I was supposed to have selected said outfit and coordinating shoes the night before. But I have done none of this, and am still hurriedly drying my hair, wrapped in a bathrobe. As warm air whooshes by my ear, I contemplate the clothing combinations I could wear to this traditional American wedding ceremony, in a church with hard wooden benches and questionable air conditioning. I contemplate several lightweight, dressy tops, wondering which ones are clean, on hangers, and ready for me to wear. Thankfully, despite my lack of time management and sartorial planning, I can always count on the purse.
My wife and I both identify as women. Over the years, this has caused some confusion. When contacting a department store in the early 2000’s about an issue with our wedding registry, a call center representative asked for the groom’s name. It took a while to explain that there wasn’t an actual groom, that technically there were two brides (although neither of us had spent any time in a bridal salon). After a heartbeat of confusion, the lady on the other end of the line said, “But honey, there has to be a man!” It was then that I asked to speak with a manager.
Neither of us is what I would call high-maintenance when it comes to upkeep. My wife Susan is a stickler for pressed work attire so she spends time ironing her button-down shirts every evening, and she, with her head full of short adorable curls, likes to make sure to run her fingers through her hair in just the right way before leaving the house. She is also the one of us who wears “fragrance”—a unisex scent that instantly reminds me of her smile. I used to wear perfume until my favorite variety was no longer made. This happened around the time I developed sensitivities to nearly everything, so it was just as well. Organic baby soap is pretty much the only substance that does not make me break out in hives now. I, however, wear more jewelry than Susan, but not in a grand way. I still wear a wristwatch on work days and frequently add earrings from a collection of favorites.
I used to be the one at weddings wearing a dress while Susan was in a nice pantsuit. I have changed my ways now that I have learned how much more comfortable it is to wear pants, without the need for additional undergarments. It is such a relief to be middle-aged and to care much less about what other people think, but it would be nice to have more shopping options that fit our styles. Susan usually sighs over the beautiful buttoned shirt patterns available for men, but not for women. And the current fashion of adding beading, sequins, and general bling to perfectly good shirts I might otherwise wear is a frustration for me.
Susan and I have been together for seventeen years and have attended any number of weddings, wakes, funerals, recitals, and other dress-up-for-the-occasion events. We have preparation for these events down to a science. Susan chooses a pair of pants, one of the shells we have carefully selected over the years that fit both of us, and a jacket to suit the tone of the event (black for funerals, bright colors for weddings). She may even add the pair of earrings we purchased for her before we got married, or the necklace I gave her when I proposed, after marriage equality was achieved in our home state. I wear a pair of black pants—the only color of pants I own. With limited energy and daily pain from chronic medical conditions, I no longer have time for the scarves and makeup and higher-heeled shoes I wore in my early professional days. I slip on the black pants then add a shirt. I rarely do the blazer thing that Susan does as the medications I must take always make me feel overheated. More than one layer is a guaranteed sweat bath. I have a black, no wrinkle, impossible-to-ruin-in-the-dryer tunic that I wear for funerals. I have other tops for different occasions. Then I add a set of earrings, and often the necklace that Susan gave me when she dropped to one knee to propose, back when Vermont was the only state that recognized our relationship. I will also add foundation powder to cover the blooming rosacea overtaking my face and tinted lip balm. Gone are the days of eye shadow, eye liner, mascara, and other tubs, pots, and compacts full of beauty potions.
Susan is always ready first. She waits patiently downstairs as I race about, time having once again escaped me. At some point, one of us will shout, “The purse!”
The purse refers to the one purse we have in a household of two women. Other women— those with entire closets devoted to purse collections—think this is a joke. It is not. Our purse is the ultimate reusable item. It is a black, clasped number that fits tissues, car keys, a mini camera, a granola bar, and various other small items one might need at a dressy event. It is in rather good shape, with one light scratch on the side. We bought it years ago at a purse auction (our first and last). We were the only bidders. It cost $5—money well spent.
The purse is pre-loaded with most of our needs. We just need to grab it and go. There are the inevitable grumbles over who has to find the purse and who has to carry the purse and who has to remember to acquire the purse from our seating location before we leave a particular event. But this purse, which has seen us through many of life’s happiest and saddest times, is something we equally share.
Should we ever get divorced (a highly unlikely event), the purse would be impossible to divide into hers and hers piles. It belongs equally to us and is something we use only at events we attend together. I suspect neither one of us would want to individually own the purse. It holds such meaning for us as a couple that taking it out of the closet to fly solo at a future event would bring either one of us to tears.
I have gathered my damp hair into what I hope could be considered an elegantly disheveled updo, adjusted the selected tunic top so it drapes appropriately over the customary black pants, thrown my feet into serviceable flats, jammed some sparkly earrings through the slots in my lobes. I pause for just a moment, smile and reach back into the closet for the purse. Susan and I will soon be heading to the church where we will hold hands in the pews as we watch another couple pledge eternal devotion. I love this slightly scratched, completely un-chic, fake-leather handbag, and am hard pressed to think of any other item that is so completely and totally ours. That it accompanies us to life’s great events is only fitting. Perhaps our presence, with the purse, will help convey some of our happiness to today’s bride and groom.
Sarah Bigham lives in the United States with her kind chemist wife, three independent cats, an unwieldy herb garden, and several chronic pain conditions. Her work has garnered two Pushcart nominations and appears in a variety of great places for readers, writers, and listeners. Find her at www.sgbigham.com.