I’ve always been impatient about opening gifts. Since early childhood, I was never the type to carefully preserve paper and bows.
So one birthday, when my daughters handed over a gaily wrapped present, I ripped it open in a flash. And I was ecstatic!
Inside those wrappings rested a handsome, tan leather briefcase — the second briefcase of my life.
Well, let’s be frank: the first was actually one of those large totes that was a giveaway from a cosmetics counter that I used for years until the zipper broke.
But this — this was clearly an official one. This was a no-nonsense, dress-for-success number, complete with compartments and even an optional strap.
For days, I packed and repacked my new symbol of a serious life and career, remembering how our middle daughter Amy, when presented with her first pocketbook, tore through the house stuffing it with candy, puzzles, construction paper, and one tiny tube of lip gloss.
Like Amy, I was still, late in life, caught between knowing who I was and who I wanted to be.
Initially, the briefcase rested on our foyer table, in perfect pristine order. Pens with tops nestled inside fresh notebooks and a daily diary. It was simply too perfect to disturb this cowhide reminder that I was now a woman of substance.
That lasted a while. Maybe for half a year. It was a bit like how, as a little girl, I had saved my party shoes and dark green velvet dress to debut on just the right birthday party.
And then the right opportunity came in my freelance writer life: I had nabbed an interview with someone semifamous in a snazzy high-rise.
I felt a tad like an imposter, posing as a professional woman instead of a harried writer with business cards from Staples that actually had my previous address on them.
But I carried my briefcase ready for action. I’d cast aside the pants and blazer I usually wear, and had donned a proper skirt and pumps. All this in honor of my new briefcase life.
Then I picked it up, put the strap on my shoulder, and stood at the bedroom mirror, appraising the new me. I looked ... odd.
Gradually, the birthday briefcase and I melded. I no longer felt I was toting the crown jewels instead of what was, in reality, a quite unspectacular briefcase.
As reality bit, so did a return to my wanton habits.
Before long, I was stuffing the peanut butter crackers that are my guilty pleasure in life inside my case. Also often present was the day’s mail, which I’d grabbed on my way out the door, and the toy truck that a grandson had left in the driveway.
Pride and briefcase TLC yielded to real life — and the real me.
The once-pristine briefcase was suddenly bulging in odd places.
In the car, too often, I would reach for my water bottle with the pop-up nozzle that travels with me wherever I go. I always could have sworn I’d left that pop-up in the closed position. And, oh, my, how often I was wrong.
Eight ounces of water anointed the passenger seat of the car — and my once-beautiful briefcase. I arrived at various places trying to look approximately the way the businesswomen in those glossy magazine ads do.
I’ve wiped down my wet briefcase with wads of tissue, cloths, or my skirt, so that its front looked like a free-form abstract art piece.
Shameful as it is, I have given up. The briefcase and I are aging together.
Its interior now holds debris that appears with a life of its own. A napkin or two, lipsticks without tops, and mysterious small bunches of newspaper clippings — all have taken up residence.
The final indignity, along with others: a telltale smudge of pizza grease near the bottom of the case.
Its contours, once perfect, are now a tad lopsided.
My briefcase, in brief, has been initiated. It will never again look the way it did in its packaging on that first giddy day.
Nobody would mistake it for the briefcase of a woman with all sorts of style and panache.
Which is how I know that now, it’s really, truly mine.