I found her on the floor of Dollar A Pound, the only thing I’ve ever found in that sea of stained sweatpants that was worth a damn. She was misshapen, dry, discolored. She’d been neglected. I saw potential – the even stitching, quality hardware, perfect cognac color, an inner pocket of fawn-colored leather. She was everything a vintage hunter dreams of.
It reminded me of a bag described in a short story from a 1979 issue of Young Miss, the kind of bag that inspires bullies to pour sulfuric acid on it when the science teacher isn’t looking.
I found her the summer before my sophomore year of college. I was just beginning to get a grip on my sense of style, just coming out of the self-esteem destroying earthquake that was freshman year. That summer I had my hair cut into a bob, hated it, and loved the pixie cut that I got two weeks later. All outward signs showed confidence, but it was an act. I was in shock.
I brought her home and used a cloth barely dampened with diluted baby shampoo to wipe off the dirt, then applied a layer of Mink Oil. I used books as weights to press out folds in the leather. When the leather was dry, I added a coat of shoe polish. A day after that, another coat of Mink Oil. You can’t rush leather rehab. It needs time to reflect, to absorb.
A few nights before I went back to school, I was up late and saw the initial reports of Princess Diana’s death. I was glued to the TV, painting my nails and steeling myself for the coming year. My moving boxes were stacked in the living room. I’d made plans for your standard back-to-school comeback, promising myself I’d do whatever I had to do to find my place. I could not, would not, waste another year of my life staring at walls. I had flared jeans and a vintage leather saddlebag purse. I had some idea of who I wanted to be and plans for impersonating her.
It is another August, eleven years later. The leather saddlebag hasn’t been used in a few years. She suffered an internal rip a few years ago, and migrated to the floor of the closet. I found her there and decided it’s time to clean her up again. That inner panel will have to come out, but the leather is still good. She just needs a few layers of Mink Oil.