On a cold January night, the thought of this faded blue satchel brings back memories from the unforgettable feeling of freedom on a summer night at the fair.
I keep trying to parse out my purses and other belongings. I’m attempting to simple my wardrobe, to simply my life, to streamline what matters to me, and what I want to stick around. I have bags on my bookshelf, a few more on a hook over my door and a few more under my bed. But I almost forgot about even a few more that I can’t completely let go. Instead, they are hiding in the back of my childhood closet in my parent’s home.
In a box in the top right of the shelf, is a faded blue Saks satchel. Like not being able to throw out that last photo of an ex-boyfriend, I can’t get rid of this bag. When I see it, I immediately think of one night at the fair in the summer of 2008.
There was inexplicable excitement in the air at the fair on a warm July night in a Northern Illinois suburb. What is it that’s so romantic about a fair? Maybe nothing, but that’s not what the movies told me. I actually had never been to a fair like this, believe it or not. My idea of these colorful light displays and fried foods came solely from films I’d seen, mostly romantic comedies.
What I learned from movies: When the fair comes to your town, buy tickets to go – but know that will only get you so far. You can wait in long lines and feel the anticipation grow (the lines are always longest for the most popular rides). The thrill lies in the spinning sensation. Perhaps intense, but definitely temporary. You may even get off and get right back in line, eager to go again. If you don’t go, the fair will soon pack up and move on to another town without you. If you don’t go, you’ll never know what you may have missed.
Were these rides even safe? At age 16, I was full of questions I was ashamed to ask aloud. At 16, I felt more content in my solitude. I felt I knew the answers. They were inside of me, waiting for their turn to rise up. Up into that July air, I sensed freedom. I was overdue for this kind of fun. I thought I was the boldest thing, with a blue Sak satchel with zippered pockets and wearing a knit pink hat that I had just bought earlier that day.
I felt so teenage. I was away from home, on vacation with my best friend family. We had spent the day taking the train into Chicago, shopping on Michigan Avenue. I bought a pink hat and my friend Jordan bought a pair of pink wayfayers from the Nordstrom’s juniors department. They were frivoulous accessories, purchased with spare babysitting money.
In one of the bag’s zippered pouches was a flip cell that probably wouldn’t even be recognized as a phone today. Before the days of iPhones, this piece of technology was a different number and life ago. I had memorized the now-seemingly awful graphics wallpaper display after hours of literally watched minutes change on the long car ride to Illinois. I watched, waiting for a text message to appear on the screen from a boy back in Georgia.
“Boyfriend” would have been a euphemism to describe his part in our tryst case of angsty teenage love. I hadn’t heard from him in a few days. I wondered what it would be like to ride the Ferris Wheel with him. I wondered if he even missed me, but already knew the painful answer when I really thought about it.
At age 16, my newly-licensed sense of freedom was diminished by the fact that he was entering college in a few months while I would just return to junior year of high school. So I didn’t think about him. Or I tried hard not to. I distracted myself with the Chicago site-seeing and shopping. I kept the phone zipped away at the fair, as if one disappointing glance would ruin this good time. I didn’t even touch the pocket all night, as if with one look my fear would become unzipped too. In my new pink hat, I felt pretty and unique. I felt the tingle of possibility that plenty of boys would want to ride a Ferris Wheel with me.
Teenagers get a reputation for being self-conscious, worried that others are looking at them funny. I on the other hand made it a game to imagine people were looking at me, turning their heads at me. I played this game as I would stroll down the frozen foods aisle when my mom sent me alone to get groceries. The cute cashier was flirting with me, I imagined. Some days I even wore flats in that same blue hue, with a strap around the ankle and had a funky button on the toe. Playing this game of putting on my funny clothes and a smile was the only way to survive those days.
The irony is this bag was a simple Saks satchel I bought in a department store. There were many identical ones just like it circulating the country. Cross-body bags are a good choice for a fair, but because the strap was too short I awkwardly wore this satchel by my side. This bag was by my side through this awkward phase. Our next “adventure” together was probably band camp.
My point is I wasn’t actually as cool as I thought I was. This is one teenage stereotype I fit, thank goodness. In reality I didn’t get out of my house much – if that wasn’t already made obvious by the fact that I thought grocery shopping was a game.
In reality, I was actually too afraid to ride anything but the Ferris Wheel, which seemed just too classic to pass up. I felt exactly where I needed to be. What was I actually afraid of?, I wonder now. Then I didn’t have much to loose, but everything to gain.
In a sea of strangers, I felt as if I had been plucked up and dropped in a movie set as an extra. I was people watching but pretending that everyone was watching me. In a new pink hat and blue bag, how could they not be? And I didn’t care. I didn’t really any know anyone in this town, after all.
On top of that ferris wheel, I found cloud nine. I felt the possibility to rise up, above it all. For a moment, I forgot about him. Instead I had more in common with the fair itself, passing through this town than those that lived there.
Summer will come to an end, but there will be more fairs to come. They are actually pretty much the same no matter which suburban town you visit across this country. But if you don’t go, you’ll never know what you may have missed. The thrill is in that temporary spinning sensation.