I bought a cheap tube of mascara and put it on in the parking lot. That’s how desperate I was for retail therapy. I haven’t worn mascara in so long I can’t remember. Maybe more than 20 years. But I craved a psychological lift and there it was dangling in front of me in the discount store. For $2.99 it was a no brainer, my cheapest high since I quit drinking. Putting on mascara in my car was a flashback to the 1990s when I was a suit and eye makeup was part of the job. Only difference being that now I need my glasses to see my eyelashes in the mirror. Anyway, it was the cure, temporarily, just like they promise on TV. Longer, fuller lashes made me feel better. A placebo perhaps, but I’ll take it.
I also bought a purse. That was my original retail therapy mission. I was feeling drab, fraught with anxiety and depressed. It’s not the first time I’ve turned to a discount store to throwback the blackout curtains darkening my soul. And it’s a lot less expensive than a psychotherapist. That tiny burst of creativity brightened me as I imagined how the handbags would look with my clothes, how others might react to my choice, the color matching, changes in seasonal styles, the virtue signaling of materials, the size and fit, the price comparison. A thousand details flooded my emotional quicksand and floated me into a SpongeBob SquarePants oblivion, where for a moment I let go of my mental baggage.
My own handbag was what I’d call a dog-walking purse. Not so fancy it’s going to call attention to itself. Plenty of room for poo bags and keys and glasses, phone and earbuds, hand sanitizer and pens, flashlight and jack knife, business cards and IDs, credit cards and cash, and this kills me, my Medicare card. When it comes to loading a handbag, I’m a prepper, ready to wrangle whatever I encounter. Now my dog is sick and I’m contemplating a future without him. As I endure, retail therapy is an island vacation for my brain.
I’ve been using my old bag since the summer of 2019 when my girlfriend gave it to me as a gift. It’s made of recycled materials, machine washable and sports big pockets with a long crossbody strap. Perfect for the girl who walks city streets with a dog, goes to dog parks and farmers markets and hikes in state parks. Now I’m strengthening my coping skills with something frivolous, a vegan vinyl doodad for my spirit, the antidote to my oversupply of common sense — a white purse decorated with cartoon lilies and so many zipper pockets I’ll never be able to find anything.
Retail therapy is familiar territory for me. That’s the beauty of aging. At 67 it’s so much easier to witness my behavior and say, Oh, this is just a phase I’m going through. I can see it. On a sunny afternoon, I sat in my car in the parking lot of a strip mall and cut the tags off my new purse, filled it with sundries from my old purse, and put on mascara in the rearview mirror. Because I needed a little something ridiculous in my life.