The corner of my green Jansport bookbag is split open at the seam, exposing its contents -- unprotected from the outside world. My bookbag has been ripped for about a year now, and much to the dismay of my mother, I haven't gotten around to fixing it.
Even though the corners of all of my notebooks are bent and I can't put my bag down in the rain, I don't want to fix that hole. My green friend is like a mighty war hero; its "damage" is a sign of its courage and loyalty in battle after arduous battle. Encompassed in that tear are trips to Poland, Israel and Mexico, summers spent in musty camp cabins and my first year of college. Fixing that rip means denying my bookbag of its character, a sacrifice that I am not willing to make for the sake of aesthetics alone.
This weekend, my Goretex warrior and I traveled 11 hours on a Greyhound bus from Atlanta to my home in Roanoke. The downtown bus station in Atlanta was nothing short of sketchy at 10 p.m., but with the shield of green strapped to my back, I was not afraid.
I plunked my bag down in the only seat left, next to a woman who looked like the crowded bus was the last place she wanted to be. Her blonde hair, tangled in a loose ponytail, complemented the black mascara smudged under her eyes.
She said her name was Stephanie. She was traveling from Beaumont, Tex., to Newark, N.J. Stephanie had been in transit for 21 hours, with 19 more to go before she reached her destination.
"What's in New Jersey?" I asked, as Stephanie rearranged her belongings to give me and my bookbag more room.
"My boyfriend," she said, smiling. She paused, and then corrected herself. "Well, he's really my pen pal, but once
we're together, he'll be my boyfriend."
While the bus rolled on in the dark, Stephanie told me about Fernando, the registered nurse she met in an online chat room six months ago. What started out as a friendship had grown into something more, and Stephanie said she felt certain that she and Fernando were destined for happiness. Last week she packed her life into two suitcases and a duffel bag and walked out on her then-boyfriend of two-and-a-half years.
Stephanie pulled out Fernando's letters from her own torn bag.
"I want to tell the whole world how I feel about you," Fernando wrote. "I believe that love can traverse any distance." Stephanie told me that she planned to write a novel one day comprised of her correspondence with Fernando. "Five o'clock tomorrow can't come soon enough," she said.
After a while, Stephanie fell asleep, still holding Fernando's letters. I wrapped my feet tighter around my bookbag and thought about Stephanie and her journey.
There are those, I thought, who would scoff at the notion of finding true love on the Internet. They'd call Stephanie's journey idealistic and romanticized. And maybe they are right. Maybe she was destined for more heartbreak than happiness. Maybe she'd arrive in Newark and discover that Fernando isn't the Romeo she thought he would be.
But watching Stephanie sleep with that contented smile on her face, I decided that I liked her ideal, sentimental or not. Dozing next to me, she held on to the dream of something beautiful, something slightly scary and something less than perfect. The trip to Newark was more than Fernando. It was the new beginning packed in the bags under the bus and promises of greener pastures in New Jersey.
I carry in my bookbag red-eye flights to Europe, a thunderstorm at Kings Dominion and a fantasy romance between two strangers. That hole means history, adventure and memories that improve every time I recall them. The very essence of that tear is its idealism -- something I won't deny either Stephanie or the bag.
No, I don't plan to mend my bookbag anytime soon. While it seems imperfect to others, it makes perfect sense to me. It doesn't matter to me that my books get wet when it rains or that I can't carry anything of importance on my back. That bag means more to me than its appearance.
Somewhere in Newark, Stephanie and Fernando may be starting a new life together. It may not be perfect, or even realistic, but it suits them just fine.