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In Memoriam: My Chanel Sunglasses

In what may be the most privileged, first-world-problem post to have ever been written since the beginning of time, I must tell you that I am in deep mourning over the recent loss of my Chanel sunglasses.

Even now, my fingertips coated with dried Super Glue, I can't seem to accept the fact that they're really gone. I don't think I've ever experienced the stages of grief with a thing before. (And, truly, I know that there is a level of absolute ridiculousness here.)

But, to me, they weren't just a pair of sunglasses.

When I was an overwhelmed, sleep-deprived new mom with a demanding baby and clothes that I thought might never fit again, my husband asked me what I wanted for my birthday. Usually, taking after my mother, when asked what I want for gifts, I answer with something practical. (I mean, without exaggeration, I can tell you that my mother once received a shredder for Christmas from my father and nearly went skipping around the room; she returned the pearl necklace he gave her that same year.) In the past, I have requested things like a doormat or a phone cover. Nothing glamorous and hardly ever something with a designer label.

So, I don't know which of us were more surprised when I blurted out, "Chanel sunglasses. I want a pair of Chanel sunglasses." "Okay," he said and we loaded up our fussy three-month-old into the stroller and started our walk toward Chicago's Chanel store on Michigan Avenue. (Oh, city life!)

As we were walking, he asked me why I wanted Chanel sunglasses. Where on earth had this request come from?

Well, I had just watched a movie about the life of Coco Chanel and it all looked so timeless and chic. I think I just wanted one little piece of that. I wanted one little something that would make me feel pretty. Because I certainly didn't. (And this has nothing to do with my sweet husband. He tells me I look beautiful when I roll out of bed with no makeup on. I just don't believe him. This is entirely about how I see myself and that, my friends, is a post for another day.) However, on that day, in that place in my life, I wanted something that would give me a new look, and maybe help me feel like I had reclaimed a little bit of my old before-baby self.

Sure enough, standing in front of the mirror at the store, I put on those much-too-expensive sunglasses and, voilà! My bloodshot eyes were hidden behind the perfectly-tinted lenses. When you think about it, sunglasses are funny things. You wear them to shield your eyes from the sun, but you also wear them to shield your face from the outside world. When you're wearing your sunglasses, you're a mystery. No one knows if you're bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to take on the world, or if you're hanging on by a thread. There's a reason why people wear them in poker tournaments. And, in the life of a new mom, sometimes you need a poker face. Now I had one.

I cared for those sunglasses as you would care for a child. I dutifully slid on the little plastic protectors over the arms and then neatly folded them and slid them into the soft bag before placing the bag in the hard case. Every. Single. Time.

For five years, I followed this ritual, gently caring for what was possibly the most expensive item in my wardrobe. And then, one day, when I was getting ready to run school carpool, the unimaginable happened: the arms of the glasses fell off of both sides. Ack! I frantically searched the floor for the teeny tiny little screws. These weren't the regular teeny tiny glasses screws. Oh no! These were even smaller, a screw that Chanel had used just for these particular glasses. I found three of the four teeny tiny screws and were able to get the arms back into place. Being extra-cautious though, I carefully followed my regimen and placed the glasses back into its case.

Then I called the store. I explained what had happened very carefully to someone on the phone. They suggested that I bring the glasses in and that they might be able to replace the missing screw with one from the store. I hired a babysitter and drove into Chicago.

As I walked into the store, I looked around. A lot can change in five years. I was older. I had two more children than when I last visited and the perspective that comes with that. We now owned a house in a neighborhood with a coveted ZIP code and a fully-loaded minivan. In theory, if I wanted to, I could actually buy something. I would probably still feel guilty about it, but I could do it.

Thankfully for my bank account, no one helped me. No, I stood at the counter and waited while the wait staff eyed me like I was a homeless person who had wandered in off the street. They stood in the corner, whispering to each other. I was the only customer in the store. Now, granted, I had just had Baby #3 about six months prior, so I wasn't exactly in fighting shape, but I wasn't a total trainwreck either. (I mean, I had makeup on and everything!) My mistake must have been wearing jeans instead of all black. Silly me.

Finally, a clerk appeared from a back room somewhere and asked if I had been helped. I certainly had not, but I smiled and explained the situation with my sunglasses. She smiled back and went to find out how to enter a glasses repair in the system. She returned and told me that she would need to keep my sunglasses to find the screw they needed. I would get a call in six to eight weeks. I handed over my sunglasses to her, like you would hand over a family pet to a veterinarian for a major procedure. Then I went home and waited.

I waited and waited and waited. Finally, I got a call. My sunglasses had come in! I listened to the voicemail. My expression changed. As I listened to the voicemail, I heard her say that my glasses had come back in but that they couldn't repair them, so I could pick them up at my convenience and pay the steep repair fee. There was no compassion. She didn't apologize for my inconvenience. Nothing.

Then it hit me: rage. Blinding rage. How could she not show the tiniest bit of compassion or human feeling? What has happened to empathy? Summoning my most calm-in-the-eye-of-the-storm voice, I called the store and spoke with her. Sensing my anger and frustration, she waived the repair fee. I thought this was appropriate, as no repair was actually made. Still no apology.

I hired another babysitter and drove into Chicago to retrieve my wounded sunglasses. My helpful clerk wasn't there, but a manager was. Her name was Allison, same as mine. I asked Allison 2.0 why my sunglasses couldn't be repaired. She responded that the company no longer makes the teeny tiny screws. She went on to say that they change the design often, so it's really hard to find the parts after six months or so. And because it has been longer than two years, my warranty wasn't valid. But maybe I should check a Sunglass Hut. (Yes, Chanel referred me to the Sunglass Hut.) So, essentially, if your sunglasses break (even while still in their warranty period), they have no way to repair them. And still no apology. No acknowledgment of the inconvenience or how I must have been feeling. Sometimes a thing isn't just a thing. And no one seemed sensitive to that.

So I did something I didn't expect to do: I asked her if she felt right about it. Did she feel right about keeping my sunglasses for two months, trying to charge me $100 for (no) repair, and then sending me to the Sunglass Hut without an apology? She looked surprised and then smiled and said, "Yes. That's our company policy." I asked her again, "So, just to be clear, you think it's perfectly acceptable to charge someone nearly $500 for a pair of sunglasses that you know you won't be able to fix six months down the road? That sounds like a company that doesn't stand by its products. And you're okay with that? You can sleep at night?" "Yes. It's our company policy, so I'm fine with that." I told her that I wasn't fine with that. And that was it. I was done. I took my wounded sunglasses and left, almost certainly never to go back.

I did find a teeny tiny screw, although not at the Sunglass Hut. I found it at a little store in Dallas that repairs glasses. They had one and the elderly man who helped me told me how those teeny tiny screws were particularly obscure and come from one equally tiny manufacturer in Europe. He charged me fifty-four cents. My sunglasses were finally fixed and I wore them again happily for another six months. The saga was over! I felt like I had won a strange victory against indifference (and poor customer service).

Until yesterday.

Yesterday, while trying to wrestle a tantruming child out of the car, my sunglasses started to fall of of my head and I grabbed for them. That's when I heard the "snap!" I opened my hand to find two halves of my only-moments-before whole sunglasses. Sure enough, they snapped like a twig, right in the middle. And it was my fault.

I cried. I actually cried over a pair of sunglasses.

I don't know if it was the tantrum, or the general exhaustion that comes from having a baby, but holding those broken sunglasses in my hand felt like a major defeat. In a state of denial, I tried to use Super Glue (to no avail) and considered wrapping tape around them, à la Harry Potter. And after getting angry all over again (and thinking through what bargaining would look like to get a new pair), I think it's time to accept the loss. We had a good run. We've been through a lot together. Those sunglasses have helped me wrestle children into strollers and hidden puffy eyes walking home from the pediatric occupational therapist's office.

I don't know if I can bring myself to put them in the trash can. I'm more likely to bury them in the backyard. But I will take out the teeny tiny screws first. I might need them again someday. But not for another pair from Chanel.

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