Amazon turns 20 today, which means it’s nearly the same age I was when I graduated college, moved across the country, and started living alone. The world has changed, and Amazon has its own transition period to undergo. But if it’s anything like me, it can manage these growing pains easily—with an overflowing digital shopping cart.
I first started using Amazon when I was 22, in 2003. I don’t have many specific memories from this awkward transition into adulthood; in a pre-Facebook world, it was much easier to forget life’s little moments, especially the painful ones I had no interest in remembering.
But just because I avoided growing up on Facebook doesn’t mean the internet doesn’t know my life story. In fact, it knows a far more complete, honest, and painful narrative than I’d like to admit. Because no matter how hard we work to present a curated version of our lives, there is always someone who knows our pubic hair is gray, that we haven’t taken a satisfying shit in weeks, and that we’re afraid of dying alone. And that someone, for many of us, is Amazon.com.
Our Amazon order histories are not versions of ourselves we share often, but they offer a rare glimpse into our gloriously messy and occasionally embarrassing life stories. In these orders, it’s easy to track life’s twists and turns: presents sent to names long deleted from our phones, boxes shipped to houses we’ll never see again, books sent to friends who have since passed away. A glance at all our purchases—every single one—tells a far more compelling story than any Facebook feed ever could.
This is mine.
2003: “How to Survive Your Boyfriend’s Divorce”
According to my account, the first Amazon purchase I made on was on February 11:
I was 22 years old at the time. I moved in with him the next year.
2004: “PROBLEMS AND PROMISES”
On December 6, after shacking up with the divorcee of my dreams, I placed an order for this book:
I have no recollection of buying it.
2005: “Cat Vs. Cat”
In 2005, I did what all young graduate students with live-in divorced boyfriends do: I got my own cat because his cat was stupid because it once belonged to his ex-wife. How did this go? Amazon tells me that on November 12, I ordered:
My memories of this year are fuzzy, but I do remember feeling incredibly unhappy. According to my purchase history, I managed that unhappiness by escaping my academic-minded divorced boyfriend and our constantly fighting cats by binge-watching television. That meant purchasing expensive DVDs with money I did not have. On November 14, I placed an order for:
(I paid a total of $78.23 for these two sets back then. Now, their going rate in DVD form is a combined $30.46.)
2006: Year of the Gilmore Girls
In early 2006, I knew the relationship had to end. I felt like a fucking failure. I’d invested nearly four years in the wrong guy; I was gaining weight; he told me he was saving money for a ring, but then he bought a new computer. And the cats were still killing each other. I don’t think he loved me; I don’t know if I loved him; but I did love the Gilmore Girls. I still do. I paid $59.94 for seasons three and four on January 22:
In July, I asked him to move out. I don’t remember him leaving, but I do remember sitting alone in an empty apartment wondering what the fuck I’d done. Mostly because previously married men tend to have really nice furniture and he’d taken it all with him.
I decided to move on with my life around August 2:
I only paid $15.49. Totally worth it.
2007: “YOU: The Owner’s Manual”
This was the year I decided to get my shit together. From January 10:
Clearly I needed help because in the same order:
Me, I owned it. And I only paid $13.92 that time.
2008: Lucid Dreams
According to Amazon 2008, I was fun as hell. From one order, placed on May 21:
and, wait for it...
Because sometimes, nothing beats the original.
In reality, 2008 was a pretty shitty year. I was planning a cross-country move to a city where I knew no one, the man I loved just couldn’t love me back, and I remember feeling so heartbroken that I flew home to my parent’s house and cried on the stairs, begging them—and begging the world—to grant me some peace. Later that afternoon, I got a phone call that my car had been stolen. I ran out of money shortly thereafter.
2009: Magic Wand
But the new year started with a bang. January 19:
I was 28; I had a cool new apartment in a cool new city with a cool new job; and I’d made the only purchase a single girl ever needs.
Later that summer, I bought a 36-pack of tangerine Emergen-C, but there’s no link because Emergen-C only comes in 30-packs now. This point is not important to my story, except to say: Those stingy motherfuckers.
2010: “The Case for Settling”
In 2010, I placed 30 orders on Amazon. It sounds excessive, but this was the year I gave up on real stores and began shopping online full-time, especially when it came to cat-related products. This was also the year I became an Amazon Prime member so the increase in purchases makes sense.
Mostly they’re birthday presents for my niece and nephew, and Christmas presents for my mom and dad. There’s also this, which hints at a very bleak July:
He was a good man, but I did not marry him. Instead, I bought him this in August:
Mr. Good Enough still has every reason to hate me.
2011: Blue Lights, Blue Nights
I’ve had better years.
2012: Deep Water Bath
Such as this one. I thankfully found out I was not pregnant in January:
I discovered the greatest invention for all bath-takers forced to bathe in shallow tubs:
I bought a bulk order of scalpels, for reasons I honestly cannot remember:
I ordered these in a size B, which means I’d lost weight:
I was in a healthy headspace:
What can I say?
2013: How the Duggars Make It Work
By this year, I was happily settled in an amazing relationship. It seems—as much as I hate to validate the idiots who told me so—the love I’d been waiting for finally showed up when I stopped looking. And when that happened, Amazon life got a little more boring. A cart that was once about me, for me, maybe even was me, became about others: presents for him, presents for my family, presents for his family.
And reading for work:
Lesson to all bloggers: when you stumble on a Duggar tip in 2013 about Josh Duggar being accused of child molestation, and then you spend a month reading everything you can about the family, you should probably not quit this investigation when you hit some walls. Fuck, fuck, fuck.
This was the year my friends had babies the way I order medical scalpels—in bulk—and I spent a lot of time shopping registries filled with items I didn’t understand:
I also read a blog post about these hair removers being popular in Europe, so I bought one and it was the worst thing in the world. At that moment, I realized I’d rather have hair all over my body than submit myself to this kind of pain again in the name of vanity:
And I don’t know if it was life, or working from home, or happiness, or just getting older, but one day, I felt I needed to order this:
The scale worked great, but the numbers didn’t move down quite as fast they used to. I guess bodies slowing down is part of aging’s normal, painfully demeaning process, but I was surprised and embarrassed when it began happening to me. I tried to ignore it when I ordered these before a weekend trip to Vegas with girlfriends:
You can make your Vegas trips look fun and carefree on Facebook. But Amazon knows how it really goes.
2015: Bulk Litter
I thought about adding up how much all this shit has cost, how much money I’ve spent in 346 Amazon orders, but I don’t want to know. It’s a little too much to know I could probably, on top of the physical and emotional toll, quantify the financial cost of trying to grow up, to feel happy, to feel love.
Plus, nothing ever really changes. On June 21, I ordered not one, not two, but three bags of the following:
I know we all have these complicated order histories—these painful moments and memories we tried to mitigate with anonymously delivered store-bought goods. But we should tell these stories, because somewhere between the vaginal creams and self-help books, is an important set of lessons: Life is hard, growing up is work, and buying things can’t solve your problems.
But a Pocket Rocket—or four—can help.
Purchases: 19 (so far)
[image by Jim Cooke]