Sunday, August 11, 2013

My Red Hook Ikea Love Test

Two years ago, I went to the Red Hook Ikea for the very first time. I took the water taxi, I sat on the upper deck and let the wind mess up my hair while I tried to not to think about my most recent failed romance.  I needed a rug, a nightstand, and a lamp to put on top of the nightstand. After obsessively visiting Ikea's website and telling myself that I should really go out there one of these days, I was finally doing it, I was disembarking from the water taxi and entering Ikea and trying to find my way through its labyrinthine interior. I knew the exact products I wanted. It didn't take me long to find them. I impluse-bought a couple of ice cube trays that made ice in the shape of hearts. 

When I got home, I assembled the nightstand. It was the first time I had ever assembled furniture. I was shocked that I didn't fuck it up and a little sad that there wasn't a boyfriend present to help me in case I did. I put the lamp on top of the nightstand and the rug on the floor beside it. I sat on the rug and and drank white wine from a jar with little heart-shaped ice cubes floating at the surface. I was fine, I knew this, but I felt jealous of all the couples I'd seen in Ikea. I wanted to be like them, I wanted to go to Ikea with somebody I loved and not by myself. Being at Ikea with your boyfriend seemed like heaven. Why couldn't I be in heaven? Why the fuck was I still single when my ex-boyfriend was already on his second girlfriend since we'd broken up? The whole thing made me want to drink even more wine with heart-shaped ice cubes.

Fast forward: it's two years after my first trip to Ikea, and I'm wandering the aisles with my new boyfriend, the first real boyfriend I'd had in 2 1/2 years. It was great, except in my heart I knew it wasn't working, was never going to work, but how could it not work when we were here in Ikea together! Maybe everything will be okay, I told myself, how could everything not be okay? Clearly we are on another level because we are here, we are at Ikea and he is helping me shop for a dresser and he will help me assemble it, right? I lied and lied and lied to myself and when we were in the checkout line I said thank you for coming with me baby, and obviously we were supposed to kiss but he only kissed me because I was offering my lips to him. It should have been obvious, it should have been instinctual, but he was gone, he'd been gone, and I could see it- but again, how could this be when we were in Ikea

I paid and we wheeled the shopping cart into the parking lot. One of the boxes was too heavy for me to lift but he said come on, you're strong, you can lift it. I thought about the time when we were getting out of a cab in front of my house right before Hurricane Sandy and I had all of this shit that I'd bought at Duane Reade so that we wouldn't starve or be without light in case everything got all fucked up. I was struggling to get out of the cab and there were cars waiting behind us honking at me to hurry up and the whole time my boyfriend was just standing there not doing anything. "You know, you could help her!" said one of guys in one of the cars. It was humiliating. Why couldn't my boyfriend take one of my bags? Why couldn't he help me load a box into his car while we were at Ikea? Why couldn't he help me carry it to my apartment building when we finally got there?

"You know," I said, "this is a man's job."

Let me pause here. I'm sorry, but when you are a woman and there is a heavy object that needs lifting and there is a man present, IT IS A MAN'S JOB. Yes, if I REALLY wanted to, I could lug that box up the stairs, but it would take forever, and why should I have to do this when there is a perfectly capable man beside me who can cut the time it takes to do this task in half?  I believe in gender equality, but I also believe that a man should make a woman feel like a woman and a woman should make a man feel like a man. My boyfriend didn't get it and I was too exhausted to try to explain it to him. I was so angry, but I still wanted it to work. I wanted things to change, I wanted him to change, I wanted him to lift, or at least help lift, my fucking heavy Ikea box up the goddamn stairs!

Once the boxes were deposited in my room, we drank a glass of water in the kitchen and then drove back to South Brooklyn. We went to a show our friend was playing and fought on the way home. It made me feel terrible the next day, but the thought of finally having a dresser buoyed my spirits. It had been almost a month since I'd moved into my new apartment and I was still living out of a suitcase. When I  got home, I set to work on assembling the dresser. Since assembling my nightstand two years prior, I'd put together a couch and a bookshelf. The dresser was the most complicated thing I'd attempted, but I was confident that I could do it.

Except I couldn't do it. Something had gone horribly wrong and I couldn't figure out what it was. None of the drawers would close and it was a catastrophe. I pored over the instructions but none of them made any sense. I texted my boyfriend about it and my obvious distress did not faze him. There was no offer to come over the next day to take a look at it, only half-hearted reassurances that I could do it, that everything would be just fine. I knew that I could figure it out, but I didn't want to figure it out on my own, I wanted a partner who would be in the room with me, somebody who was on my team! I ended up drinking too much and crying myself to sleep that night. This is so fucked, I thought. This is so not how it should be.

The next morning I phoned in my outfit (default plaid shirt with jeans and slip-on k-mart shoes) and held a paper towel full of heart-shaped ice over my eyes to make them look less puffy, to make myself look less tired. At work I was completely checked out. I ignored everything I was supposed to be giving a fuck about. Midway through the morning I got a text from my boyfriend. He obviously felt guilty that he'd abandoned me the night before, that he hadn't offered me anything and hadn't provided me with any sort of solace. I asked him if he would please, please, please help me with my dresser and he said of course but then I asked him if he would come over later and he said he was just going to "lay low" that night and that's when I said that's it, I'm sick of this shit, we need to talk and you will meet me in the park after work so that we can talk. I was furious for the rest of the day, and when we broke up that night I felt insane, I felt relieved and devastated and awesome and awful all at the same time. I stopped at The Narrows on my way home to buy myself a fancy comfort cocktail. I wrote in my journal and then left so I could call him one last time to tell him that I loved him. When I hung up I felt like a fool on the corner of Morgan and Harrison, smoking and crying and whatnot. When I'd composed myself as best I could, I got on the train to go home.

At home, there it was: TARVA, i.e. this hulking object in my room that didn't work and that I couldn't fix. I was sad that the life my now-ex-boyfriend and I had shared together was gone, but there was something about that dresser that was infinitely more troubling. My clothes were everywhere. I didn't feel like a person: I felt like a pile. I wished, I wished, I wished that sometimes somebody could just explain things!

A week went by. I was sad. My roommate offered to help me smash the dresser. The idea was enticing, but there was still a part of me that wanted to save it. One day after work I came home and sat on my bed and stared at the dresser. I'd bought it with my own money, and I'd assembled it, however poorly, with my own hands. I realized that I didn't want to give up, that the dresser didn't have to be a monument for my ill-fated relationship if I didn't want it to be. I picked up the directions and stopped caring that I was on my own. I was surprised to find that I figured out where I'd gone wrong relatively quickly: I'd installed the runners on the drawers incorrectly. I was too excited about having figured out the problem to think about any of my unrealized visions of ikea-level domestic bliss.

I took apart the drawers and put them back together again. The speed at which I'd fixed the problem was astounding. One by one, the drawers slid into place exactly as they were supposed to. Holy shit, I'd pulled it off! I'd known that I could do it all along, but it was so difficult to acknowledge that I would have to do it the way I'd done it before, that I was back where I'd started: alone. It wasn't what I had planned, but as I started folding my clothes, I knew it was the right thing. I unearthed shirts that I'd thought I'd lost in the move and socks that were missing their partners. I lovingly folded my sacred, precious vintage dress collection. Everything that was down came up again. I could finally see my floor.

When all of my clothes were finally put away, I fixed myself a celebratory gin and tonic complete with little heart-shaped ice cubes. My room finally looked like my room, and I started to feel a little bit like me again. I drank to the fact that though my relationship didn't survive Ikea, I did.

i did it!