I always sit down to write at my kitchen table. I’m having one of those days where I can’t think of anything to write about, and so I’m just kind of staring straight ahead, past my computer, at the wall. I have this piece of IKEA furniture, it’s a big unit, I don’t even know what to call it really, but it’s like five pieces of wood horizontally by five pieces of wood vertically. So the end result is this standalone piece, with sixteen square shelves. Does that make sense?
It was the first adult piece of furniture that my wife and I bought when we moved in together after college. I felt like such a big shot, such an adult, driving to IKEA, spending over a hundred dollars on something that I don’t even know how to describe, hauling it home, assembling it, figuring out where to put it and what to keep on its shelves.
I used to have this really small two-door Hyundai Accent. My wife used to call it Porky; she came up with this because its short and stout shape reminded her of a little pig. Also she loved how much it drove me nuts to hear that nickname in reference to my car. This IKEA unit, even disassembled, had absolutely no chance of fitting inside of Porky, and only after making the purchase and wheeling it out to the parking lot did we both realize that neither one of us had the foresight to consider how we’d actually get this thing home.
But what were we going to do, return it? Come on, I was an adult now. I’d figure this out. It’s a good thing that IKEA gave out free rope so you could tie everything to your car. I laid the flat boxes on top of Porky, rolled down the windows, and started tying. I don’t know about you, but whenever I need to make a really strong not, I just start improvising. I’ve always found the strongest knots to be the ones where you don’t have any plan at all. You just start looping and pulling and twisting. Any structural integrity defects are cancelled out by the fact that I’ve knotted and reknotted like fifty times. There’s no way that rope is going to come loose unless I cut it.
All the while my wife, my girlfriend at the time, she was like, “I don’t know Rob, we should call my dad. I’m not sure about this at all,” and I was just like, “Be quiet. I don’t need anybody’s help. I’m a man now. I just co-bought a piece of IKEA furniture. I’ll do this myself.” Yeah I was a man. I was cohabitating with my girlfriend. So what if I was too scared to tell my parents that we moved in together? So what if I had them drop me off several blocks away from our apartment in a lame attempt to trick them into believing that we were still maintaining separate residences?
“There we go,” I said out loud, putting the finishing touches on my knot, giving the boxes a couple of pushes to simulate any bumps we might hit on the road, “We’re good.” And then I tried to open the car door, and it wouldn’t open, because I didn’t think about the fact that I had strung the boxes on top of the car, looping through both open windows, effectively tying both of the doors shut.
“That’s OK,” I tried to act all casual, “we just have to climb in through the windows.” And before she had a minute to protest, I picked up my future wife and shoved her through the passenger side window. I can’t believe we made it home without a major incident. Those parking lot simulation bumps weren’t even close to matching the bumps on the road. Every time we made a turn, I had to keep my arm out of the window, providing some support to prevent the boxes from sliding right off. I’m telling you, that rope should have snapped.
We left that apartment after a year, disassembled the furniture, moved into a new apartment, reassembled it, disassembled it again when we left for the Peace Corps, and put it back together in our current residence, where I barely give it any thought as I stare right at it while I’m writing every single day. Most everything else that we own is some sort of a hand-me-down. The couches and bedroom set were given to us by my aunt. The kitchen table is from my parents. The TV stand is from my wife’s cousin, the coffee table we found on the street. But this cubby-hole shelf thing, that’s ours. We bought it. We’ve hung on to it, haven’t lost any of its thousands of screws every time we’ve taken it apart and put it back together.
People knock IKEA furniture. It’s cheap, yeah, but this piece has definitely made up for the couple of hundred bucks we dropped on it six years ago. Right now the bottom shelf serves as a liquor cabinet, the upper shelves are where we store all of our dried kitchen goods. On the top level we have all of our photo books, our wedding album, the now-dried bouquet that my wife carried as she walked down the aisle. It’s such a generic piece of contemporary living, and I rarely if ever consider it as it stands up against the wall. But when I do notice it, when it occasionally pops out of the invisible background of my life, I still get that feeling, those first steps into adulthood. And I can’t imagine my home without it.