by Cassie J. Sneider
Nick’s wobbly entertainment center was one of the first things I noticed when we started dating. I was impressed by his well-curated VHS collection, the adult couch, the living room gallery of thrift store paintings and adult daycare craft sale art. However, the armoire which housed the television and cable box upset me in a way that was beyond logic for most people falling in love: the way it listed to one side and slumped if you leaned against it. The doors that didn’t quite shut all the way. The lazy assembly where I imagined him, six or seven years ago, recently dumped, alone in the apartment and giving up with no one there to encourage him into tightening all the screws.
Maybe I zeroed in on the armoire because I was raised in a home where my parents bought particleboard furniture at a furious pace to distract from murdering each other, or because I had a stepdad who would rather remodel the bathroom for months on end until it was perfect, forcing everyone to shower in the dreaded Second Bathroom, which doubled as a Mold Terrarium and Spider Observatory. Maybe it was because my real dad, rest his soul, restored Ford Pintos, a task that you had to do right the first time, otherwise you would end up selling someone a front row ticket to their own fiery death.
I am lazy in a lot of aspects of my life: I have gone as long as six days without washing my hair so that I don’t have to straighten it, and I occasionally eat over the sink to avoid generating dirty dishes. But when it comes to constructing Ikea furniture, I have the mentality of someone who has recently found religion building a Habitat for Humanity house. For me, it is a duty and an honor to put together an Expedit or a Billy. It is God’s work.
The first time we sat down to watch a movie as a couple, Nick pressed the tape into the VCR, which caused the entertainment center to sway as if the apartment was experiencing a light but forceful wind. It was a sex-ed video that involved a drum circle and an extended dance sequence, and from it, I knew two things: Nick was a keeper, and the entertainment center would be the first thing to go if I ever moved in.
The apartment had seen five years of bachelor freedom with male roommates who probably did not notice the three enormous ziplock bags of hotel soaps under the sink. For the previous ten years, Nick had lived there with his ex-girlfriend, whose amateur pottery still filled the kitchen cabinets. Pottery has always struck me as the sort of hobby you take up when you have a near-death experience and stop caring about your physical body, wearing flip-flops to the natural food store with a visible fungus thickening your toenails. I pulled out a yellow dinner plate decorated with a cartoon moose and finally learned her name- this other woman who broke my boyfriend’s heart. MISSY was written in red capital letters on the dish, and maybe I was prejudiced against that too: it was the name of a distant relative I remembered from family parties, ingrained in my mind for the rest of my life as a four year-old almost as tall as a grown man, shrieking nonsense words and grabbing birthday cake from strangers’ plates with her bare hands. That’s what I imagine Nick’s Missy to be like, a gargantuan adult woman loping around the apartment, bagging up all the trial-sized shampoos, non-verbal and eating with her hands. Missy still lived in the nooks and crannies of the apartment: forgotten photos in a milk crate, a gift certificate in a junk drawer, a recipe on an index card. Mostly there was a lot of pottery, shades of brown, umber, and mustard. When we decided to live together, I started to exorcise all of the Missy that was still around. Slowly, her pottery made its way to the free box in the laundry room of our building and in one final swoop, I donated all of the turd-colored vases and ornamental bowls from my boyfriend’s old life.
Objects have whatever meaning we assign to them. I have photos of my exes, but not many things that remind me of them specifically. I burned some sage at the end of my last relationship, pawned jewelry after the one before that. There are garbage bags of ex-boyfriendy t-shirts at Goodwills across the country, scattered memories for strangers to make their own at a 50% discount if you go on the right day. Dave sent me an email when he got an Ebay notification that I sold the last rites kit he got me for Christmas 2005. I reminded him that he still has my soul in a jar, which I accidentally left at his apartment almost ten years ago, a dumb move if you believe in that sort of thing. I ran into him a few months back and he told me it lived in his desk at work because he was getting married. That night, I had a nightmare where his new wife dropped it off the roof of their building and I woke up in a sweat.
There is always a life that came before you. The house looked different then, and they called each other strange pet names over the sound of a different TV playing a show you’d never watch. It was tense when it ended, and feelings hung around until they dissipated like bad incense. My disdain for this person I have never met is in the hurt she caused the one I love, and I wouldn’t blame Dave’s new wife for chucking my soul into the ocean. I broke up with him on his birthday, something you’d only do if your soul was left behind in a closet.
When my last relationship ended, I carried my bed down four flights of stairs and out to the rental van parked in front of a hydrant. I did this piece by piece, praying no one would ticket me or break the windows on the U-Haul while I was struggling with the eight-foot long burgundy velvet boards. Unattended children stopped throwing a tennis ball. My neighbors opened their doors a crack to see what the ruckus was: just a thirty year-old woman single-handedly carrying a 70s waterbed frame down from a fourth-floor walk-up. Probably an unusual sight, or at least an episode of Rescue: 911! waiting to happen, but I was desensitized to this bed, and to carting it all over the country, and to horrific break-ups requiring me to drag it unreasonable distances to illegally parked vehicles.
I blew the hair out of my face and tried to remember to lift from the knees. Since I first read the Craigslist ad advertising FREE CARPETED BED WITH 8-TRACK PLAYER & LIGHTS BUILT INTO IT, I had treated this piece of furniture with the care, dignity, and respect I felt any long-term relationship deserved. When the 8-track player broke, I replaced it with a working model. When the lights stopped turning on, I gutted them for new ones. I taught myself the ins and outs of electrical rewiring, audio power supplies, and how to avoid accidental electrocution, all because I loved this bed. I learned that plywood cannot withstand sudden flooding, that velvet is the most luxurious thing a roommate’s cat can dig its claws into, and that a dremel tool is best for small refinishing projects. I was chosen to be the keeper of this bed, like an ancient nomad with a velvet-swaddled totem, only bulkier and less convenient to slog around when a living situation goes horribly south.
As I was maneuvering downstairs, I stubbed a corner into the soft drywall, crunching my hand while a puff of chalky dust feathered out of the hole. I yelped, sucking my fingertip and cursing the failed relationship that had brought me to that moment. But then a wave of calm washed over me. I had what friends in AA called a moment of clarity and one thought filled my head with dramatic reverb: I was more committed to this bed than any boyfriend I had ever had.
“I want to be buried with you,” I whispered, hoisting the footboard into the open van doors and trying not to kill myself. “I love you, and I want to be with you forever.”
“I’m all for nostalgia, but can we get rid of this thing?”
The power supply had just fallen out of the headboard, ripping the wiring clean apart. The pressboard frame had disintegrated in the back of the car, leaving sawdust where the seats were folded down, like the droppings of a frightened animal.
“No,” I said, firmly.
Nick rested the frame on the bannister and we both took a breather on the second floor landing. “I really don’t want to get rid of the box spring to accommodate a bed that’s falling apart.”
This bed was my twenties, my poverty, my good Craigslist chi. “This bed is a part of me, Nick. You don’t understand.”
We got it up the stairs and into the bedroom. I poured two glasses of water and we drank them standing up in the kitchen. I tried not to sound too eager when I said, “Want to do the armoire next?”
“I guess,” Nick said.
There was a long pause, filled in by the emotional and physical exhaustion of moving.
“If you hate the bed after trying it, I would maybe consider a different bed.” Compromise sounded foreign coming out of my mouth, like something else took over my body for a second, the way I imagine it must feel to speak in tongues for the first time.
In the living room, we assessed the rat’s nest of cables behind the armoire and dusted the shelves with a sock. I suggested taking it apart to bring it down the stairs, because it didn’t seem like it would survive the trip to the trash room. Nick shot down the idea and said it would hold up. We almost made it to the third floor landing before the top ripped off in my hands. There was a label stapled to the pressboard: MALKOR.
“It sounds like the Norse God of Lazily Assembled Furniture.”
Nick tried to get a firmer grip on the bottom. “Can we just get this downstairs without you making fun of me?”
“I can’t make any promises.” The shelves fell out and one of the doors fell off and it was like a small-scale version of the house at the end of Poltergeist. By the time we got to the trash room, there was barely a frame. We left it next to some garbage bags in the basement hallway that always smells like feet and leftover Chinese food and climbed the stairway back to the apartment, where I poured us both water again, plotting my next cleaning move.
“Oh my god,” I said, staring across the courtyard into the kitchen of one of my new neighbors. On the windowsill was a baby-shit yellow cookie jar looking right back at me, the very same cookie jar I had left in the trash room four weeks ago in a pile of other brown misshapen bowls and vases. It felt like the end of a Friday the 13th movie, when you think Jason is dead but then his eyes flutter open. “Nick, look.”
We both stood in the kitchen, craning our necks across the way to the second floor apartment that had unwittingly become The Keepers of Nick’s Old Life. We stared at the ugly cookie jar, and I wondered if it held gambling money or cat treats in its New Life, versus its Old Life hidden in the cabinet nobody ever uses above the refrigerator, where it contained a cluster of dead batteries that were fused together with blue-green crust.
Nick made a few thoughtful noises, took a sip of water, and then got out the vacuum to put the living room back together. I thought about the possibility of giving up on my bed, our years together a romantic comedy where things don’t quite work out in the end. In this movie, my bed is played by Paul Rudd, who is dragged to the curb, kicking and screaming by the building super on trash day. I looked at my boyfriend in our living room which had seen so many New Lives, using the Dyson I brought into our relationship to suck up a clump of dust and a twist-tie from his Old Life. Then I moved his TV to its new spot over my records, dusting and organizing, and mixing a few of his records in with mine, just to make breaking up the last thing either of us would ever want to do.
Cassie J Sneider is the author of Fine, Fine Music. She writes and draws cartoons for the Rumpus. She is a karaoke jockey and a pug mom in Brooklyn. For friendship, fulfillment, and that loving feeling you’ve been longing for, write to the Cassie J Sneider Fanclub International, PO Box 2333, Lake Ronkonkoma, NY 11779
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