The Other Side Is Only As Fine As IKEA Furniture

November 9, 2009
By , New York, NY
It was hard to find the right tool to pick the lock. The key was in the form of a paperclip. When I went over to her house, I was told there was a key under the doormat. There was no doormat, just another thing the apartment was missing, but there was no way that I was going to return without what she wanted, I would be a fraud.

It was real: the small room, the wood floor, the light blue walls. There was no dust. It looked like someone lived there. With such little space it was only to be expected that there were such few pieces of furniture: a bed, a table, two chairs, a set of drawers – all the same color. All from IKEA, hand built with broken nails and splinters. Mild injuries, comparatively. The small T.V. was on the wall camouflaged with the picture frames of previous, more joyous times. The kitchen was on the other side of the room: a counter, a sink, a stove, a fridge, a freezer, a microwave. Without the microwave and the freezer she would have starved. Frozen food tastes like it’s trying to taste like real food, she said. There were no cookbooks, no special pans, not even a bagel knife, just a couple forks and knifes to stir the partially frozen food while it was still in the microwave or for a friend who sits in the second chair. The Jell-O she has to eat now is ] purple water with a fake grape flavor; maybe it’s the color that’s fake, maybe it’s just that she has a new fake home. It’s only temporary, they tell her. She’s smart; she doesn’t believe it. Only a few books lie on her table. Why live through someone else’s life when you can live your own, she said. The only thing on the bed was the white mattress; she had the sheets with her. Sometimes she liked having them, sometimes not. It was too fake, why try to be real? She said. Then there was The Box. The one thing I could always recognize, the one thing that brought me home. It clung to floor under the wooden table on top of the misplaced doormat, closed. I already knew what was in it but it was like a magnet pulling me across the room; I had to open in. I spilled the random, misplaced, happy, sad, defining, broken shards of her onto the wood floor. I opened the box so swiftly, angrily, that I could already hear the cluck of the baseball and other trinkets hitting the floor followed by the pictures floating like feathers to the surface; but there was no cluck, no gentle floating. The upside-down box was empty. I knew that she hadn’t brought the items with her; they were missing. Like her soul, like her heart, like her hair, like her true self, like her sarcasm, like her sense her of humor, like her twinkle, like her want – her need – for life, the contents of the box were missing: our memories together, our childhood, our defining moments, our laughs our cries, the inners of the box without which we are fine. Fine like what the doctors tells her she’ll be in a few months – if she makes it that far. Fine like the frozen food she loved to eat. Fine like her IKEA furniture. Fine like how I pretend to be when I’m around her. I’m fine like the other children who don’t love; fine like the other children who didn’t grow up with such a tight family; fine like the other children who were box-less. I’m fine like nothing is missing, not the box, not the doormat, not my real sister. I’m fine like she will be later.

I left. I forgot to get her toothbrush. I couldn’t return to the hospital because then I would be a fraud and she wouldn’t be fine because she would have dirty teeth because of all that Jell-O. I had to pick the lock. I went in; I went out. I left the box.

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