It’s not a metaphor. I mean — really?
I used to joke that my tombstone would say, “She died moving furniture by herself.” Not anymore.
Sometimes, when I am — say — crouched on the landing of my stairwell, with a solid teak, mid-century, nine-drawer dresser resting on my back, strategizing just exactly how I will negotiate my way around a 90-degree angle and down an additional 11 stairs without breaking (a) the dresser, (b) the stairs, or (c) my neck, it occurs to me that perhaps I should have asked for help.
I move a lot of furniture lately. What began pre-pandemic as a mild interest in mid-century modern pieces blossomed during lockdown into a full-blown obsession. Other people nurtured sourdough starters — I scouted Facebook marketplace and Kijiji for Mobican bedframes and desks, Poul Cadovius modular wall units, Kai Kristiansen cabinets, RS Associates Martini coffee tables, R. Huber Scoop chairs, all the teak and walnut and rosewood tables and hutches and dining chairs, with their elegant curves and woodgrain flickering like flames. I would spot an item, make a deal, and drive to collect my prize, hoping and praying that it would fit into the back of my crossover hatchback/minivan, purchased when the kids were little because of its flexibility, retained now that they are teenagers because of its capacity to transport a Malm firepit. I lost hours to refinishing furniture, stripping and scrubbing down and sanding, marveling at how a coat of tung oil on a newly smooth surface made the wood come alive.
When my house became too full to comfortably fit more furniture, I began to sell the pieces I had acquired and refinished, playing a life-size game of furniture Tetris as I shuffled desks and credenzas, armchairs and highboys, around the house. When they were around, I enlisted the grudging help of my teenage sons (“I’m calling this your midlife crisis,” the older one told me) to help; once I accosted an innocent man out for a walk on the street to help me lift a so-called “gentleman’s dresser” from the driveway up to a second-floor bedroom. (We wore masks.)
But, if the kids are at the other house, and there are no well-meaning-if-confused strangers handy, I can get impatient. It’s hard, you know, to know that there’s a 200-pound, glass-topped rosewood coffee table just sitting in your car that you could in theory be stripping and sanding in your backyard right now — if only you could find some way to move it.
This is what happens when you live alone.
I don’t live alone, exactly. I share custody of my kids with my ex-wife, which means that I live alone every other week. It’s an arrangement unsurprisingly conducive to my new furniture hobby/obsession: every other week (and sometimes more often) I get to rearrange the space, co-opt the deck and dining room into makeshift workshops, run an orbital sander for hours on end in the backyard, mess around with stains and varnish and other foul-smelling chemicals, and generally create levels of chaos that no live-in spouse or partner — myself included — would find acceptable or tolerable. I mean, frankly, I wouldn’t want to live with me in a woodworking shop either. (“Maybe you could leave the dining table or the island clear so I could eat somewhere?” my 14-year-old asked a couple of weeks ago. I conceded his point.)
The upside, of course, is that I get 100% control over all home décor decisions. I get to buy (and sell) the pieces I want without having to consult with anyone else. And I get to revel in and geek out about my finds as much as I want to.
It’s an arrangement that’s also proving to be a good bellwether for my romantic relationships. When the perfectly lovely woman I was dating a couple of summers ago called things off because she realized that she needed to engage fully and solely in the process of, well, processing, the end of her 20-year relationship, I barely batted an eye. Well, that seems reasonable, I thought — but really, I was too busy frantically repeat-texting the seller of a rare Jansen Spelje mirror about whether the person ahead of me had actually shown up to collect it to be all that disappointed. (I got the mirror. It looks great.) My new girlfriend — whose basement-level sewing room is a wild and stunning sea of fabric, bins of which are stored strategically all over her house, along with All The Yarn — thinks the chaos is sexy, likely in large part because she knows she’s just visiting. For my part, I am at least as excited to see her as I am about any mirror.
But still, there’s the problem of moving the stuff. I’m strong, and I’m stubborn, but all the strength and bull-headedness in the world doesn’t negate the fact that sometimes, it takes two people to move a large, heavy piece of furniture up and down flights of stairs. And that, sometimes, I am only one person.
This is where living alone can be a liability. This is where, when I have pinned myself under a highboy on a stairway landing, I can start to reconsider some of my life choices, begin to wonder if maybe being married had been all that bad, begin feeling sorry for myself for my lack of a live-in partner, to wonder what personal deficiencies or bad behaviour in a previous life led me to this precise situation.
I mean, all that is BS, of course. My ex and I make much better coparents than partners. I love living alone half-time, the way that it allows me space to breathe, recharge, get a break from nagging a teenager about the endless trail of socks and teacups and jackets in his wake. I know that plenty of so-called “intact” marriages and partnerships are miserable. And I know that — especially during the pandemic — plenty of people would kill for some time alone in their own homes.
It’s just that it would be nice, sometimes, to have somebody around to help me lift heavy things.
And then I spoke those words aloud to my friend Ashleigh, who is also separated and who also revels in being the only adult in her new home, where she gleefully paints and draws and renovates exactly how and when she wants to. And who also, occasionally, feels that twinge when it’s time to hang the outside Christmas lights and there’s no one around to hold the ladder.
“Let’s make a pact,” she said, in a flash of brilliance: “If you need to move a piece of furniture, any time, you have to promise to text me. And I promise that I will come and help you if I can, as soon as I can. And vice versa.”
Reader, when she said that? I was going to write that it was like a burden had been lifted off my shoulders, but really: it was an actual burden, lifted off my shoulders. More than once now, I have texted Ashleigh, and she has come over within the hour, and together we have safely and cheerfully moved large items of furniture around my house, no harm, no foul. I no longer fear dying by armoire. I haven’t yet had a chance to help her hang Christmas lights, but I’m looking forward to it.
So, no: I don’t need live-in partner. What I do very much need (and have) is a network of smart, generous and creative friends who show up, literally and figuratively, to both nurture and save me from my passions — and who will then leave me happily alone to indulge in them.