some assembly required

Do we build our lives moment by moment? 

I have nearly finished arranging the wall above our chairs in the living room. A large framed poster, a small piece of art from a craft fair, two photo grids with miniature clothes pins, a star-chart, a macramé hanging. One framed picture card left to hang. A few photographs left to clip up to the photo grid. Not complete, but close. 

I’ve collected the things over a long time. It took even longer to realize I wanted a gallery wall like this. I’ve never fallen in love with the gallery walls Pinterest has to offer when I search for them. But somehow the homemade macramé, year-old star chart, framed poster from an Airbnb, photo-grids that are just gold-colored cooling racks from a kitchen, and craft fair art from ten years ago all belong together. A motley crowd, joined by the fact that I admire them, and some occasional overlapping colors. 

In so many ways we’re moving into this new home the way I’ve collected art for our wall. Piece by piece, bit by bit. We settle one thing here and then there until we find where it belongs, where we love it. Should the clock stay in the kitchen, or do we hang the spice rack there next to the fridge and move the clock to the dining room, pop of color between two windows? I pushed the huge, wheeled coffee table back and forth across the room three times in one day while Erik napped. I stopped when I was too tired to remember my own opinion about where it should go, and too tired to push it anymore. We grew to rather like it where it is though, and I haven’t had to sacrifice anymore of Erik’s nap times to shuffle it around. Good thing too, as there’s a box with bathroom cabinet supplies waiting out in the garage and I still don’t know where my mixing bowls are.

Sometimes I feel as if all of life were scattered piecemeal around like this, waiting to be unpacked and admired, or not, depending on our own choices and actions. The choose-your-own adventure novel happening right here when I decide to move the clock and leave the writing desk; who knows what lives will begin or end on those decisions? 

The most wonderful moments of our lives are tucked in, just waiting to be noticed and gathered up over years. A picture, a feeling, a kiss. They’re as real as the photos clipped to the gold kitchen cooling racks and as intangible as the seconds stepping steadily by in the clock. You’ve got to keep your eyes open. 

At this moment in these years, I think my eyes are open. I call Erik sweet baby boy child and I feel his smile alter the thrumming of my heart when I do. I stand on the first step to kiss Grant and some days my heart stops altogether, just for a second; just to hold that soft moment out of time, where it belongs. 

Every morning the waving arms of the trees trace their arcs across the floor. Every evening the faint luminescence of the moon ignites the snow in cool sparks and glows subtly through the white curtains. Every week I get a text from Johanna and I send one and we slowly plan around our baby boys’ naps to spend time together, sipping hot coffee or pushing strollers on long walks. The trickle of friendship seems to color all of my days by the buzzing of texts on my phone and the dates we keep for thrift shopping, eating gyros, stumbling into Toddler Time at the library only a few minutes late. 

In our last home the walls were plaster, no hanging of picture frames allowed without the express permission and assistance of the landlord. I resorted to the use of command strips. I didn’t want his help with my interior decorating. It felt odd and intrusive. The small blue picture-card in its glass frame wasn’t sticking with the command strips I’d stuck to the back of it, so I carefully unscrewed the small bracket for hanging and saved it in my toolbox. The frame was flat enough against the wall then; the command strips were still on it when I unpacked the first box of our décor in the cottage. 

It was just a guess that the hanging bracket would be in the toolbox, in the capsule of nails and tacks I kept there, but they were. I took them out, found the Philips screwdriver with the right sized head. I’m not new to a toolbox but I’m still a bit timid around it. And there I was anyway, getting a picture ready to hang on the gallery wall I’d designed. Piece by piece, year by year, beautiful things have come and stayed. Friendships, photographs, clocks, coffee tables, coffee dates, a family. 

Ikea furniture comes with the prior knowledge that some assembly is required. You can walk through the maze of assembled showrooms and show-homes with a belly-full of Swedish meatballs from their café, but when you pick that furniture out of the warehouse and put in on your unwieldy cart, you’ve got a box full of pieces, an instruction manual with no words, and one extra wooden peg for good measure. Assembly, styling, use, appreciation; all are up to you now. Nobody’s going to come and hang the mirror on the floor-to-ceiling cabinet that holds your newly inspired minimalist wardrobe and bookshelf both. You’ll never sit in the chair if you don’t start twisting in the screws, pounding in the pegs, attaching the legs. 

Life is a lot like that, I think. You can get all the good things in the world and you’ll never see them if you don’t look. You’ve got to put together the pieces. 

I don’t think life is easy. There are months when grief drives through you like the twisted sharp steel of a train wreck. You feel the sharpness in your throat and the throbbing in your mind and the heaviness in your feet. Yes, those days come and sometimes they come to stay for a while. 

But when they go again? When the sun traces tree-shadows on the floors like moving laughter, when the kiss is long and slow, the evening hands you a cup of wine, the morning brings a smiling toddler in footy pajamas sliding down the stairs on his tummy – we’d be fools not to laugh along.

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