In the winter of 2015, I was going through a hard time. Sometimes, these are the moments when I feel the most intense urge–more than is usual for me, anyway–to create a change in my physical environment. Moods lead to images, colors, and ideas for newness; in a way, it leads to a renewed focus on who I am, translated into some sort of visual. I consider this my way of processing the good and the bad, and I’m glad to have this inclination, even when it’s sometimes disrupted the people I live with. (A furniture-painting project splayed out on the bedroom floor brings me immeasurable joy, but maybe not as much for everyone who has to hurdle over it for a week.)
That winter four years ago, I suddenly felt the need for a bit of magic to brighten up what otherwise felt bleak. Turns out, what I needed back then was a bureau. Hear me out. Bureau, dresser, whatever you call it–whether you merge your life with others or not, this piece of furniture that holds your most intimate things can become a little shrine to your most essential self. I bet a lot of you feel that way about your own bureaus, at least once in a while, like when you’re cleaning its top. It’s a surface just for you. You put there your perfume or cologne, or a box of jewelry or special tiny things. Maybe evergreen to invoke a walk in a snowy forest, or flowers to make you dream of a lazy day in a meadow somewhere, even if you never end up in either fantasy. Sometimes, there’s a candle sitting there with matches nearby for when you find an elusive moment to rest in bed awake. A bureau can be an ode to you, a love song calling only your name, singing about the you before and beyond age, babies, heartbreak, spouses, and the grind.
If you follow me on Instagram, then you already know my story. I’d been reading for years one of my most favorite blogs (which, if you don’t follow yet, you should!). I admire a lot of what Erin does, and this time, it was the connection I felt to her bureau that got me thinking. When I was young, I had a bureau just like it. I even moved it to Brooklyn to my first apartment out of college. It later traveled with me up and down Manhattan for the rest of my time in the city.
My bureau’s sad fate, though, which came on a summer day during my last stretch living in New York, was to sit, waiting on a curb like a dog for its owner who maybe would never come back out of the store. Somewhere towards the end, I’d lost sight of its magic, got sick of it, and rejected it. I remember seeing it, after I’d put it out there a few hours earlier, in the landscape of my building’s trash-day mountain, when I was heading out to spend my summer afternoon doing whatever a twenty-six year-old does in New York with a day like that. I remember I turned my head quickly because I knew it would be gone by the time I came back home in the balmy dark.
At the time, I’d felt the urge for something new. I replaced it with a long, particleboard dresser that didn’t creak or stick, and I didn’t miss it until I saw Erin’s and remembered my old beauty, and the old memories it had held in its insides. My mom had found it at a local used furniture store. She’d got it just for me, replaced the pulls with brass ones she picked herself.
In that bleak February a few years back, the Craigslist gods delivered to my tapping fingertips a listing for an old beauty that was 95 bucks, pretty beat up, with terrible pictures, waiting on its own kind of curb one state over. On a Saturday, I hopped in my car solo and drove a few hours south. I found where it waited–a tiny ramshackle antique shop that looked more like a greenhouse housing a hoarder who was into curiosities–in the middle of a country intersection. And there it was, eager, but resigned to sit waiting if it had to. It didn’t. A few careful maneuvers to get it into the car later, and we were on our way home. I remember smiling at it in the rearview mirror. I remember stopping on the side of the road by a wintered-over field at dusk and snapping a photo of the dimming, inky clouds.
Once home, I gave it what love I could, but couldn’t quite finish it. Not for a long time. There was a lot of work to be done on so many parts of life. Slowly, over the course of three and a half years, I patched up this and that, along with everything else that needed tending to.
The song ends this way: in the summer last year, moods of anticipation gave way to moods of celebration because a new being was coming into the house, and so I painted my bureau a very dark green, the color of leaves. I adorn it however I feel, and these days, that usually means laundry and empty water glasses, no less a sign of life than anything else.