last week, i spent an evening wandering around the enormously overwhelming aisles of ikea all by my lonesome. i had biked over from manhattan with a singular goal in mind: i needed to order my kitchen sink and my range hood, both of which, the ikea website told me, were “likely to be in stock” when i arrived.
i had assumed that going to the swedish superstore on a weeknight would cut down on crowds, but i hadn’t expected it to be practically empty. ikea red hook is housed in what is effectively an enormous warehouse; take out the people, and it begins to take on a solemn, echoing feel.
by the time i docked my bike across the street from US fried chicken (an eerie looking joint alongside the red hook NYCHA housing project), it had started to rain, a light sprinkle, glistening in the streetlights above. i picked up my pace, partially because i was the only one walking the quiet streets, partially because i worried it would soon start to pour. i felt, just for a moment, scarily, freakily alone. i plugged my headphones into my phone and called my parents. they were at home, starting to eat dinner. i pictured them bustling around the kitchen, warm with yellow light. there’d be a freshly made salad sitting in the middle of their table, and one mom would be yelling at the other to grab the ken’s caesar lite out of the fridge. the news would be on in the background, or perhaps, an episode of madame secretary.
“i’m on my way to ikea,” i said.
“it’s raining,” i said in response.
“how did you get there!?”
“i biked, but i had to dock right next to the projects, and now i’m walking alone on a deserted street, so i thought i’d call.”
good mothers that they are, they stayed on the phone with me until i was safely ensconced in the bright yellow and blue womb that is every ikea store in the world (points for consistency, ikea).
as soon as i disconnected the call, i was, again, alone. and much to my surprise, ikea was almost empty. the emptiest i’d ever seen it, certainly. a lone couple sat at the restaurant, sharing a plate of swedish meatballs, heads hunched together, talking quietly.
a woman rode the escalator ahead of me, her husband bringing up the rear, his hand intertwined in hers.
as i entered the showroom, i did what i always do at ikea: i wandered into the faux homes, trying to imagine myself living in them. could i do it, live in a 420 square foot studio? if it was designed by ikea, perhaps.
i opened the kitchen cabinets, peered inside, exited. a few paces ahead of me, two children skidded into the aisle, nearly knocking into me.
“ten cuidado,” their father scolded, “la señora!”
he shook his head, “lo siento.”
it was fine, i told him. here i was, alone in ikea on a wednesday night, in no particular rush.
i arrived at the kitchen area, and snapped some shots of my soon to be sink in situ. flagging down a sales person, i inquired as to the process of bringing one home with me.
“well, you have a few options,” she began. “if you want to carry it out with you–are you alone?–you can do that, or you can have it delivered.”
there it was again, that reminder, ever so quiet, yet ever so powerful, that i was, indeed, alone. that i was…that i am, doing this entire thing alone.
“it’s just me,” i laughed, nervously. “i don’t think i could get it out of here on my own. it looks heavy!”
“okay, then, delivery it is. just write down the three numbers, and bring it to the home delivery desk downstairs. they’ll take care of everything for you.”
with that, she was gone. a transaction with zero fanfare. a big moment for me (I AM BUYING A KITCHEN SINK FOR AN APARTMENT IN NEW YORK CITY THAT I OWN), just another hour at work for her.
i looked at my sink, price tag and bin number dangling in front of me. beside me, a couple contemplated a faucet.
just for a minute, i let myself imagine what it would be like to be the couple next to me, to be one half of a full unit. to not be alone in ikea on a wednesday night, stupidly feeling like i have to explain myself to a salesgirl who could care less about why i can’t tote the sink home on my own.
i let myself think about how it would feel to turn to my partner and say, “what do you think? can we lift it? that would fit in the backseat of a cab, don’t you think?”
i gave myself a moment. i gave myself one shuddering breath and a few tears dotting the corners of my eyes, and then i moved on.
i pulled my shoulders back, i took my chin from the ground to the sky, i took a deep breath, and i took myself downstairs to the delivery department, where i gave a nice woman with fabulously glittery fingernails my information, and scheduled my delivery for wednesday the 6th of october.
and then i treated myself to a $30 car service across the manhattan bridge, and i rolled down the window, despite the rain. as we inched across the iron behemoth, i stared out at the city–my city, of which i now own a piece–and i told myself, over and over, that being alone in ikea wasn’t the worst of things, not really, not even a little bit, not at all.