Dear Long Lost Ex-Høsbånd,
I find myself today at IKEA. There are many options out there for low-cost home goods, but somehow I always end up here.
Something to do with the meatballs.
Hey — remember the home we used to share? The centrally-located 2.5 room Altbau where you continue to live, but without any trace of me?
I used to love that 70 square meters of sanctuary, where we could revel in each other’s easy company, nurse hangovers, walk around without pants. Like many urban homes, it was tastefully furnished by none other than IKEA … and most of those items are still sold here to this day.
This means that any friendly neighbourhood IKEA on earth can still serve as a glorious, admission-free museum for the artifacts of our broken dreams. Here, I can browse the smouldering ruins of our life together while stocking up on tiny pencils and cinnamon-scented candles.
It’s a bit of a mind-fuck, frankly.
The fully formed fake apartments here are laughing at me. I feel like they let me down. They promised our wildest domestic dreams could come true if we only emulated them carefully enough.
They sing siren songs, rousing renditions of “Nothing bad can ever happen in these four walls if you just buy the matching set!”.
Here is the one we so carefully imitated in our own living room — moody moss-hued walls, brassy gold photo frames, shimmering beetles pinned to corkboards and stuffed pheasants in bell jars. Wanted to make our home look like that of a 19th-century botanist.
In these perfect rooms, sure there can be no whispers of divorce, no declarations of infidelity, no desperate crying fits. So where did we go wrong? How could it all have fallen apart in this perfect, Swedish-designed room?
I want to speak to the manager!
The emotional weight of all this crap is far greater than the sum of its parts.
Take for instance this snazzy black RASKOG serving wagon. 3-tiers, 4 wheels, 39.99. They knocked the price down — it definitely cost more a few years ago.
But it’s not just a wagon. We used it to store board games in our living room — your idea.
Last time I visited your flat, I furtively poked through our games selection in this cart. I saw the scorecards of our endless, giggling rounds of Triominoes had been ripped out; mysterious new initials on the fresh pages beneath.
Who is J?
Is that your new lover? Did she let you win the way I always did?
Hey! We used to have this exact same stand-up mirror. NISSEDAL. 29.99. We cleverly arranged it at the edge of the bed so we could watch ourselves fuck.
Our familiar young bodies intertwined, our skin tones a pale perfect match.
Whose reflection has appeared before this mirror since you told me I couldn’t come back? Does she like to watch too? Does it ever surprise you to see another woman’s face on this new body you hold close?
This rocking chair, POÄNG, black. You love rocking chairs, always wanted one. I promised you I’d get you a rocking chair as a the very first item in our new home. Money was tight so I had to buy you the base model. This one.
We had planned to rock our babies to sleep in this very chair. We placed it in the bedroom. Perhaps one day you will still rock a crying baby in it, 3AM on a summer night, barefoot.
It will be your baby, but I guess it won’t be mine.
I hope you remember in that moment where this rocking chair came from, how deeply the giver had loved you. How effortlessly you forgot her.
Here is our MALM dresser, this god-forsaken MALM dresser…. white, 4 drawers, €89.99. The one you have predates me, and looks like it has outlasted me. We used to house our underwear here, my drawer was the 2nd from the bottom.
On the day that you told me it was over, I laid my wedding ring on top, my copy of the house key, and the photo of us in Japan, 2 laughing samurais in cornflower blue kimonos.
Did you feel anything, finding these meaning-riddled keepsakes on top of this ugly dresser — white, 4 drawers, 89.99?
Probably not. That would require you to have a heart.
It’s easy to get lost at IKEA. I have certainly lost myself. They haunt me, these silly household objects.
The LAIVA bookcase, a bargain at €19. It’s the cheapest one they sell, minimal assembly required. We lined the walls of our living room with them. The day I moved out, in a furious rage you ripped my books from these clapboard shelves and moved them to the cellar, where they remain to this day.
Why did you do that? I was coming back, I just needed time to think. I was coming back to you.
Doesn’t matter. I guess you have new books now anyways.
The folding chairs we bought for our dining table…. Brand name TERJE, rusty red, 12.99 each. I swear they were 9.99 just a couple years ago.
Inflation. Sign of the times.
How many times have we sat in these very chairs? Laughed, cried, ate, farted in them? I guess we were sitting in them the last time we ever shared a meal.
How could I have known back then how very precious that meal was? If I buy a fresh set, will you come back to me? Let me cook for you again?
These twin white wardrobes look familiar— SONGESAND, €149. Wanted to make sure we had enough room for all of our clothes, so we bought 2. His and Hers. What luxury.
By the way — does my wedding dress still hang behind those bright white double doors, stuffed into it’s protective casing, still waiting for a professional dry-clean?
You might as well just bin it now. Put it out in the rain.
I need a respite from this furniture-induced pain parade. I saunter down to the Marketplace.
Surely these cheap commonplace knickknacks won’t hurt me the way the rest of the shop has. These shelves are lined with the exact same Made-in-China rubbish that graces millions of households worldwide, from Chattanooga to Chengdu.
Yellow-lidded tupperware containers, 3 for €1. It was just the right size to pack your lunch in, leftover spicy bean soup, secret ingredients: love and extra grated cheddar. You’ve lost so much weight since the breakup, we both have. What are you packing now in these containers? Are you eating enough?
These containers will rot in a landfill for the next five thousand years. Feels fitting.
The matching bathroom set: blue speckled shower curtain, little blue storage boxes, blue towels to match. You were thrilled when I brought this set home.
Your German tendency towards homogeneity meant you always loved matching shit.
Last time I came to visit, there was a new purple toothbrush stashed in one of these cheeky blue boxes. Clearly it’s owner visits you often. At least she has good dental hygiene.
I resisted the urge to spit on this toothbrush when I saw it. It’s not her fault, after all.
Interesting — this here looks just like the white bulletin board you used to have up in your old bedroom, back before we moved to Berlin together.
I’m jolted to remember the time I found your proposal speech written upon it. Remember the one?
Remember? When you asked me to marry you?
The words written so carefully. You were always so structured, all of life’s moments so carefully planned. You wanted me, once upon a time. I saw the indisputable written proof — here on a whiteboard just like this.
This one is wiped clean… I guess yours is now too.
How can it be that all of these remnants of our loved-up life still exist here — ready to go off to their happy new homes, innocent? Unknowing of the weight they carry?
I can’t even run away from it. No matter where I go on earth, this ragtag gang of doppelgänger homegoods will still be at my local IKEA, ripe with meaning.
You were my home.
Until, one day, you weren’t.
Here at IKEA, my past, present, and future stretch endlessly before me under flickering Scandi mood lighting.
It turns out that this shop sells proof of my new life too. Artifacts of my tiny room in the shared flat across town.
Proof of Life After You.
Here’s the same trio of cacti that I haven’t managed to kill yet. The stainless steel mixing bowls I use to bake for my new housemates, my new family.
The geometric bed sheets I now slip between each night, sometimes with a lover.
No doubt that they’re already stocking furniture that I’ll buy for my next home. I walk past them obliviously —these items that will hold meaning in my future daily life.
New memories to be made on fold-out sofas, wine to be shared from modern glass decanters.
Shelves waiting to be assembled, arguments to be had.
Love to be made.
Babies to be rocked.
Life to be lived on flat-packed furniture.
– Emily Hirschberg
– Jack Hare (photography)