There are three unopened IKEA boxes in my bedroom closet. To save space, I use my closet as another wing of my room, so to speak, and so the closet doors are open, and from my bed I can see them, standing upright. These boxes are a promise, these boxes are hopes and dreams, and sometimes, these boxes remind me of everything I’m not at this very moment.
I took a chance going to Spain, a literal excursion from the path my life was already taking. There are a few moments in life, I think, in which you can see multiple ways of life at once, and you have the chance to choose. No matter what, there are positives and consequences to each, because in essence, they are both means to ends.
When I bought these items, I was full of optimism and confidence. They were to be for my future apartment, I thought. I had a wishlist on Amazon I affectionately named after the website, Apartment Therapy, and I kept ongoing shopping lists in my head for all of the items I would need. By the dawn of 2017, I had several boxes of stuff awaiting a new home. I signed a lease. I could see the living room now. An urban jungle, yes, full of color. These three IKEA boxes would find themselves transformed into a fashionable storage unit and a folding table.
Just owning them, I saw the future. My downtown apartment would be full of plants. Maybe an overweight shelter dog that I would take on walks (we would motivate each other), and then one day they’d turn into jogs, us both gaining greater endurance together. I’d meet a cute guy on one of my jogs, we’d start dating and next thing he’d be moved in. My IKEA storage unit now home to some of his items. That was way back in 2016.
The boxes were never opened.
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It’s hard for me to be nice to myself. It’s an unfortunate habit I picked up somewhere in my youth, I’ll have to ask a therapist to help me figure out the wheres and whys. But I look at those boxes and feel the burdens of failure.
Failure is subjective, of course, but to me it’s the failure of living up to the image I had of my future self. That fantastically independent girl, who had a perfect job, perfect finances, a perfect apartment, and a perfect boyfriend. That girl who had it all.
I think of past me, hauling these heavy boxes from their shelves and shoving them into her car, her future as bright as all get-out. Past me, shopping for her future apartment, buying new plates and cutlery, trying to make it as colorful and bombastic as ever.
Then I come back to myself, my present me, and I feel the weight of her failures. It’s been difficult adjusting to life back home. The weight of my guilt and fear and disappointment make me feel like a literal and metaphorical burden on my family and friends. I don’t feel like my confident, empowered, and in-control self. I feel like I’m spiraling wildly, like I jumped out of a plane without a parachute.
I stare at these boxes and don’t feel the same hope or optimism as before. I feel the frustrations that come with every big decision. I feel doubt. What scares me is the uncertainty of where I’m going. I don’t know when these boxes will ever be opened. I can’t even imagine a future where that’s a possibility anymore. Even as I keep moving forward, life pushes me along, I can’t get back to the optimism that caused me to buy these things in the first place. I think about the money I spent on them and feel even lower than before.
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One of the first purchases I made when coming back home was a plant. My sister, who had been in charge of taking care of my plants, had killed them all, and so I set about trying to bring some normalcy into my life. I needed something I could take care of, something to remind me of the things I enjoyed. I got a ZZ Plant, a funky prehistoric plant that can take advantage of any environment. I decided to decorate my plant pot in the style of my friend, Lelê. On one edge of the pot I wrote, “plantar,” Portuguese for “to plant, to stand.” On the other I wrote, “florescer,” Portuguese for “To bloom. To flourish. To thrive.” Plants, like me, are stuck in place, but they manage to not only survive, but thrive, somehow. I’ve got to figure out how they do just that.
I’m not happy with where I am now. But I know that I will be someday. And those boxes will be opened, their contents freed. I will build my future anew, and maybe this time it will be sturdier than ever before.