by Nicole Froio
The little apartment I found was perfect. My room was big, it was a ten minute walk to where I studied and I would only have one flatmate. The creamy walls were boring, but nothing that could not be fixed, and while the merged kitchen-and-living-room set-up looked a little cramped, I decided that an easy commute was worth the sacrifice.
There was only one problem: it was unfurnished.
The first order of business was getting a bed. A bed is the most important part of a room; it’s where I spend most of my time, writing, thinking, sleeping, crying. It’s where I bury myself for hours on end, sometimes happy to feel the softness against my skin, the comfort the familiar lavender smell gives me. Sometimes, I will wrap myself in my duvet in misery, tears streaming, sobs escaping, the rigid softness beneath me holding me up and together. A bed can revitalise you, make you feel fresh – it can erase your bad day, and welcome a brand new one.
So a bed was my priority. I ordered a cheap one online, which in hindsight might not have been the best idea, but I had a small budget and couldn’t really spare the money for a sturdier one.
I had been in a relationship with a man at the time, so I asked him for help in building my bed before I moved in so I would at least have a place to sleep.
“I’m terrible at building things,” he told me via text. “Can’t help, sorry.”
We argued. I pointed out that he didn’t have to be good at anything – building flat-pack furniture is not exactly an Olympic sport – and that I didn’t have any friends to help me as I was new in town. He insisted he could not help me, and was somehow incapable of understanding IKEA instructions. As I did most of the time back then, I dropped the argument, placed my needs as secondary, lest I annoy this man who promised me too much he could not deliver. A life together, he used to say, but now I was discovering I would have to build all of our furniture alone.
“A life together, he used to say, but now I was discovering I would have to build all of our furniture alone.”
I walked to my new flat on a Saturday to build my new bed. I started by wrestling with the packaging of the bed, what seemed like layers and layers of cardboard and tape that refused to budge under the pressure of my small fingers and hands. I needed a knife to rip it open, and even so my arms tired quickly. I felt enraged that my biology would betray me like that: goddamnit, wasn’t my flesh and bones infused with my feminist beliefs? Didn’t my muscles get the memo that I needed to complete this task alone, as I had no friends and family around to help me, and my only support refused to do so?
The day was long, frustrating. Connecting two big pieces of metal together took forever because they were too long for one person to hold them alone. I needed a second person to hold it up as I fastened the screws, and I obviously didn’t have anybody, so I had to get creative. I used an old box to prop up the part that was giving me trouble, and though it slipped a few times, I finally tightened the two parts together and used the same method for similar problems that came up. [gambiarra]
By the end of it, my body and face were coated in sweat and I was exhausted. Before I put the mattress in the bed frame, I lay down on the floor under my window for an hour, just breathing in the cold autumn air. I felt, I realised, deeply alone, but incredibly accomplished. It’s not that I had previously always depended on men to get things done –far from it – but when I was denied manly help I expected to get, it had demoralised me completely. There’s nothing more lonely than being denied the help of someone you count on; the hole of loneliness feels deeper and darker when you fall through by surprise.
I felt a tugging in my heart at something that I was only just beginning to understand: that relationship had outlived its course and it was time to move on. After all, I was alone but accomplished; I had encountered challenges that I faced and mastered without any guidance or outside help. Looking back, building that bed solidified my perception that I was better off alone than with someone who could not be bothered to help me.
That bed I built held me when I broke off that relationship. It comforted me when I tossed and turned, unable to sleep the day before my first day of being a teacher. It helped me pretend I was sleeping when I was too fatigued to speak to my flatmate. It kept me warm when I missed home and cursed the freezing English weather. It was my safety, my consolation at the end of the day.
And I put it together with my own two hands.
Nicole Froio is a writer and PhD student currently based in York. She writes about feminism, books, politics and women’s rights.