I was feeling a bit like Captain Willard, going upriver to a dark and unknown future, only this wasn't the Nung River, these were the labyrinthine aisles of Sweden's most popular furniture store. I wasn't looking for Kurtz. I was looking for a cheap dresser, a place to stash socks and underwear and maybe some t-shirts. Maybe there would be a cheap sofa bed, one of those futon-like things that might sleep one adult comfortably, two kids less so. A few years back I swore I'd never set foot in another Ikea - we were established, we had real furniture, we lived in an actual house. Well.
I'd signed the lease on the apartment a couple of days ago, and while the closet was a decent size, I'd still need some extra storage space. It was a one bedroom, and the kids would need a place to sleep when it was My Night or My Weekend. I'd combed through Craigslist and nothing. (Nothing that didn't look like it reeked of cat piss and/or bongwater, anyway.) And so here I was, hoping for something. Didn't have to be fancy - I envisioned being in the one-bedroom for no more than the duration of my lease, six months, then on to something bigger, better for the kids, more of a home, with a bedroom for them, bunkbeds and their own closets and dressers. This apartment...this was a place for me to crash, for the three of us to crash, temporary lodging on the long road to the New Normal.
I'd asked Lucas if he wanted to go; he had stepped on a bee at a friend's house the day before, and had been up for large chunks of the night with Beth, foot throbbing. She'd warned me, during Pickup (these co-parenting functions seem to call for formal titles) that he was tired from the lack of sleep and Benadryl. If not,then no worries; Ikea wasn't going anywhere. But he perked right up, especially after I promised him an ice cream cone. He seemed eager to help me fill up the new apartment. Ikea is a bit of a drive from north San Diego county; he dozed in the back seat, I listened to the Velvet Underground's "Loaded". Oh, sweet nuthin' indeed.
They don't serve ice cream in the Ikea cafteria, but they do have a pretty rich chocolate cake; I got him a wedge and a carton of milk, and I opted for a lingonberry drink. "What's that?", he asked. "Lin-gon berry", I replied, mispronouncing it in the way I do, simply because I like the way it sounds, "lin-gon", like Klingon. "It tastes like sweet cranberry juice." He took a sip and nodded his approval. "Dad, can I tell you something?" "Sure", I replied. We'd talked a lot over the past few months, each of us helping to navigate our way through this, rookie pilots who needed the reassurance of a calm air traffic controller, a voice on the other end bringing us in for a safe landing. "Well", he said. "This is going to sound weird...but you and Mom...you sort of seem a little...happier. Now." I thought about that, and how to answer it, because even though it wasn't a question, it was. "I think", I said tentatively, "that Mom and I are figuring out how we're going to be, with each other, now that we're separated. And we're working hard to make things good for you and Zoë. And...it's hard, but it's starting to get better. Which makes me happy."
He thought about this. Processing, eyes unfocused as his brain works out the math. He gets that from me. "Ok. You want a bite of this cake, Dad? It's REALLY good." "Sure", I replied. After we finished, we headed back into the maze. I found a dresser. $35. It would do.