by: Todd Andrew Clayton
On May 11, 2012, two of my best friends got married in front of a castle—this aged, brown-stoned thing with vaulted, wood-beamed ceilings and a photo booth in the den with moustaches and bowler hats in a basket at its side. Once it was over—the vows, the meal, the toasts, the dances, the cake, the toss, the oh-my-god-you’re-married’s, they slipped into a raven, stretch limo and flew to Costa Rica for two weeks to celebrate.
I met them at their new, two-bedroom apartment when they got home to help unload the U-Haul, and—after exchanging knowing hugs and getting a brief tour of the place, we drove to Ikea to buy their first bed.
Ikea is weird, this corn-maze of end tables and wall mounts, a Swedish mecca of organized closets and cooking utensils. After walking through some could-be kitchens and living rooms, we made it to the beds: an entire floor filled with wooden headboards, patterned pillows, and beaming couples sprawled head-to-head across potential mattresses. I took out my phone and texted my boyfriend while they decided which one they wanted.
“Kind of in the mood to fight with you over which bedframe we like best.”
“I can’t wait for that,” he texted back, and I felt my chest warm. “This must be unreal,” I thought as I watched them thumb through prices and dimensions and colors.
They settled on this grey-brown number, “because it’s sturdy, and—look!” J said pointing across the showroom to some matching night stands, “We can complete the set,” which sounded like the most matrimonial of things to me, completing the set. We picked up the pieces in aisle 26, bin 28, and loaded them onto one of those flat push carts that are hopelessly hard to maneuver—the ones that crash into the candle display by the register.
When we got to the parking lot, I was pushing the bed toward the trailer when I turned to J to ask a question.
“Is this as romantic as I feel like it is, buying a bed with the person you love most in the world?” She paused for a second before responding.
“I don’t know,” she started, “I mean, yeah—it’s wonderful, but it’s weird because if our life were a movie, this is the part where the music would swell and everyone would cry because we finally made it, you know?” We walked a few more steps. The wheels rattled over the asphalt, like ice in a blender.
“It’s not really like that, though. It’s not that magical. I mean, I’m hungry. And I’m thinking about that more than I am about the bed right now. It’s amazing, sure, but it doesn’t feel all that dramatic.”
“I wouldn’t trade it,” she concluded, putting her hand on Chris’s back. “This is real-life romance.”
A real-life romance, one that they’d paid for—not in credit—but in the currency of tears and compromise and sacrifice. I can lose myself in dreams about these benchmarks of commitment, wondering what it’ll feel like: buying our first bed, the trip to South America, joint bank accounts, picking up the kids from practice and figuring out what we’re going to do for dinner. Far more rare are the dreams that include the work it takes to get there: the years spent in different cities, the seasons of disconnect, the quiet dinners with parents.
Love, they’re teaching me, at least the kind that sticks around when tears have kidnapped all your words and you can’t remember why you’re worth loving, isn’t something you stumble into by surprise.
Todd Andrew Clayton wishes he were good at soccer. He lives in San Diego & writes at coffee shops & in his living room. Someday, he hopes that he can write & get paid for it. Until then, he’s going to grad school. He likes Thai food & wants to go to Ireland before he dies.