Peace be with you

Kitchen Table

Annelise Jolley

The kitchen table is small: square, blonde, built for two. It was manufactured across the world and packaged to fit in a 6-inch-thick box. It came to us in five pieces: the top block and four legs, sturdy as vows. 

 

When we were newly married, 22 and much younger than I thought I’d be with this question already answered, we moved into an apartment near the airport. It was the size of a two-car garage; we loved it wildly. We loved the morning light on the bay and the gray living room walls and filling it with our friends—stepping over limbs and drinks on our way from the couch to the kitchen. We loved even the planes that screamed overhead. 

 

For the first few weeks we ate dinner from new white plates on our living room floor, aware that we embodied a newlywed cliché but out of options, unless we ate in bed. One side effect of getting married young was that neither of us owned any furniture. The idea of filling even a tiny space with anything other than people overwhelmed us. 

 

Shortly after we were married, my parents came to visit for the weekend. They offered to accompany us to IKEA and provide moral support amidst the barrage of appliances and Swedish names. Davis and I wandered from showroom to showroom, paralyzed before the array of options. As we debated between two styles of kitchen chair my mom clapped her hands and pointed to one, writing down the barcode. “This looks great,” she said. “Let’s move on!” My dad ushered us from kitchen to bathroom to dining showrooms, his pair of lost lambs trailing behind.

 

I suppose this is what it means to be young and married: you watch the people who went first and follow the path they create. You trust them to know better than you.

 

Back in our apartment my mom and I tossed caesar salad and made pizza while Davis and my dad knelt among bolts and screwdrivers, an amorphous IKEA figure miming instructions from the manual. A bookshelf rose up; curtains spilled from rods; shelves filled the walls. 

 

From the moment it was assembled, I loved our kitchen table. It was square and sturdy with light grain wood: discounted Swedish minimalism at its finest. Just enough space for the two of us. 

 

When the pizza finished baking we took our dinner to the living room and sat on the couch, plates balanced on our knees, beer and paper-towel-napkins crowding the coffee table. The kitchen table stood apart. And for the past four years, that’s how it’s stayed. The couches gather friends and guests and family; the table is for us. 

 

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If you’re going to get married young, you’ll need a few things:

 

First, you’ll need people who have done it before you, who will lead you through IKEA and counsel you when it’s hard and even before it gets hard. People who aren’t surprised by roadblocks and detours, which might otherwise send you into tailspin of doubt and fear.

 

You’ll need a favorite place that’s both of yours, in different ways. The cliffs along the ocean will work, the ones that smell like neoprene and salt and weed. There you can run and watch the ocean saturate with evening’s color. He can surf, knifing through waves, slick like a seal. You’ll see one another from a distance—him in the water, you on the cliffs—and become new to each other again. When he emerges, shaking water droplets like light, you’ll step outside your small, restless self.

 

You’ll need a neighborhood restaurant with a happy hour so cheap you can’t afford not to go. The happy hour should last until 7 p.m. and sell local beers. That’s just enough time to get two IPAs each after work; just enough alcohol to make the walk home easy and to erase your motivation to cook, so that at 7:30 p.m. you stand in front of the fridge and decide to order burritos instead.

 

You’ll need a kitchen table. Small is better. Set candles there and light them as often as you remember. Gather eucalyptus leaves in a vase. Put away your books and phones, and try to pay attention to each other.

 

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The kitchen table is small: square, blonde, built for two. Across the table we pass our dreams and mistakes. We learn to say hard things. We debate and debrief and sometimes we rise in silence and go our separate ways. 

 

On the nights when distance yawns between us, when the conversation doesn’t resolve, the kitchen table grows. It takes up more space than its 30 inches; it is an expanse I can barely stretch my arm across. 

 

This table is where I learned to say, I messed up. And I’m sorry. It’s where I handed over my sin and shame and allowed him to see them up close, turn them over and examine them. It’s where I admitted resentment; where I confessed fear and named the anxiety that had sidled up to me and wrapped its hands around my throat.

 

The table is also where—on those nameless nights of blame or fear or anger—he reached across to meet my hand. It’s where I felt the windfall of forgiveness, that sudden looseness: release when I’d been expecting reprimand, handed over with such ease. 

 

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If you’re going to get married young, you’ll need a few things:

 

You’ll need humility, huge doses of it. You’ll need your love to matter more than your pride. You’ll need a table sturdy enough to lay both joy and pain down. This table is important, because it’s where you’ll taste—maybe for the first time—the sweetness of grace; and it is where you’ll learn to make grace your food.