Building The Man I Am

I lost my mother last year. This is what I made her.

Jenny Chang / BuzzFeed

My mom bought me a pretty, twilight-blue dresser back in the spring. I'd just moved for the third time in a year and was broke in that desperate, “Should I buy this plunger or wait until next week?” way moving breaks you. She'd come into a little bit of money and asked me if I needed anything.

I was 33, a new man — new to New York and manhood itself, only three years on testosterone and freshly bearded — and I needed a lot, really. My missing inventory belied the loneliness of that winter and the bachelor, sweaty summer since I'd moved from New England, dream-dumb and starting over in a city full of tattooed, bearded men who looked just like me. I didn't own silverware, a table to sit down to — civilized tools of home that said: Here is a man who goes to sleep each night and wakes up knowing he belongs in the world. Aspirational, really — like my pricey Lower East Side studio, like the muscle of my body, like my self-made life.

Still I asked her for the dresser, embarrassed and eying the stacks of clothes on the windowsill. There were factors: a woman I'd just started dating and wanted to impress, who'd inspired in me nesting desire for spicy candles and good towels and a place to put my clothing.

Mom said, “Sure, honey.” A few days later she emailed to let me know that the dresser was on its way, and that the assembly looked “complicated.” I thanked her and tried not to be insulted by the implication.

It arrived that weekend in three boxes, flattened into dozens of numbered parts and accompanied by hundreds of bits of hardware. I unpacked the whole thing the day of my housewarming party, swore mightily, and promptly shoved the disassembled pieces under my bed.

Jenny Chang / BuzzFeed

Days after the party my mom called again. “How's it look?” she asked, and I stared, humiliated, at my growing pile of T-shirts, toppling in a pile onto the floor. I thought of the bones of the dresser, gathering dust beneath me. I thought of my inability to make a real home. “Great,” I told her.

“You get it put together OK?”

“Yeah, it was easy to put together, actually,” I said.

“Good boy,” she said. Later that year, my mom would go to the emergency room of the hospital where she would eventually die, and who knew then that this was her last act of maternal nurturing, one of a million such gestures, cohesive after death but hard to define during life, the many small ways Mom was my mom.

“It's perfect,” I said, feeling tender at her. We were speaking to everything we'd never said, of course. Like: I wish I could have bought you a thousand dressers, let's make up for lost time. Like: I'm sorry that this is so messy, thanks for making room for the man I am — a soft heart in a boxing glove. A man who can put it together; a man who knows how to fall apart.

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