“Cognac?” I looked at the salesperson in disbelieve. Such a color actually exists? He snickered. I guess I’m not the first to wonder about this. “Yes, Cognac. It’s actually quite a sought after color. In any case, you don’t have that many options, so don’t stress. We have this wardrobe in black, brown or Cognac. Take your time,” he neared me and winked, “let the lady decide. They’re good at it.” He went off. I looked at the ‘lady’, who’s actually my girlfriend, Karen, whom I am moving in with. She knows what Cognac is. She was laughing through the whole thing. Enjoying my innocence. “I think Cognac is the best. Goes well with your shirt, too.” My shirt? I was wearing this red-crimson-Bordeaux or god knows what color. “But I change my shirt every day,” I said with a smile. “Every week you mean,” she was poking me, “besides, all your shirts are in this style.” Why does a wardrobe need to match a shirt? Never mind. “I have to go to the toilet,” she said, laughing, “you have five minutes to decide. And I don’t want the black.” She disappeared.
Where did that come from? I looked around. The store was gone. I’m in a bubble of silence. Just the wardrobe and me.
“Nice to meet you,” I whispered.
“Pleasure is all mine,” it replied pleasantly, “so, are you excited?”
“Excited? What’s there to be excited about? It’s just a wardrobe.”
“Don’t be a wise guy,” it smiled in a fatherly fashion, “I’m not just a wardrobe. I’m a Cognac colored wardrobe.”
“So what?” I was trying to ease the tension, “Cognac is just a color. Just like black or brown.”
“Nonsense. You know it’s not just another color. After all, you didn’t even know such a color existed before you came here. Right?”
“Big deal. Now I know. Just another meaningless color. A sort of brown.”
“A sort of brown”, it repeated mockingly, “you are so naive. Or at least you pretend to be. I’ve seen your sort. Patronizing me. Sort of brown…”
“I didn’t mean to, I was…”
“Don’t worry about it”, it cut me off, “so? Are you buying or not?”
“I don’t know”, I stammered, “It’s a bit much. I never bought a wardrobe. I always moved into places that already had wardrobes. And even if they didn’t, I just threw my cloths in a basket. But to buy a wardrobe…”
“So what are you doing here?” it was impatient, “wasting my time?”
“No”, I tried to appease it, ”I’ll probably buy in the end. It just might not be you. You see. Cognac, this color, it’s new to me and…” I couldn’t find the right words. I looked at it. It was rather nice actually. But there is something about the sound of that word. I don’t know. It put me off.
“Are you afraid of new things?” it asked.
“No. I’m actually really into variations and adventures and all that. But Cognac is not just a new color. There is something absorbing about it, restricting, something…”
“Like a couple?” it asked quietly.
“What?” I responded quickly, “What did you say?”
“Like a couple. It’s a couple’s color. Between you and me,” it gestured for me to approach, “you wouldn’t come in to a store like this if you were alone. You said yourself, you never needed a wardrobe.”
“Yes, I think I know what you mean”, I mumbled. Boy, was it right. That’s exactly it. After all, the color itself didn’t intimidate me. I have no problem with it. And it wasn’t the sound of the word either. It’s the meaning of buying a wardrobe in some color that you wouldn’t even be aware of, if you weren’t in a relationship. If you weren’t a couple. It’s the meaning of buying a couple’s wardrobe. Declaring: “I’m a couple.”
“So?” It was calmer now, realising it hit a nerve, “afraid of being in a couple?”
“Afraid?” I’m confused, “I wouldn’t say afraid. Just. You know. I’m happy with Karen. She loves me a lot and I love her, I think. And that’s what matters, right? Love. And I like being with her and we’re moving in together and all that, so we need a wardrobe. I think. No?”
“You’re asking me? I’m not sure you know what you want.”
“About the wardrobe?”
“About the relationship,” it replied monotonously.
“What are you talking about?” enough, what is this? Psych 101? “Karen is my girlfriend. You understand? We’ve been together for three years. All we’re doing now is move in together. That’s it. She was already hanging around my place all the time, so what’s the difference?”
“No difference”, it smiled, “is that why you are so nervous?”
“Me? Nervous? You’re imagining.”
“Fine,” it backed off, “I must be imagining. Anyway, I don’t want to stress you out, but, Cognac is just the beginning.”
“Just the beginning?” I could barely pronounce the words.
“Exactly. After the wardrobe there’s the bed, a washi…”
“We already have a bed.” I felt triumphant.
“Washing machine,” it kept going, ignoring me, “refrigerator, dresser, iron, ironing board, rugs, coffee table, chairs, big screen TV, garden, porch, outdoor furniture, stove, microwave oven, drill, curtains, tool box, kitchen cupboards, another wardrobe, because I won’t be big enough, pots, pans, plates, car, jeep, D.V.D player—”
“Most of this stuff I already had when I was living alone,” I tried invalidating what it was saying.
“But now you’re going to have to buy it all over again,” it said abruptly, “and this time,” pause, “as a couple.”
“So what? So we’ll buy them as a couple. Karen and I will buy everything together and it’ll be fun.”
“So this is what you look like when you’re having fun?” it mocked, “keep having fun then.”
“That’s enough. Stop it. Why are you enjoying abusing me this way? It’s hard enough as it is,” I withdrew, “hard enough.”
It looked at me quietly. Letting my internalization sink in. It didn’t need to speak any more. I don’t know what I want. I was used to living alone, being the master of my own time. Being able to change the course of my life at any given moment. The ultimate freedom. A drug. You don’t have to be nice if you don’t want to, flatter someone if they don’t deserve it. You only need to be in touch with yourself. Master of the universe. But you’re alone. And you also want to feel loved. That’s the only thing you’re missing. Love. So at first you fuck. As much as you can. But it’s not enough. You start to feel insecure. Growing older. Vulnerable. Free, but fragile. Freedom is seen as a lie. You don’t take advantage of it because you’re waiting for love to arrive. And it arrives. And you’re ecstatic. God. I love and I am being loved and it’s great. Now everything is perfect. Perfect? Not exactly. Love means your freedom is restricted. It’s just like what we were taught at school. If you add to one end of the equation, you have to subtract from the other. So I subtract from freedom. But I do it with joy. What do I need freedom for? I’m in love. You scorn freedom. It’s seen as dangerous. The world of the lonely. You’re living within a shell. A love shell. But time goes by. Love becomes somewhat dull. You’re still in love. After all, you wouldn’t dare say you’re not. But the sex isn’t what it used to be. The excitement of seeing her is gone. It’s a habit now. Love that has matured. The equation is out of balance again. You have to add to one end of it. It can’t be the love end. Love can only fade. You put some more effort into the relationship. Going on a holiday. Flowers. But whatever you do, say whatever they will, this is not love. You’re only reinforcing the habit. Gluing it tight so it doesn’t crack. Because that’s all you’ve got. And everybody is busy persuading you this is what being in a couple is. And they’re right. Each person compromises for the other and together you create this harmony that… that what? Harmony that will lead you to family? Children? And you want children. Can you not want children? Little rugrats that look like you, running around the place and you look at them and realize the meaning of life? Can anyone not want that? You’d have to be crazy. Everyone keeps saying. Get married already. Not for the wedding. For the children. You don’t want to be an old dad, do you? Using a walking cane to walk your child to kindergarten? And what about the equation? What equation? Does it still exist? It’s not there anymore, buddy. It was in your head. Freedom is down to a minimum. Only what you need to live, breath, eat and go on your yearly mini- vacation. But freedom doesn’t matter. What do you need freedom for? What are you, a child? You’re a family man. Kids. Work. Structure. Model citizen. What the hell are you talking about? Freedom? Do you even remember what that is? It’s an illusion. An illusion you’ve built, until love came along. At first you refused to let it go. Tried convincing yourself that you’re going to do it your own way. Not like everyone else. You’re going to decide what this relationship is going to look like. So you go out with friends to a pub once a week, you take a philosophy course and you convince your girlfriend that it’s really important that she would have her own thing just so you could have more freedom to yourself. As if you care if she her own thing or not. I want freedom. I want to be within a structure, but free. That’s impossible. Everything collapses. The equation collapses. You increased your freedom by a couple of inches but the structure, the habit, the family, that whole other side, grew by miles. So you stop dreaming. You’re a maintenance guy now. Living your freedom vicariously through others. You survive in order to allow freedom for others, so they can fit into a frame, grow bigger and survive, so others can have freedom to… and so on. You do all this with your partner. You love. Your habit. You’re an alchemist. You’ve done the impossible. You’ve traded in your freedom for a basket full of goodness. This is what you live for, isn’t it?
“Is this what you live for?” asked the wardrobe.
Oops, I thought this was just in my head. I guess it can read minds too, the bastard.
“Yes”, I answered, trying to sound decisive.
“And there isn’t another way?”
“Another way? What are you talking about? What do you know about life? You’re just a wardrobe.”
“Not just a wardrobe,” it declared.
“A Cognac colored wardrobe,” I was mocking it, “Cognac, Cognac, Cogn-“
“So?” it was Karen, “have you decided? I can hear you mumbling Cognac so I guess I don’t have much left to say.”
“Why? Would you prefer a different color?”
“No, it’s a great color. I also like the sound of the word.”
The salesperson approached. “Well, have you made a decision? Going with the Cognac?”
“Yes,” Karen replied with a smile.
“Good choice. Most couples choose this wardrobe. I guess there’s something about it.” He winked at me, “well chosen, dude.” Yes, well chosen.
“By the way, would you prefer the wheels the same color as the wardrobe or black?”
“Does it matter?” I asked naively. Karen and the salesperson laughed and looked at each other knowingly.
“Well,” he said, in a business like demeanor, “to the painful matter. The wallet. Shall we?”
They walked off. I was left by myself, next to the wardrobe. I looked at it.
“Is there no other way?” I asked.
I went to pay.