Arts & Culture

I’d Rather Build

This is me—covered in Ikea sawdust until my hands are smooth like glass, bandana-clad to keep erroneous strands tucked away, splinter-dusted, and music-filled because of the songs playing through my earbuds.

I’ve been taking things apart and putting them back together for as long as I can remember. Here’s baby me, unscrewing the tops of pens and running the tips of the ink tubes under a stream of sink water until the liquid runs green from the coloring. Here’s elementary me, helping grandfather to unscrew the vacuum cleaner and examine all of the curious insides or find any clue of what’s making it choke on black smoke. Here’s middle me, unscrewing an old hair dryer to see what makes it blow.

And blow.

And blow.

I finish blowing away the dust off of my hammer, sneezing in the midst of the cloudy particles. They catch the light streaming from the window next to me, pinpoints of soft amber, and funnel to a resting place on the hardwood floor. Even dust particles need to take a break in the sun.

Violins play their resounding chorus in my ears as the classical piece grows louder, and I’m hammering on rhythm—on beat—following Swedish furniture directions that shouldn’t make sense, but do anyway. So I bang.

And bang.

And bang.

Until I hear a voice from the doorframe at the edge of the room that’s just able to edge past the full orchestra inside my ears.

“Do you want to eat something? It’s dinner time,” it says from the doorframe at the edge of the room.

I stand up, scrubbing dust off of my hands onto my jean shorts, then reaching up to tuck a stray strand of hair back into my scarlet bandana.

It’s my mother, her wavy black hair tied into a gentle bun at the back of her head, her pastel orange tank top cheery above khaki capris. The sun is shining in her direction, lighting up her features in a warm glow.

“I’m not hungry yet. I’ll come up after I’m finished. Thank you, though.”

She smiles, brown eyes looking at my face, a slender hand leaving the door frame to brush dust off of my cheek. Then she’s gone, leaving me to my tools, my hands, and my music.

I attach pieces to other pieces, building until I start to grow the beginnings of blisters on my palms— the quiet spots that grow more angry by the second. An hour, two hours pass, and my palms are now furious, blazing and accusing me of overuse.

But there’s a screw left over, blazing and accusing me of underuse, and I’m frustrated, ripping the bandana off of my head and throwing it into the corner of the room, unsettling small piles of sawdust until they sully the white bookshelf, because this means that I’ll have to take everything apart, like I used to do when I was four.

Then all at once I feel guilty:

Disagreeing, being rude, hurting her with angry words. Watching the those dark brown eyes so much like mine grow sullen and silent, because I’m lashing out. Because I’m angry. Because I know best, and she doesn’t care about me—about anything.

So, I go downstairs, away from the bitterness, and grab a hammer.

I used to take things apart.

I put the screw down on a nearby worktable, sweep the sawdust into neat mountains, and hang my hammer on the wall. The violins quiet as I let my earbuds drop to hang around my neck. I look at the unfinished bookshelf and know that there is something that’s better for me to do.

So, I go upstairs into the peace where my mother is asleep at the dining table, head on her arms, bun askew, and a bowl in front of her filled with my favorite noodles. I lift her bun from its sad position and sit next to her, waiting for her to wake up so I can ask for words of forgiveness.

Next time, I want to put things together.

Next time, I’d rather build.


  1. This was powerful, Sarah. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Powerful message, beautiful execution, wonderful. <3