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Credit: Courtesy of Rashi Rohatgi

This Little Mermaid Jewelry Box Reminds Me I’m Living the Life I’ve Dreamed Of

published Aug 4, 2020
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Twenty stories of objects and areas in people’s homes that nourish their souls more than their social feeds. Read them all here throughout August.

My best friend and I met at a work event, but the first thing we bonded over was Ralph Lauren towels. We were in a seaside town in Norway, but we’re both from the United States, and as she dried her hands next to my kitchen sink she said, “I brought those over, too. My husband thinks I’m nuts.” 

After three transatlantic moves, I know what I’m willing to pay to have shipped. My possessions are 85 percent books (I’m a novelist); 10 percent hard-to-source cultural items like Georgette saris, elephant-head idols, a pan for perfect flatbread-making (I’m of South Asian heritage); and 4 percent stuff that just makes daily life a little better: the fluffiest yet sturdiest towels, the Simple Human no-touch garbage can, the Muji right angle socks. I’ve settled in here in Norway, after signing the deed to my first-ever apartment in January. And now that trips back to the States are on hold, I’m happier than ever to have those things with me.

The walls have been painted, the furniture’s assembled, and by the time this lockdown is over my new apartment will look exactly how I want it: It’s not wholly antithetical to the Scandi-chic design that is the norm up here (I splurged on some Hay barstools), but a style that I picked to reflect who I am. With jewel-toned walls that make me feel beautiful in my brown skin, and easy-to-clean surfaces that aid and abet my less-is-more approach to housework.

Credit: Courtesy of Rashi Rohatgi

In my bedroom I swapped out the closet for wall-to-wall shelves that work better with my ADHD, and as I unearthed that last, miscellaneous 1 percent of ocean-crossed goods, I had a realization. My bedroom decor is entirely and accidentally centered on this Little Mermaid jewelry box that I got as a child and have been carting across continents for thirty years. It’s not sentimental—I have no idea when or where I got it and I don’t particularly like Disney. But now that I look at it: Yup, my walls are a matching blue, my bedspread is the complementary William Morris seaweed print, and even my most design-y item, an Arctic fox fur floor-length coat I bought to celebrate my novel’s debut date on March 8, 2020—International Women’s Day for a story about turn-of-the-century feminists—is basically made for Ursula cosplay.

My living room balcony overlooks the sea, but my bedroom, facing the street, yearns for it. I never understood Ariel’s desire to trade the sounds of the crashing waves for the cacophony of human footsteps. But years ago in my childhood bedroom in Pennsylvania, my tastes in jewelry as yet undeveloped, I wrote down my wishes on Post-its—the novel, the ocean, the friendship—and tucked them into each small drawer. Safely hidden, easy to discard if I couldn’t make them true.

I’ve been itinerant for so long it’s hard to stop looking up plane tickets, and as flights back to New York City disappear, it sometimes takes me a minute to remember that despite my un-severable roots, I live here in Norway, in a community I cherish, with a friend who’ll drop by in a flash to help me mourn the death of Target’s global delivery option. And the jewelry box reminds me that I’m here on purpose, that this seaside life was once a dream so wild I could barely articulate it to myself. I could only carry it with me, looking for and eventually creating a place where it would fit in perfectly.