After the Northridge earthquake in 1994, my family got a new couch.
It was green and had a plaid pattern with patches of light brown, and wood paneling on the corners. The couch sat a few feet from the front door, aimed at the television. On each side, there was a black button that made the seats recline.
When I was seven, I tip-toed up to the couch, where my mom sat holding my new baby brother.
“Gentle,” my dad said, both in reference to the baby and my mom.
I put my hand on the arm of the couch and scratched nervously at the textured fabric. I smiled at my mom and she smiled back.
Just before I turned ten, my family moved into a new house in a new neighborhood. The couch came with us. It pointed at the same television, but in a different room, close to a different front door. With a recliner chair beside it for my dad, there was enough room on the couch for me, my mom, my sister, and my brother to all sit on it, and we did, with arms and legs tangled, heads on shoulders and in laps. We’d shuffle through our collection of VHS tapes, each of us taking a turn to choose which one we watched.
When one of us was sick, we’d sit on the end closest to the bathroom, with a washcloth on our head, an empty bowl on the floor beside us, and a cup of water or Gatorade on the coffee table. At the end of a long night of homework, we’d plop down on the couch and sigh, exhausted. In the mornings, we’d watch cartoons. Dad kissed mom goodbye before Dragontales, and we knew that if we weren’t out the door before the end of Clifford the Big Red Dog, we were going to be late. After school, Troy took a nap on the couch with his thumb in his mouth, and Natalee and I leaned up against it playing Mario Party on our Nintendo 64.
When I was in middle school, my family moved again, and again the couch came with us. But when we upgraded to a new one, the couch was moved into the family cabin in the mountains, where it stayed for almost a decade. It sat just below the window in the living room, inviting anyone who visited to take a seat. In a pinch, it was used for a bed. And many late weekend nights were spent falling asleep on it to the same collection of VHS tapes that had followed it up the mountain.
Recently, a new set of furniture was moved into the cabin. It is newer and more comfortable, and provides more seating for the growing number of family members that visit. Not to mention it’s a matching set. As a result, the green couch was loaded up and brought down the mountain, and then set out on the curb and marked with a price tag: “Free.”
The sight of it startled me.
To see it outside of a house, outside of our home, felt wrong. And even though I knew we were willingly giving it away, the thought of someone taking it still felt like a robbery. I braced myself for the day I’d find the curb empty, for when someone else would claim it as their own.
I kept waiting for a truck to pull up with a family inside, or maybe a couple or a parent or a single person starting over, grateful for the opportunity to take this couch and put it in their living room. I thought maybe they’d feel everything we’d put into the couch, that they’d notice how we’d broken in the cushions by cuddling and climbing and, occasionally, jumping. I wondered if they’d understand the life the couch had lived before they started writing their own stories with it. But that’s not what happened.
One day, I walked outside and saw a man get out of a large truck. His flashers were on and he blocked half of the road. The bed of his truck had five or six couches standing on their sides, each of them looking dirty and old. With gloves on his hands, he lifted the couch up and threw it in with the others. It was painfully impersonal, and the slightest bit violent. I quickly walked back inside.
I thought about the couch for the rest of the day, wondering where it was. I wondered if eventually the angle put pressure on one of the buttons and made the seat recline. If as the man drove down the road, the couch spit out a footrest as it had done thousands of times before, waiting for one of us to lay down, sick or tired or ready to watch a movie. It took a little extra oomph to click the footrest back into place, but I suppose he’d have to figure that out on his own.