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The Green Couch

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.   

Unit 25

It was the back door. The way you had to twist the knob halfway to the right, then pull, then twist it again in order for everything to click into place when you locked it. Getting that down was part of making the place feel like home. Like you belonged. Because you knew the trick.

After a while, everything became familiar, and every quirk became common as we began to know our house inside and out, thus making it our own.  

Our house became the go-to spot on Mondays, when The Bachelor would be on and I would hustle inside from my evening yoga class, saying, “hi,” to friends on the couch who were ready to catch up and half watch, half talk over the ridiculous television drama.

Our backyard became the place where my sister could pull weeds beside my dad, preparing the soil for seasonal flowers and vegetables, hopeful they’d bring some relief to her busy work schedule and upcoming grad school exams.

Our upstairs hallway became the place where we could stand at our respective bedroom doorways, rehashing the events of the day, whether it was good, bad, or entirely unbelievable. It was where a rogue feather from a newly cleaned down comforter always landed, where the quietness of the morning was broken up by hurried feet charging out the door, and where communal decisions on shoes, sweaters, hair and makeup could be made.

Our dining room table became the place where we updated our collective wall calendar and where ate Jack-in-the-Box tacos at midnight, hoping to avoid the hangover. It became a place where we played board games with cousins visiting from out of town, sometimes laughing so hard our stomachs hurt, and where we threw anything that didn’t have a defined place into “the mug” that sat in the center.

Our kitchen became the place where potluck meals came together, and where drinks were mixed, and shots were taken after hard days. It became the place where cookbooks were propped up, followed closely, and inevitably stained with oil, butter and spices, where a week’s worth of breakfasts were prepped on Sunday nights, and where my sister made her famous chocolate chip cookies for every holiday and celebration you could imagine.

Our living room recliners became the place where my sister and I sat side by side, to eat dinner, talk, vent, do homework, watch TV, play a video game, laugh, cry, and wonder where life was going to take us next.

Laying in my bed on our last night in the house, I looked up at the skylight in my ceiling, taking note of the small handful of stars that had always seemed to watch over me. I turned on my left side to look at my window, remembering all the afternoons after work when I’d lay there and watched the setting sun turn my room golden orange. I looked at the pictures, paintings, and shelves on the wall, each of which went up in their own time, with their own set of frustrations, and their own purpose, story or memory. I thought of the pacing I’d done on our very first night in the house, the frantic energy that had come with the newfound freedom of living on my own, and the growing panic that I might not know how. And then I turned on my right side, the side I always fall asleep on, the side I’d often lay, praying, crying, reading, or watching a movie—sometimes far later into the night than I intended. I lay on my right side, unable to remember every single thing I’d learned during these last six years, but overtly aware that I’d been changed for the better.

I was leaving this house, but I was taking it with me. We were starting a new adventure, but those we had here would never be too far away. So when we packed up the house the next day, trucks loaded with furniture, clothes, and boxes and boxes of little things, I turned off all the lights and then locked all the doors—leaving a few extra seconds for that back one, to do a final twist, pull, twist, and click.