By Tina Porter
It was way too early for a knock on the door, but there it was; and there I was, in my red terrycloth bathrobe. I hadn’t seen the two women come up the walkway, but here they were, looking back at me through the big window of the front door.
“Hi,” I said as I slowly opened the door, clamping one hand on the two frayed lapels of my robe while running the other hand over my just-out-of-bed hair.
“We’re sorry to bother you,” said the lady in the front, who had an officiousness that took me off guard as she stood there in clothes almost as worn as my robe. “Is that couch available? Would you care if we took it?” She pointed over her shoulder, to the chocolate-brown, ultra-padded, ultra-suede, three-cushioned couch sitting on the curb, between our mailbox and the garbage bins.
“Oh, no,” I said. “You don’t want it,” I shook my head and pinched up my face. “It’s so … gross.”
“I have a steam cleaner,” she said while the woman behind her looked over her shoulder at the couch, trying to hide the look in her eyes that betrayed she agreed more with me than with her friend.
“I’m not going to say no,” I said, after taking a deep breath, “because it is obviously out there for the garbage man. But ….” and I trailed off, mimicking repulsion with my face and with a shudder that ran through my body.
I didn’t tell her about the cracked foundation, the rip in the back, the cat hair that was everywhere, or the food encrusted under the cushions—in particular, a green Skittle that had been sat upon repeatedly and had cracked and bled and adhered itself stubbornly to the back side of one cushion.
“Really,” she said, still way more determined than I had been in months, maybe even years. “We have a cleaner and it’s just what a friend of ours needs right now.” She dropped her voice slightly, perhaps out of kindness to the absent friend. “She’s getting out of a bad situation.” She clicked her tongue and cocked her head in sympathy, “and needs … everything.”
“But the rain …,” but she hushed me and waved her hand like all good Midwesterners learn to do. “It’ll be fine. I’ll clean it.”
I sighed very heavily then, giving up any pretense that this was going to go any way other than how she planned it. I nodded to her. “Of course you can have it,” I said. “Of course. I appreciate you asking.”
I closed the door and got myself a cup of coffee.
Visions of the unseen friend slipped through my brain as I stood in my kitchen. How desperate must she be to even consider accepting the gift of this particular couch? I was trying to understand the wanting of the very thing that I needed to be rid of.
And it wasn’t because it was gross.
There wasn’t the time nor the familiarity to share with this woman on the porch why this was the wrong couch for her friend. I easily shared that I am a horrible homemaker. That I could confess without care.
What I couldn’t find words for as I stood, ambushed and unvarnished, before those two women was that the damn couch might just be too big of a burden for their friend to bear. It was the habit I had just kicked, or, maybe less of a habit and more of an intimate friend who makes bad choices easy.
Long before it became something else to me, that couch was the place I went to in the middle of the night when I couldn’t sleep. It was there for me when I was working long hours and my head wouldn’t turn off and I feared I’d keep my husband awake, so I went to the living room and tossed and turned deeper and deeper into its well-worn fullness.
It was the movie couch; the napping couch for cats, kids, or whoever got there first; it was the cuddling couch, where I would often pull a daughter into me and kiss her hair and make her know that I loved her.
It was also the place my three girls came home to, and where—if all three were home—there would be a fight over who had to take the middle cushion (much like the back seat of the car).
And then I quit working and it became something else.
It started when the depression hit fully because I was no longer running to work, or planning holidays, or entertaining others. It was sometime in January, after my husband returned to work and my daughters to school (the youngest still at home), and I stopped leaving the house.
On my worst days I would not leave that couch until my bladder or my stomach required it. It was the place, more often than not, where my youngest daughter kissed me goodbye when she left in the morning and found me sleeping when she returned home late in the afternoon.
It was where I spent the cold winter days under blankets and with cats snuggled in around my head, on my hip, or between my feet—and sometimes all three.
From that couch, I knit hats from a pattern I made up in my head. And when the hat was done, I became obsessed with how the hat was too big or too small or just too ugly. So it was there, also, that I unraveled the bad hats and reknitted the yarn into an almost exact replica of the one I just unraveled.
From that couch, I posted pictures on social media of me knitting or the cats lounging and pretended I was writing or creating or making something other than an even bigger dent in it.
From that couch, I watched ghost hunting and haunting shows because they did not challenge me, except to wonder if I was becoming a ghost, myself, without having first died.
From that couch, I wrote poetry and argued repeatedly with myself about my value.
From that couch, I made vague promises to my husband and then gave up making any at all because it was hard enough to find the energy to shower some days, let alone write a cover letter for a job.
From that couch, eventually, I buried my pride deep down among the toast crumbs, a hand full of hair ties, that Skittle and one lonely sock, and I asked for help.
I found a counselor and a psychiatrist and I got on a regimen of medicines and talk therapy that seemed to bring me closer to functioning again. And after therapy sessions, I took deep, three-hour naps on that couch.
Between the naps, though, I was beginning to do real work again—not just playing at social media social justice warrior, but writing. Hard writing.
During those stretches when I was not on that couch, a niggling thought started to form until it was a roar I couldn’t ignore anymore: “I need to cleanse the house of that couch.”
In my mind, the couch had formed as a brown, ultra-suede Venus Flytrap that had sucked me in and held me captive for all those months. Even after the start of therapy and medicine, it still kept me hostage for hours at a time.
One day in May, I asked my husband to help me schlep the big brown thing down to the street. Out it went and then we wrestled the not-so-pristine, shell-colored, two-cushion couch from the basement TV room and put it in the place of the brown one.
I started making promises again: I would get the shell-colored couch cleaned; I would leave the house; I would look for work.
It was the weekend when we dragged the brown couch to the road even though the trash collectors wouldn’t come until Wednesday. On Monday or Tuesday, I walked by the front windows and saw it slouching out in the rain. I took a picture, as it was perfectly framed by the windowpanes and the greenness of the grass and the grayness of the sky. It looked beautiful and full of woe.
And it sat there until Wednesday and that knock on the door.
“It’s so gross,” is what I said. But what I wanted to say was, “this is not the couch for your friend in need. This couch will suck her in like it did me. This couch is full of bad stuff—and not even the sticky stuff or the worn-thin stuff. It is full of me. It is full of dark thoughts and mean energy and it sounds like your friend doesn’t need any more of that in her life.”
I’m sure that woman would not have heard any of it, had I taken the time to say it. I would have sounded as nutty as I appeared in my bathrobe and bedhead.
I walked from the kitchen with my coffee and watched as they struggled it into their van, turned around in my driveway, and sped toward the steam cleaner and the friend in need.
Some rainy mornings, still, as I walk around with a cup of coffee and look out the window, I wonder about the woman who inherited the brown couch. It’s taken me a long time to realize the couch was neither shroud nor sanctuary, but a couch that did its job: holding me without judgment while I sorted out the ghosts within my head.
I wish I’d realized this sooner. I might have been able to say a more graceful “yes” to the women standing on my porch—and the one who wasn’t.
Tina Porter’s writing has appeared on the online publications Brain, Child and BluntMoms and in the anthology, Here in the Middle. She keeps a self titled blog where she posts “love letters for living” that include prose and poetry. She recently collected a group of her poems in the book, Beginner Prayers. She is a Unitarian Universalist who writes about faith and social justice, parenting, and mental health. She is currently working on a memoir inspired by her recent diagnosis of Attention Deficit Disorder at the age of 55.
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