the couch part three

tfw the bed is a ship and we're not there yet

this is part three of a serialized essay, which is a new thing I’m trying here for a while. you can read about what that means, and read part one of the essay, here, (and part two here) but also this part should stand entirely alone just fine if you don’t feel like doing that. btw: next week there’s going to be a Very Special Edition of griefbacon, which will be a surprise, but if you have a friend who’s been considering subscribing, or if you’re that friend, maybe let them know that now would be a great time to go for it.

Once, while very high on mushrooms, I looked up from where I was sitting on my friend’s bed and told him with great sincerity that I couldn’t go outside for a walk because “the bed is a ship and we’re not there yet.” I tell this story regularly when people sitting around in circles at parties start telling stories about drugs. I tell it as my example of “oh yes, I was once young and stupid too, here is something stupid and nonsensical I did and said.” But the truth is that it made perfect sense to me then, and still does now.

Living in New York City means that I have lived in very small spaces for the last nearly twenty years of my life, and so the single furniture items in those spaces have taken on outsize meanings. Over the years, I have told myself a lot of stories about the small size of the space being a kind of safety, a cocoon and an adventure at once. I don’t live in a five-hundred-square-foot walk-up; I am on a pirate ship, rocketing through the sky. For so much of my twenties, when all I had was a bed in a room, when I didn’t have a couch because having a couch would mean having an amount of space and money and organization that was inconceivable to me, I convinced myself that I felt particularly safe and at home on the expanse of my bed, which was where I did everything—eating, working, texting, getting my heart broken, making plans, figuring out ways to get to the next day, even sleeping sometimes—and where the part of my life that I had all to myself began and ended. The bed is a ship and we’re not there yet.

During the last year and a half, these same sorts of self-deluding strategies came roaring back, gaining strength and currency. “The bed is a ship and we’re not there yet” was the whole feeling of the months that spanned from early 2020 to mid-2021, the period of time for which I cannot figure out what verb tense to use, whether this is the past or the present. Staying inside was sold as heroism, stay inside to save lives. It was the year of the couch; it was the couch’s time to shine.

The story of home—and therefore, the story of couches— is a story of taking things for granted. I had the luckiest possible version of the last year, able to stay inside and even able to complain about it, the way one sinks guiltily into the giving-up softness of an old couch with broken springs. New York shut down into a network of closed-off and turned-away yellow windows, tiny little ships all piloting through the same night, on a mission, saving lives, sitting inside on couches. My bed and my couch were the size of the whole world. Both of the soft places in our apartment, on which Thomas or I— trading off rooms on a schedule, trying to find a way not to feel crowded, and always failing—would sit and work and read and watch television and text and watch the horrors of the world flash by in small hysterical images, became that same ship-bed hurtling through space. I did nothing and told myself that doing nothing was something important.

On some days I even I called my luck— which is what having a place to stay inside was for me and for anyone else who had one— hardship, even as I knew that I was wrong, that the answer was larger and more difficult than that, bigger than the size of a room at the top of a building full of soft things on which to lie down, with thick doors and windows to keep out the cold. How much of love is really just the safety of being able to go indoors and stay there? How could I undo that equation, heavy my elbow into it and try to push past it into something new, my heart turned open like an empty pocket?

Our couch is made of memory foam; we tell a lot of horrible jokes about how it remembers too much, warped in the way that trauma distorts memory, the brain and body circling back again and again over the same places, picking at a scab and unable to move on, remembering not as a comfort but as a means of harm. The way the couch conformed to the repeated shape of our bodies seemed like a cruel parody of the way the days again and again took the same shape, the way time slowed and curdled, continually repeating itself, the next thing indistinct from the previous thing. The couch has molded so entirely to our patterns of sitting and lounging, of flopping down, of giving up, of staying indoors to save lives as though everyone had that option, that it has in fact become supremely uncomfortable.

The couch knows me too well; the couch has turned into a mirror. I’m in this picture and I don’t like it. It has been a long year, and our fancy couch sucks now. Live with anything too long, and it becomes a reflection. Memory means keeping records; an unavoidable portrait of myself forms through the patterns I have worn into the places I have been.

Memory is always too late, always playing a game of catch-up. By the time I know to adjust verbs from the present tense into the past tense, the present tense is already miles behind me and I have no idea where I have ended up, the landscape around me unfamiliar and nerve-wracking. I was on the subway yesterday and, looking at my phone, I briefly stopped paying attention to the progression of stops. In the darkness between stations, I sat in a sort of suspended animation, with no idea whether the train would emerge at the stop where I was supposed to get out, or at some indeterminate location an unknown number of stops beyond it. This is what time feels like lately, sprinting ahead after more than a year of patterns pressed into couch cushions. I do not know what verb tense we are in now. I do not know where we are, where we will next emerge, or what I will be supposed to do when we get there. I do not know what the next thing is because I do not know if the next thing has already happened, if we are already past it. And yet here we are, running up out of the train at the unknown next stop because what else is there to do, grabbing the same things again, celebrating for the same old reasons, going out into the sunlight, arms up and faces exposed, ready to make the best of a brutal world, ready to ignore what we cannot change, telling ourselves that this is enough, out of the sunken memory of couches, and into what I am still not sure is really the present tense.

thanks for reading. this is the weekly public edition of griefbacon, in which I write a part of a larger essay that will then come together as a single piece at the end of the month. if you liked this, maybe consider subscribing? also, there’s something really good and unusual for this newsletter coming up— unrelated to couches— next week, so you’ll want to be around for that, just saying. xo