the couch part two
maybe when vonnegut said "we are who we pretend to be" he was talking about buying a fancy couch
this is part two 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, but also this part should stand alone on its own just fine if you don’t feel like doing that. (Moby-Couch was a gigantic white used couch I owned when I lived alone in Brooklyn and I loved Moby-Couch very much, is all you need to know as background for this one).
Moby-Couch wouldn’t fit in my apartment when I moved in with my boyfriend a year and a half later; it literally would not make it up the stairs. Stairs and doorways had always been my second-biggest question about couches, which often seemed to be somehow larger than the actual space they occupied, and to make no physical sense considering the narrow and rickety staircases in so many buildings in this city. My parents were getting rid of an old couch, small enough to go up four flights of stairs, so that became our couch, which is one answer to the question, and probably a lot of people’s answer. This isn’t exactly being secretly rich, but it’s somewhere on the same family tree, maybe, being lucky enough to have people who want to hand something down to you. Being lucky enough to have people.
The couch was already ancient, and two years later, at the party I very stupidly threw the night of the 2016 election, someone sat on it and it broke underneath them. This incident was humiliating for everyone and was no one’s fault except the couch’s, because couches are as deceptively cruel as they are extravagantly kind. My boyfriend and I, in the strange memory-wiped rush that was November of 2016, decided this meant we should finally spend an upsetting amount of money on a couch and so, a few days later, sitting on the broken couch that was now supported by a stack of books underneath its middle, ordered a brand-new couch we couldn’t entirely afford from CB2.
Saying “I bought a thing I couldn’t afford” is a version of being secretly rich, too. When I couldn’t afford things for my first eleven years in the city, during which I barely even dreamed of owning my own couch, I meant that I actually couldn’t afford them. The money did not exist, nor was there any way to access it. Money was a very shallow pool with a hard floor; there was no way to negotiate with the floor. Buying a thing even though you “can’t afford it” means you can afford it. My life had changed, so I bought a couch when my old one broke. In a way, this meant I was secretly rich, but I was also far enough away from actually-rich that buying a couch because I needed a new couch felt like the definition of luxury to me. It still does.
The couch was huge and grey, a big low-slung L in the middle of the floor, marking out the space of the living room. It made the living room feel like a living room, it made the apartment feel like a house, and it made me feel less foolish when I said “my house” and meant my apartment. It made it look like somebody else’s house, which still, to me, were the only houses that counted as houses. The couch was clean and expensive looking. It was very boring, but magnanimously so, in the way where boring indicates maturity, stability, and goodness.
I bought this particular couch because I had seen it, and sat on it and lounged on it and eaten dinners on it and watched movies on it and gotten drunk on it and told jokes on it, in the home of an extremely successful and put-together friend, the kind of person where you never wonder how they own a couch. In her house it was actively beautiful, a long soft sigh of clean lines converging. It looked like having finished everything you need to do in a day with plenty of the day left, on an afternoon in the summer and the rain is coming soon.
I probably chose the couch because I thought it would transform my life and my apartment into something that more resembled that of this elegant friend. I had the idea that it would not be possible to own this couch and ever feel like a mess. Like so many big purchases, it was a lie that I hoped would become true if I carried it long enough. But of course this friend also feels like a mess sometimes, too, and does not experience herself as I do from the outside; the couch is correct in her apartment in its exhaling way because it was her Moby-Couch, she told me later, the first piece of real furniture she was able to buy on her own. It means the things to her that the huge white couch that was so completely mine had meant to me years before. Other people’s solutions are never our solutions, and trying to make them fit only emphasizes that point, which is one of the problems of couches, and of what we mean when we call our apartments our houses.
Sometimes this works, is the thing. Sometimes lies actually do become true if we live them long enough, or they seem to, even if their foundations remain always a little precarious. The couch arrived just before Thanksgiving in 2016, and I remember that the friends who came over were able to roll around in a tipsy food coma on it after the meal, happy beached whales on an enormous stretch of sand. All weekend afterwards, eating leftovers and binge-watching TV and ignoring the Monday realities barreling down on the weekend’s other side, every time I walked into the living room and saw the couch I felt like I was profoundly good, like I had been wiped clean and got to start over, the same exhaled relief as open windows and clean kitchens. Our apartment was small but it felt like arriving, like that back-to-school-after-the-summer glint of resurrection: Here I am, transformed, made new, made better. It was the old hope that sometimes comes for a moment with new things. I pull myself upward, I begin again.
thanks for reading, this is griefbacon’s weekly public post, and the second installment of this month’s essay about couches (more on that here). If you enjoyed this, maybe consider subscribing? if you’d like to subscribe but can’t afford it right now, you can always just email me. if you’d like to buy a subscription for someone else, you can do so here. see you next week. xo