Before I dive into today’s story, I first wanted to thank everyone for the outpouring of kind words and support after last week’s piece. It’s amazing to be able to write about something so personal and recent and have it resonate with a lot of people.
I turned it into a Twitter thread and it has generated over 40,000 impressions, which, for me, is A LOT.
If you haven’t read it yet, please check it out. It’s not really about writing advice, although it also kind of is. It was one of those pieces that I had a feeling would do well. But you never know with these things.
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Now, onto today’s story.
It’s November 1st, 2020. My wife Allison and I are at the La-Z-Boy store buying a replacement couch. It should be a quick trip since we already know exactly which style we want—the same exact one we’re replacing. It’s not that we don’t like our current couch. We love it, actually.
The problem is, our now-deceased cat Mocha peed all over the damn thing. And after two professional shampoo jobs, we still can’t get the smell out.
Her passing was the third out of a total of four major pet deaths in our home over the last several years. Well, five if you include my stepdaughter Sara’s hamster named Nugget who we called a “him” but I’m pretty sure was a “her”. When I moved in with Allison and brought my two pugs, Bootsy and Ella, we realized how close her two cats, Buttons and Mocha, were in age to them. This is not going to end well, we thought. And we were right.
Now, we’re pet-less, which means it’s the perfect time to replace the couch since we don’t have plans to get a new pet who can ruin the new couch anytime soon.
The other problem with the couch situation is that La-Z-Boy doesn’t carry the same color fabric anymore. So here we are, trying to pick out new fabric. These are both, admittedly, first-world problems.
We somewhat quickly find a new fabric style we both like which will pair well with the non-pee-stained chair in the original color fabric that we still have at home. Great, I think, let’s get this ordered and go home. We should have a new pee-less couch in no time.
I flag over the salesperson I talked to on the phone before we arrived at the store and I show him the fabric swatch.
“If you go with that one, it’s a custom order and those are at least five to six months out right now,” he says.
“Wait? You mean five to six weeks, right?” I ask.
He goes on to explain that there are supply and manufacturing delays due to COVID. But they do have a floor model in a similar color that we could buy today and he could knock a bit off the price. We’re tempted since the pee smell on our current couch is quite terrible and this other, more gray color would technically work with the other chair.
But we will—hopefully—have to live with this thing for many years, possibly decades. So we decide to suppress our urge for instant gratification that years and years of capitalistic consumerism have trained us for and practice an extreme version of patience instead.
The salesperson takes us to the register. Gone are the free candies that we’re on the counter three years prior, when we bought the now pee-stained couch. In their place are a plexiglass partition and a large pump bottle filled with orange-scented hand sanitizer.
He rings us up, hands me the receipt, and says, “Happy Easter.”
Almost all of us live with couches and spend so much time on them but we don’t spend much time thinking about them. They’re inanimate objects that are sort of just there. Yet they serve an important function and they’re integral to our lives.
When we buy couches, we’re not always buying them for comfort. Sometimes we choose them for practical reasons such as affordability or size, or the fact that it has a pull-out bed. And sometimes we are mostly trying to express ourselves through our interior design choices. Other times, you’re stuck with whatever free hand-me-down you get and you’re happy to take it because you’re a broke-as-a-joke student.
If you’re like me, when you think of the couches you’ve owned over the years, you don’t think about the couch itself. You think about the memories you made on and around them. They’re not only a collection of fabric and padding and wood and nails and staples. They’re a collection of memories and stories.
I’ve been a student of storytelling for years, but even more so since I started writing stories each week for this newsletter. One of the most useful and actionable books I have read on the subject, which was recommended to me by my friend Minnow, is Storyworthy. In the book, the author Matthew Dicks wrote this about stories:
“Every great story ever told is essentially about a five-second moment in the life of a human being, and the purpose of the story is to bring that moment to the greatest clarity possible.”
I’m not going to sit here and claim that my opening story should be considered great by any means. I was reminded of it recently because we finally received the couch and I just thought it was a funny and surprising moment.
When I think about five-second moments I’ve had involving couches over the years, it’s hard to pick just one. It made me realize how often major life-changing moments happen on them. Think of the typical movie trope when a character has something impactful to share with another character and they say, “You’re going to want to sit down to hear this.” And where do they sit? A couch. Or a chair, I guess. But you get the point.
I think of the night I met Allison in May 2013. We met for sushi. The night was still young when we finished eating and my apartment was nearby. We sat on my sectional couch and talked and I showed her my old band’s music videos. We inched closer and closer together as the night went on. I so badly wanted to kiss her. But I wanted to be respectful and not come on too strong.
I was comfortable talking with her, but I was physically tense and I remember my shoulders feeling tight. I felt a wave of relief and my shoulders instantly relaxed when she said, “Can I kiss you?”
I think about my daughter Em when she was only three months old in September 2018. She had a feeding tube in her nose at the time. It was attached to a feeding pump that was giving her Allison’s breast milk at an excruciatingly slow rate. We were still trying to feed her small amounts in a bottle by mouth at that time. And it was not going well. She wasn’t just spitting up, she was routinely projectile vomiting.
One night was particularly bad. Allison was at her wit’s end and she lashed out and slammed one of Em’s syringes into the couch. She started bawling and my stepdaughter Sara, who was nine at the time, came over to comfort her. Shortly after that, we decided to move forward with a more permanent feeding tube for Em, which required surgery.
I think of my brother and I jumping and wrestling around on our parent’s couch growing up.
I think of the time I helped move a different couch my parent’s owned later on. My dad and I lifted up the flaps in the back and a bunch of popcorn and crumbs came flying out from behind where he typically sat. He loved his late-night snacks.
We lay on couches to relax at the end of a long day. We sleep on them. We play on them when we’re kids. We sit on opposite ends of them when we’re arguing and feeling distant from one another. We sit as close as possible to each other when we feel close. We make love on them. We laugh and cry on them.
We use them as a place to sit and think and write like I am right now. On our new couch.
In a way, a new couch feels like a fresh start to a new chapter. It signifies change. And hope for a better future. For new, better stories.
And I’ll be sitting here, ready to write those stories too.
Thank you for being here and reading.
The Storyworthy link shared in this story is a bookshop.org affiliate link. Full disclosure: if you click it and buy the book (and/or any other books while you’re there), I get a small percentage.
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