The Inexplicable Alchemy of the Time Traveling Couch


2006

I had been dating Jim for just over a month when his best friend, and his best friend's wife, invited us over to dinner so they could meet me. Though I was slightly nervous to meet both of them after the gushing stories Jim had told, all the nerves disappeared when I entered their home and saw the couch.


You must understand, this was years before the Chesterfield style couch took hold of Pottery Barns--and subsequent furniture stores--across the nation. I don't think I had ever seen tufting on a couch until my eyes landed on the one in my new boyfriend's best friend's house. But there it was. Curved arms, olive green fabric, and tufted within an inch of its life. Before even shaking either of their hands, I gasped, "That couch!"


"Oh," the best friend's wife said, tilting her head. "You like?"


"Very much!" I said, pearls somehow clutched deep within my fist, even though I wasn't wearing any. "Where did you get it?" I asked, running my hands across the unique curves of the arms, assuming she would say it had been passed down to her from her great, great, great grandmother who had paid twelve dimes for it that she had earned selling her hair.


"Dillard's," she replied.


I furrowed my brow and shook my head. Had Dillard's been founded in the Victorian Era?


And with that, she ushered me and Jim into the kitchen, where she had prepared a wonderful meal and we spent the night laughing and talking and almost, just almost, forgetting all about the couch.


The next day, while at work, I received a call from my new boyfriend's best friend's wife.


"Hi Meg," she said, when I answered the phone.


"Hi! Thanks so much for last night. You are such a lovely host and an excellent cook."


"Thank you," she said. "It was lovely meeting you, and you seem so good for Jim."


"Oh I'm so happy that you--" I started in, but she interrupted.


"But that's not why I'm calling."


"Oh?"


"You seemed to really like our couch..."


My heart started racing. Had I been too effusive? Had I petted it too sensually? Should I not have stretched out on it and moaned?


"...and I wondered if you might want to buy it?" she continued.


"Wow," I said. In truth, I had just moved into my studio apartment a few months earlier and still didn't have a couch. "How much?"


"Well, it's still pretty new, and in great shape. How does $300 sound?"


If I had told you how much money I was making at the time, you would have said, Meg, $300 represents a substantial portion of your monthly income. But you weren't there and I was in love with this couch and so a deal was made.


And while I didn't have buyer's remorse when my parents rolled into my new boyfriend's best friend's driveway with their truck to retrieve the couch I had bought from a couple I had only met one week earlier, I believe Jim did. I could tell he was concerned with the physics of moving this couch. Its width, its depth, its unremovable legs, and above all, its weight.


Those facts would come to haunt Jim for the rest of his life.


And yet, somehow, some way, my mother, my father, my new boyfriend, my new boyfriend's best friend, and I were able to lift the tufted beast into the back of my dad's pickup and, once at my high-rise apartment building, wedge it into the service elevator, panic when it became stuck, and then rejoice when it managed to come unstuck and slide into my apartment where it sat for two years.


2008

When it was time to break the lease and move into the house Jim owned, I was excited to merge our lives and our furniture. Mostly, I had a wonderful plan for the green tufted couch--the crowning jewel of all of our assets. Yet again, my parents dutifully drove their pickup to my apartment, wedged the couch back into the service elevator, panicked when it got stuck again, wiped their foreheads when it finally dislodged, and made their way to Jim's house. Once there, I watched as their faces fell when I told them I didn't want to put it in the living room--an open room with lots of space for curled, tufted, beastly arms--but instead, I wanted to put it in one of the bedrooms at the end of a narrow hallway.


We eventually got the couch down the tight hall and into the tiny room, but they didn't speak to me for months after.


2010

When I became pregnant with our first child, I went into full-on nesting mode. I had Jim painting nearly every room in our small home, I was scrubbing every surface, and I was obsessed with rearranging the furniture throughout the house. This meant, of course, that the tufted treasure would need to come out of the tiny bedroom at the end of the narrow hall so the room could be converted into a nursery. Because I was pregnant, Jim didn't want me lifting anything, so he called his friend--from whom we had bought the couch--for help moving it.


They decided to do this while I was at campus late one night teaching. And while I wasn't there, the story lives on in this house because Jim brings it up more frequently than I care for. Jim and his friend managed to get the metric ton of couch-shaped fabric wedged so tightly in the door frame, Jim thought they would have to cut a hole in the wall. He had texted me his panic and when class took a break, I called him.


"Meg, I'm stuck inside the nursery."


"Where's the couch?"


"Wedged in the door."


"Can you crawl out?"


"I can't even see light in the hallway."


"What do we do?"


"I don't know. We are going to give it a few more tries, but I'm just warning you, we may have to destroy the couch."


"No! Take the wall, but don't take the couch!"


"Meg. It's a couch. We can replace a couch more easily than we can repair sheetrock."


"If it went in, it can come out."


"Meg. I don't think you understand. This couch is standing vertically in the doorway and wedged so tightly I don't think it can budge without breaking the couch in half."


"Why is it on its side like that?"


"You aren't here. You don't know how many angles we've tried! This couch is a beast!"


"I love it though."


"Meg. I'm trapped in this room. If we don't get it unstuck, you'll have to raise the baby alone."


"Okay, okay," I conceded. "Just try everything you can one more time."


When I got home a few hours later, I was surprised to find my husband sitting on the green, tufted couch in the middle of the living room.


"Whoa!" I said, running toward the couch, hugging it before hugging Jim. "How did you get it unstuck?"


"You wouldn't believe it if I told you. It was stuck for 20 minutes. I was panicked. Way worse than when we got it stuck in the service elevator."


"Which time?"


"Both," he shrugged. "But we tried everything. Every angle. Over and over and it just kept getting more and more stuck. But then, and I don't know how, all of a sudden it was as if we barely touched it and the thing came out like it was greased with butter."


I laughed. He didn't. He looked like he'd seen a ghost.


"I honestly can't explain it," he said, his eyes looking out the window into the darkness. "There's something weird about this couch. It's alchemy."


2013

Before the birth of our second child, we bought a slightly larger house. While touring the house with our realtor for the first time, Jim pulled me aside while we were in the finished basement.


"I know what you're thinking," he said.


"That this would make a great living area!" I said, scanning the room and thinking about having a TV, a large rug, maybe even a ping pong table.


"Right," he said, a strange look in his eyes. "But I'm looking at the angle of these stairs."


"Okay?"


"And how little room there is right there at the top of the stairs..."


"Huh?"


"Meg, if you like this house, I like this house. But you have to promise me--promise me right here, right now--that we won't put the green couch down here."


And I made and kept that promise with even more vigor than our marriage vows. For that time, I knew the stakes were high.


2017

When we moved again, to our current home, we hired movers. Though he'd never admit it, I swear I saw Jim tear up when he was able to watch--but didn't have to help--as three bulky men carried the green tufted couch onto the truck.


2021

One day during the pandemic, I walked into the living room and let out a sigh. "What?" Jim asked in concern. "What's wrong?"


"This couch," I said, looking at the tufted green beast.


"I'm not moving it."


"No, I don't want to move it. I want to get rid of it."


"What?" Jim stood, his eyes wide with what looked like glee. "But you love this couch."


"No, I hate this couch."


"Since when?"


"I dunno, the last couple of years."


"This is surprising information."


"I know, I know. But this couch is not my style. At all. And I've had it for 15 years. Can you believe that? That's a long time for a couch."


"Okay...So now what?"


"Let's pick out a new couch. A couch we love and, I dunno, sell this one."


"Fine with me," he said, with a sly smile. "But whoever buys it has to move it."


After a few months, we found and bought a new couch. It's beautiful. Sleek, soft, comfy, much more in line with our evolving style. With a few texts I was able to locate a buyer for the green tufted couch. And for a few weeks, while our buyer arranged for a truck, our living room had both our new couch and the tufted, green beast. The longer the green couch sat there, the more disgusted I grew with it. I wanted it gone so badly I asked Jim if we could just move it to the porch just so I didn't have to look at it. But he reminded me that 1) the couch would get wet if it rained, and 2) he wasn't moving the damn couch another inch.


On the day before the buyer planned to come get the couch, she texted me to say:


"Meg, I'm so sorry. I took the measurements you gave me and made sure it was going to fit in our space. But I forgot to look at the doorway and the hallway. I don't think this couch is going to fit."


And when I read that text, I felt only one emotion: relief.


I can't explain it. I hate this couch. I really, really hate this couch.


And yet, I love it.


I love that it has no couch cushions. The seat and the back are tight, which means nothing ever sags or needs straightening. The seat is very deep, so I can lie down with a child on either side of me and we can comfortably nap. The arms are so wide, I often sit my laptop on it like a desk and write.


But oh dear god do I hate the color. The fabric. The shape. All of it. I hate it. I truly hate this couch.


I hate it so much I love it.


Which brings us to Sunday night, when I came and sat next to Jim on the green couch. I had been avoiding telling him something that I knew I could no longer keep from him. He had looked so happy at the thought of getting rid of the unsightly, gigantic beast that I didn't want to break his heart by telling him that we were, in fact, keeping the couch. And, unfortunately, he would need to help me move it upstairs.


I won't say he didn't fight it. He did. But he didn't put his whole heart into it. He knew how it would end. How it always ends. And I think, in some ways, after 15 years, he knew no matter how much he fought having to move the couch, the couch always got moved.


And this is how it ended: Eight o'clock at night, with him in the upstairs hallway, me inside the room, both of us dripping with sweat, red-faced and yelling at each other, while between us, in the doorway, was the massive, tufted green couch, wedged so tightly we could barely hear each other's screams.


But this wasn't our first doorway. Not even close.


Jim reached his hand out over the top of the couch to grab mine. "Okay, look. This sucks. We are getting heated. Let's just take a breath. We know this couch. We know how this goes. It gets stuck, it stays that way for 20 minutes and then it just unsticks itself."


"What if it's different this time?" I asked from the other side of the couch, grabbing for his hand, but unable to see his face.


"Then I'll raise the kids alone."


"I hate this couch."


"No one hates this couch as much as I do."


"So let's just try to push it back into the hallway and get rid of it for good."


"Because we've come this far."


And dear friends, you wouldn't believe me if I tried to explain it. You wouldn't have believed me when we got it unstuck--twice--in the service elevator. You wouldn't have believed Jim when he and his best friend got the couch unstuck from the narrow hallway that night I was teaching. And you wouldn't believe me when I say, that on Sunday night, as our hands unclasped, and we recommitted, yet again, to this godforsaken couch, we both pushed one more time and the couch slide through the door as simply as pushing a chair up to the table.


As the couch landed with a thud on the floor, I looked up to see Jim smiling.


"How?" I asked.


"I told you," he said, rubbing his shoulder. "Alchemy."


"If this couch is magical, why does it get stuck in the first place?"


"To test our resolve that we really want it."


I looked down at the couch. "You know, this couch has been here for our entire relationship. That's crazy to think about, right? I can't think of anything else we've had since the beginning of our relationship that we still have now."


I looked at Jim who wore a thoughtful expression. "What?" I asked.


"It's just a damn couch," he said, plopping down on it. "But just to be safe, we should probably hang onto it."