A place where the first person sitting invites the second person to join.
As a man, being overcome with tears, takes me by surprise every time. I hadn’t had a good sobbing cry in a solid year since my last big phat love ended. At almost 62 I’ve done my share of grieving, this time I was sitting on my couch on the last morning before moving out of an apartment where I’d spent two intense years of rebirth. Being the first apartment I’d ever had to myself since I left my twenty-year marriage eight years ago, this apartment held a lot of memories. I rented it as my hide-out, so the world would leave me alone long enough to write my first book, what I didn’t expect was who I’d have to become to finish it. It was also the first time I got to decide what couch I wanted to buy. This wasn’t the couch I inherited when my parents closed the cottage, this wasn’t the $8,500 custom made couch my ex-wife and I obsessed over because it needed to match the grandeur of our newly restored 1917 Arts and Crafts bungalow, this was an eight-foot-long curved teal green monstrosity with gold trim, fringe all along the bottom, Victorian meets bohemian, thread bare claw foot dream-liner of a couch. This couch, now having expended its last days, in five hours would be sitting at the garbage Transfer Station ten miles away.
The apartment building was a 1920’s vintage four-plex that sat on a busy rock-and roll strip in Portland Oregon. The front living room was so loud from bus traffic and an occasional Harley roaring off from the Bare Bones Bar next door to actually sit in, so I set-up my living space in the dining room. There was a big bay window looking out at a row of bamboo shielding the parking lot to Karate Studio, a perfect place for a curved couch.
Thinking of finding a curved couch that would fit this wide a space, seemed like an impossibility. Funny how when you get clear on what you want in life, the inverse seems to deliver. All I did was enter “curved couch” into Craig’s List, and up popped an ad, $50 and free delivery if you take it today. Half hour later this orphaned dog of a couch was sitting in my dining room perfectly nested in to the bay window. In the following week I’d find its companion green middle-eastern carpet to cover the patched-up wood floor, and matching claw foot oval top table. All I had to do was lay down a coat of white spray paint on top, to cover up the cigarette burns.
We all have beds that could talk, but there is a certain type of life that happens on a couch. It’s that in-between space that bridges sitting separate on chairs or standing with tea cups in the kitchen. It’s a place where the first person sitting invites the second person to join. It’s a place where depending on how one sits or reclines on the couch, the other person adjusts somehow to match. It’s that place where comfort levels are tested, where distances are set and re-calibrated in some sort of ritualized dance of intimacy.
The first and only party I ever had in that apartment was “Chris’ Tits-Out 60th Birthday”. The theme was “Package up your tits and show us what you got”. I was amazed at how many of my male friends came dressed in a corset with pasties, the women totally brought their tits like puffed pastries served up on lace doilies… no wait, pouting mounds of Jell-O, heaving on the oblivion edge of a polished silver platter. I dressed in a red bustier with a laced back, black zipper front G-string, red wig and black pumps. The biggest surprise was when a few of my bro’s tied me with rope to a chair in the middle of my living room, so I would sit still long enough for most of my friends to individually sit in a chair across from me, to share how much they appreciated my friendship. That small apartment party was packed, let’s just say a lot of intimacy and consent got negotiated on that eight-foot-long couch that evening.
The most vivid couch memory was during the time when my last two-year relationship was ending. She made plans to move back to LA but agreed to move in for two months to help me finish my book. It was a men’s book on awakening one’s erotic innovator, following my journey as an up in my head engineer to an embodied and clear-headed man. I set-up my computer and two monitors on the oval table in front of the couch where her and I sat side by side day after day going over my final draft. She helped me make contact with the true essence of what each story meant to me, called me out on trains of thought that sounded good but really didn’t mean anything, and at times caught words that indicated that even with how far I had come in my appreciation for women, my unconscious patriarchy still lingered there. In her words, “If you say it that way, women will come after you with pitch forks.”
She was such a good teacher for me, saying things like how it wasn’t the flirting that scared her but my unconscious need to be validated by the feminine. How by being needy, I was showing others how to feed me candy and thereby opening myself to being led off in some other direction.
I’ll never forget the handful of times I got so defeated and worn down by her kind yet relentless emotional excavations only to have her with a coy smile, lift the hem of her short skirt to expose herself to my glare. That’s all it would take to find myself buried in her, letting her know just how much I appreciated the time and energy she was sharing, open to whatever this was. The couch, the recipient of yet another rubbed in stain.
There was the woman I met at a buddy of mine’s birthday party where as soon as we figured we liked each other I suggested we get together again soon, she asked what I’m doing tonight? After a few fun visits she wanted me to take a picture of her new full back tattoo while knelling on my awesome couch. I said sure, she stripped naked and climbed up with her legs buried into the cracks in the cushions and pulled her arms back tight, fists angled up body builder style. After not hearing from her for a month, the same buddy of mine called and asked, that since he saw a photo on Instagram of her kneeling on what he knew was my couch, had I seen her lately, he was worried that maybe she’d slipped into being depressed again. I said no I hadn’t, where we both reached out to find she had in fact been sad again but was getting better.
Another time was this woman I met online who flew out from Austin to see if the chemistry in person was as good as the phone sex. On the way back from the airport we agreed to keep sex off the table for the first night because I wanted to see if I could find a more honest and authentic way to reveal myself, and my fear that if I couldn’t, I’d insult her with my egoistic sex drive. I also told her I was looking for a woman I could “feel”, one that not only had my back but could climb up on it and bite me on the shoulder.
Turns out, we only lasted fifteen minutes on my couch before climbing in my bed and having at it for four hours straight. It was an awesome energetic co-created, upstairs neighbor stomping romp, but there was no curiosity in it from her. There was no honest connection to some form of magic that required a common life resonance.
The next morning, sitting on the couch with my morning coffee, I came to grips with how women too, use sex to create a bond to manage their anxiety of losing it. I also realized how much of a sucker I was in responding to my need to be validated with that kind of candy. The tragedy came as I sat on the edge of the couch as she wandered in asking what was up? I said we need to talk where she knelt on the floor in front of me. In a staccato shortness I said, “I’m at a solid NO.” In disbelief she started pleading for another chance, a clawing manipulative wounded-bird hustle that made me reflect, this is not the kind of “Woman on my back biting me on the shoulder.” I had in mind. It all peaked with an eye-to-eye stare-down directed at me to soften. Reminding her that my NO was not a conversation, I gave it right back with a riveting “you got to be fucking kidding me” icy glare until SHE looked away. When she did, I asked if she wanted some breakfast. Sixteen digits of my credit card and two hours later she was on a plane and out of there, an accomplishment I felt proud of.
In the eight years since I left my marriage, where ever I was, I had a sneaky feeling I would leave that place, I just didn’t know yet when and under what circumstances. That apartment and that couch had been my emotional workshop, the anvil I forged a new version of myself on. It even acted as an electronics shop as I hauled the electric hydro-foil Jet-Ski I was building, into the living-room to do the wiring. I’ll never forget the explosions of sparks from the battery leads touching, sending red hot balls of liquid copper rolling around on my wool carpet. Man did that stink like the time a friend set my hair on fire in high school with a Bic lighter.
As time passed, alone sitting in the contemplation of what I really wanted to aspire to, a subtle form of clarity came over me. It centered on focusing only on what brought me joy and giving silence to everything else. The hunger to feed my need for validation gave way to a “I have shit to do” peace where I had no bandwidth for drama, especially the kind I created. Emerging out of nine months of sadness that felt warm and comfortable, a kind of calk that filled the gaps in my loneliness, I realized this hide-out’s time was coming to an end. I could feel a new more subtle, nuanced insight coming on. A new kind of marrow filling up the emptiness in my bones, a new inspiration for the kind of people I wanted to start to meet and hang-out with. The problem was, I was sure I couldn’t get there from this shabby chic bachelor pad. The minute I got clear on needing to get out of there, it’s like the stories about prisoners being paroled and how during the last week, the food suddenly tastes like shit so bad, they couldn’t believe they could even eat it. So, the door opened, and I let in the impetus, that led to an offer to rent a small house on a hill, a much quieter house, one with a clean bathroom that didn’t have a leaky sink screwed to the wall.
Just like that, in a way better location, with a big yard and my own parking space where my car alarm wasn’t going off all the time, the move was set in motion. As in any move, comes the day you rent the truck.
In a sea of boxes, sitting at my spot on the couch, cup of coffee steaming, feet on the floor in front of that table now burnt from a soldering iron, the waves of grief hit me. Grief comes up sometimes as a throbbing pain in the heart, sometimes a puffy snotty swelling in the front of the face, sometimes it’s on all-fours after a best friend has committed suicide. This was one of those “time stands still” sobbing’s where time itself elects to wait long enough to allow it all to come out. The sobbing came-over me as my breath stopped, my head tilting up to look at some far off imaginary horizon. A feeling of standing before a portal appeared, a reckoning, a moment clearly that will never be the same. Like a small version of dying, the memories started rolling by in jittery fast forward, like the time I rolled my carry-on back into this very same room after my girlfriend and I left together a few days before on a road trip through Big-Sur to return her to LA.
The same exact grief came over me after returning to my couch from moving my 25 year old daughter out to NYC, to install her in her new apartment.
On that couch I eventually met my deepest loneliness face to face, the sadness, the attempts at medicating it in whatever form seemed worth trying and the courage to finally sit in the uncomfortable ambiguity of it all to realize I was still okay.
So, I wept for it all, a sobbing, stomach clenching, head in the hands kind of drooling grief, for myself, for the clutter I had cleared away to allow more of myself to expand into, and for my bright future. I even found the courage to tempt happiness, something my dad could never do. In the last dry heaves, bleeding the price we pay to be alive out my tear ducts, wondering if I was done, the door buzzer startled me back to my awareness, shit it was already 11:00, time for my buddy to help me move.
In one load, all the boxes were in the new house, the last act was to load the couch into the truck for me to drive it over to the Transfer Station myself since my buddy had to get going. We had to tip it on one end and shove it way up in the corner of the foyer to be able to swing the door and twist it out on the front landing.
Funny there is always that last exchange between dudes after one helps the other move, something like, “Hey man no worries, I’m not sure if I’m your best friend or the only one stupid enough to answer your text.”
Driving out to dump the couch, one so thread-bare, sun bleached and tattered, with no sides left on the cushions to flip to, was another time for reflection. This time it was more wondering how all the people I’d encountered on the couch were doing now, where were they, what was their life like? With my old girlfriend, I’d made a pact to not communicate with her out of respect for really needing to be done. It took us three attempts after splitting up to make it final, silence is sometimes such a kind way of loving. I have a deep appreciation for the lovers and friends I’ve called into my life, each giving me a chance to meet a certain part of myself, to take it out for a run around the park and a swim with it in the ocean a bit. No matter how short or how long, I’ve opened myself to what I felt comfortable sharing, I also wondered what the other person was opening themselves up to in me.
All of life is sort of like sitting on a couch, we take our position and then invite someone to join us. We sit in a particular way, our feet either pointed at the door or pointing at each other, such a subtle dance it is, a lingering gaze of attention, an outstretched hand, a purposeful getting up to get something only to return to sit a bit closer.
Rounding the corner into bay number five I could see I was the only truck there. A massive diesel front-loader was off at the end groaning as it shoved scattered inanimate objects into huge organized piles. I backed my truck up to an open area and clicked it into park. Heaving the rear door up I saw my sad couch sitting diagonal with the table and rolled up teal rug scattered from the drive. Unlike the caution needed when moving fine furniture, I got behind the massive couch and gave it a running shove. Off it went, end over end to the pavement. I jumped down and dragged it over to position it against the backdrop of what humans no longer find valuable. I rolled out the carpet and took the table and instinctively placed it where it belonged creating a sweet little domestic still life.
Standing there, I wondered how one walks away from a moment like this. Is it a wanting to run, like at the cottage as a kid down the stairs, out the porch door and as far down to the lake as possible before hearing the sound of the screen door slam? Maybe the bent over crouch of making sure the rag in the neck of a Molotov Cocktail is burning bright, before the heaving it over the shoulder on an arc calculated to allow walking away slowly, before the sound of breaking glass and the whoosh of heat on the back of the neck… That’s not how it went down though, it was a simple pivot, a few steps toward the truck, a glance at the front-loader off to the side, idling patiently. I climbed up into the cab, pulled the gear-shifter down into drive and slowly rolled off.
As I rounded the corner of the big roll-up door, I took one last look in the rear-view mirror to see a plume of black smoke erupt from the front-loader’s exhaust, then like so many of life’s closing portals, it melted into another bleeding red sunset on the road to my own self-discovery.
If you liked this story, look here for my book HEART IN GEAR, An Engineer’s Erotic Journey to Freedom