Writing about my chair is easy. I have only one. I found it in the maintenance yard when I arrived at this prison eighteen years ago.
The chair had been discarded because it was old and beat up, a relic of an earlier era when the staff had their own dining room. But I recognized its potential. It was solid wood with finely turned legs, though the stain and finish were all but gone, and the seat and a few struts were missing. I don’t recall asking anyone’s permission to carry the chair back to my room. This was a different prison then. We each had our own room and were free to decorate it as we chose. We were called “residents” and were treated like women, with dignity and respect. The focus was on rehabilitation, on reclaiming lives.
I was still stinging from the blow of a life sentence, and restoring the chair became my therapy. My curious neighbors made comments like “What you want with that old thing? Looks like something from under Grandma’s porch.” But to me it was a symbol of a more civilized, gracious world. I set about my labor of love, gathering bits of sandpaper, some putty, and some wood stain (all of which are considered contraband now). A friend in the upholstery shop helped me find a seat. With persistence and hard work I managed to get the chair sanded down, stained, and nailed back together. Restoring the chair was the beginning of the long, slow process of putting my life back together.
In the 1980s, as the political environment changed from liberal to conservative, the prison’s focus shifted from rehabilitation to punishment. We were allowed fewer and fewer privileges and possessions. At one point, all personal chairs were banned from cells. Distraught, I managed to transport mine to my office area, where it blended in with the rest of the furniture.
As time went on, the administrators deprived us of much more than chairs. We lost overnight visits with family, law books, access to the courts, packages from home, education programs, and many other amenities. My chair, however, found its way back into my cell.
It is difficult for me to describe the comfort and security my chair has brought me. Because of all the times I have prayed or meditated in it, it has become a sacred object. Throughout the years and all the changes they have brought, it is the one thing that has remained the same.
California Institution for Women
“The reading chair” — that’s what my dad called it. “Go sit in the reading chair,” he’d say, “and let me take your picture.”
The chair was a floral-brocade, overstuffed wingback with polished cherry arms. In front of it was a fat, padded ottoman with round cherry feet. The chair sat beside the fireplace in the living room of my parents’ dream home, a 1940s white frame house with a white picket fence.
My dad must have posed every relative we had in that chair for at least one picture. Sometimes he’d squeeze two little cousins in together and put an open book across their laps. “Smile and look at the pages; don’t look at me,” he’d say. In one picture, my mother was holding the book upside down. That photo was in the family album for years before Aunt Bess discovered the mistake. She thought it was terribly amusing, but my dad took the picture out of the album. I think he threw it away.
Beside the chair stood my father’s tobacco stand. When he sat down and opened the copper-lined door, the smell of tobacco filled the room. He would strike the match to light a cigarette, and I would breathe in that sweet sulfur scent till there was none left. I loved to see my dad sitting in that chair, having a smoke and reading the paper, looking immortal.
Years later, we moved to a different house, and my dad moved to a tuberculosis sanitarium. In the new house, the chair was put in an out-of-the-way room, and the ottoman was kept in the closet, where I would stand on it to hang up my clothes. Sometimes I’d go in there and sit on it in the dark and remember how my dad would light up his Camel and let me blow out the match.
J. F. Hershberger
Two weeks after our divorce, my ex-husband dropped off my chair: the oak rocker with the beige country-print cushions. It was a peace offering of sorts — his attempt to make amends. We were both in twelve-step programs, and each of us had reached the ninth step: making amends with the people we had harmed.
He’d salvaged the chair from the wreckage of a fire at my house, the same house we’d shared for six of our fifteen years together. At the time, the rocker looked to me like a singed and battered piece of the past, and I was prepared to leave it behind. But he saw it as something to save, to resurrect.
On the occasion of our divorce, he delivered it to me with no fanfare: just left it amid the clutter of my already crowded living room. He’d sanded the fire and water damage from the surface of the oak and washed the cushions by hand. Though it barely resembled the chair it once had been, as soon as I sat in it I recalled the days and nights of comfort it had provided as I nursed our two children. We’d bought it while we were expecting the first. And now my ex had restored it and returned it to me two weeks after the court had confirmed the breakup of our marriage.
When I was a little girl, I used to sneak into my father’s chair whenever he left the room. I’d sink down into the soft upholstery made warm by his body and wait for him to return. When he discovered me in his place, he’d stomp his feet and growl playfully, “Get out of my chair!” I’d jump up and run out of the room, squealing and giggling, hoping to be chased. But Dad would never chase me. Instead, he’d crack open his Old Milwaukee, fall back into his chair, and stare at the television. Within a few minutes he’d be lulled into a stupor by Wide World of Sports or Monday Night Football. Mom and I would sit and talk over the TV, but Dad would just nod, pretending to listen but seldom taking his eyes from the screen.
When I got older and my friends came over on the weekends, my dad was always sitting in his chair, dressed in his weekend attire: short-sleeved sport shirt (with cigarettes in the breast pocket), tan slacks, white socks, no shoes. His long, skinny legs were always crossed, and he always had a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other. I found his TV watching and drinking embarrassing, and wished he were more like my friends’ dads, who had hobbies like woodworking or fixing cars. I’d still sneak into my father’s chair every so often, but the game had degenerated to an empty exchange: Dad would gesture for me to move with a wave of his hand, and I’d roll my eyes in disgust and skulk off to my room, where I’d sit on my bed and listen to the radio for hours.
At sixty-three, Dad was diagnosed with terminal throat cancer. Even as he got sicker, he refused to stay in bed. Mom would get him up, dress him in his sport shirt and slacks (which now hung off his emaciated body), and walk him out to his chair in the living room, where he’d sit and stare sadly at the television.
As the months went by, Dad’s hearing went, and his morphine doses were so heavy that he slept most of the day, sitting up in his chair, his head thrown back and his mouth wide open. He snored constantly because of the tumors in his throat. I had moved away from home, and when I’d come to visit, my mother and I would sit in the living room and strain to carry on a conversation above the blaring television and the sound of Dad’s snores, trying to pretend that nothing had changed. In some ways, it hadn’t.
My mother cared for my dad by herself as long as she could. When she could no longer manage, we arranged to place him in a convalescent home in town, where she could visit him every day. The hospital sent two men in an ambulance to pick up my dad. They found him sitting in the living room watching a college basketball game. When they attempted gently to lift my father from his chair, he glared at them, angry and confused, and tried to hit them with whatever strength he had left, flailing his skinny arms about wildly. My mother did her best to calm him, hovering over him like a small, worried bird.
In the ambulance, Dad went into a coma. He died a few hours later, my mother by his side. Now I avoid sitting in Dad’s chair. We should never have made him leave it.
San Francisco, California
When I visited my grandparents as a child, my favorite place to sit was in my grandmother’s wine red upholstered rocking chair. I loved holding on to the mahogany arms and vigorously rocking back and forth, as if it were a swing.
Decades later, after my grandmother died, I asked my grandfather if I could have her beloved old rocker. He was reluctant to give it to me. He had loved my grandmother deeply and treasured all her belongings, and I had a reputation in the family for being unreliable. I promised that I would treat it with respect, maintain it, and always keep it a part of my furnishings, no matter what. I was so fervent that he gave me the chair.
Before long, I moved, then moved again. Over and over I pulled up stakes and headed for a new home. With each move the weight and bulk of the rocking chair became more of a burden. So I sold it. I let it go really cheap.
Some betrayals are so mundane we don’t think of them as betrayals until years later.
Asheville, North Carolina
Most of my parents’ furniture was hand-me-down. My father rarely felt economically secure enough to buy anything new. My bedroom furniture, for example, came from my maternal grandparents, who’d gotten a great buy because it was water-damaged. Mom and Dad refinished that set three times while I was a kid: first it was painted gray with red accents; then it was splatter-painted; and finally it was stripped bare and refinished.
During the great department-store price wars of the 1950s, Dad and Mom waited in line overnight to get a couch on sale. The first people in line got their choice of fabrics. Mom and Dad were second, and our sofa was an ugly gray and green. In the late 1960s, to avoid spending money on a new couch, Dad took an upholstery class and spent months reupholstering it.
Mom was embarrassed by our house full of castoffs and scavenger’s specials. (Dad even salvaged furniture from the trash.) She wanted better, and she especially wanted my brother and me to feel entitled to nice things. She didn’t want us to inherit my father’s “shtetl mentality”: the belief that you should save every penny, because you never knew when the Cossacks could come riding through and destroy everything, even in suburban New Jersey.
When I was old enough to need a desk, my aunt and uncle gave me my cousin’s old blond-wood desk. I’d need a chair to go with it. Mom said we should get a good one, so I’d be able to take it with me when I left home. She won the ensuing argument, and I wound up with a solid wooden chair so heavy and substantial that I needed both hands to pick it up and move it. It still sits at my desk, having outlasted Mom and my cousin. It will probably outlast me.
There’s nothing that remarkable about my chair. But for me it’s evidence of my mother’s wish that I should have the things she never did; that I should live free of the fears that constrained her and my father.
Edison, New Jersey
In 1950, many farmers lost their livelihood because they were forced to “get big or get out.” My husband had grown up on a farm and loved it there, but had gone to college and become a teacher because he had seen the writing on the wall. We were newly married, and I was pregnant with our first child. The only furniture we owned was a walnut dining table my husband had built in high school.
One Saturday, my husband came home from a farm auction with a solid-oak rocking chair, perfect for me to sit in and rock a baby. I rocked our son and then our two daughters in that chair. Forty years and three houses later, our son still sits in it when he visits. He and I love that rocker, but my husband has always had an uneasy feeling about it. He says he will never forget the sad, dejected farmer he bought it from at auction for $4.25.
Looking back on my twentieth year, I could probably call what I felt then “depression.” The whole universe felt wrong. What made it worse was that there was no apparent cause: I was OK, and then I was not.
When I was alone and still, I cried and considered ending the pain, so I tried to stay moving. I made it to all my classes somehow, and spent every afternoon in the cold green water of the Pacific, surfing in a quiet spot two blocks from my rented room. It’s hard to believe now that those glorious northern-California afternoons weren’t joyful, but I was just barely hanging on.
One night, home alone, I felt the urge to scamper up on the deck rail and climb onto the roof, where I lay on my back and looked at the stars, imagining that I might fall into them. When I rolled over, I found I could look down through a skylight into my room. I had left my desk lamp on, and its yellow glow held back the darkness. Peering down at my desk, I was struck by how perfectly placed everything was. The pictures, books, papers, and pens were all just so. And my chair was angled out from the desk, as if I had just been sitting in it, but now was gone. Then I imagined that I really was gone: I had done it; I had ended the pain. And I pictured my parents cleaning off my desk slowly, not talking as they packed everything away into boxes. I saw the anguish on their faces as they erased my presence from the room, leaving it empty and sterile. I lay there, stunned by how close I was already to being gone.
My chair isn’t really mine. I share it with hundreds of other people who receive chemotherapy. For two and a half hours each week, I sit there as the contents of three IV bags flow into me. The chair is a large white recliner that you practically lie in like a hammock. The room is dingy — it’s part of the auxiliary office used to handle the overflow of patients, so not much effort was put into decorating it. The main office is spiffy, new, and modern. The lobby is a solarium with gorgeous, healthy plants hanging from skylights. Everything in it is efficient, shiny, and alive. I hate it there. I resent being around all that life while my body feels old and wasted. Here in the auxiliary office, among the polyester, cheap wigs, and nursing-home attendants pushing wheelchairs, I look and feel better than most.
Every Tuesday morning at 9:15, I climb into the chair and wait for the inevitable question: “How did you do this week?” I have spent most of Monday night thinking about how I’ll answer, so I haven’t slept well. I debate whether to reveal my new symptoms, afraid the doctor will think I’m a hypochondriac if I complain too much. I don’t know what is real and what isn’t, what to worry about and what to ignore. Every question I answer is followed by another. Did I follow my diet? Mostly I did, but that’s not the right answer, so I lie. Next I have to stick out my tongue for him to examine the sores: no worse, no better than last week. I have a list of other ailments, but I’m afraid to say anything. I wait for the evaluation. If my condition hasn’t improved, I get the treatment. If the doctor thinks I’m doing better, I roll out of my chair and go home wondering if I just missed the treatment that would save my life.
Poughkeepsie, New York
When I am in my chair I feel safe: I know that I will not fall down, trip on a crack in the sidewalk, or stumble off a high curb. But when I am in my chair I am invisible to some people; they see only the chair.
Ten years ago I had an arteriovascular malformation removed from near my brain stem. According to the surgeon, I shouldn’t even need a wheelchair. He said I’d still be able to race bicycles and have a career as a musician. Since then, I have learned that nobody comes out of such surgery without at least some neurological damage (if they come out at all). In my case, I have lost the use of my right hand and leg. I’ve never done anything besides play the guitar and race bicycles, but all that is over now.
Ironically, my chair and my racing bicycle are both made from the same steel alloy with light aluminum rims. The bicycle looks fast even when it’s standing still. The chair, on the other hand, goes slow even when I am powering it as hard as I can.
I have a love-hate relationship with my chair: I love it because it is often the only way I can get around. I hate it because it is often the only way I can get around.
Fort Collins, Colorado
My grandfather died when I was five years old. The next day, I galloped my new toy horses, which had been given to me as a gift that morning, in between the feet of the people who crowded into my grandparents’ Brooklyn apartment. Periodically, I looked up at my grandfather’s empty chair. It was covered with olive green velour, and swiveled and rotated on a mechanism hidden beneath its skirt. There were buttons set in the backrest, and the creases that formed between them created the illusion of a smiling face. My grandfather and I called it the Smiley Chair. Sitting in that chair, I felt perfectly safe.
My family had just moved to New Jersey, and I’d found myself suddenly isolated: I had no friends. My parents were busy. My goldfish had died in the move. To top it all off, I’d lined my toy horses up on a windowsill and the sun had melted their legs, making them look twisted and disfigured.
Now, playing with my two new horses, I knew that my grandfather’s chair was empty and the apartment was full, but I didn’t understand the significance. At one point, I stopped playing with my horses and lay in the chair, which smelled of the cigars my grandfather loved — and my grandmother hated. She would yell from the kitchen, telling him not to smoke them in the house, and he would wink at me as he lit one up.
In the car on the way home, I played with my horses on the back seat and didn’t really pay attention to my parents. It wasn’t until we got back and my dad sat down on the couch in the living room and started to cry that I understood something was wrong. Not only was he sitting on the couch in the living room (where no one was ever allowed to sit, for fear of my mother’s wrath), but my father was crying. I became terribly afraid.
Now, twenty-five years later, I remember the chair much better than I do my grandfather. It seems significant that I never saw the chair again after his death. The last I heard, my uncle took it, kept it for a few years, then threw it away. My grandfather and his chair represented a safety that was destroyed that day in the living room of our new house in New Jersey — shattered by my father’s tears.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
The back of my metal folding chair rests against a steel cage, inside of which is a man who, by order of law, has less than twenty-four hours to live. Beside me sits my friend and law partner Jay. Right now, we are all that stands — or, in this case, sits — between the condemned man and death.
We are appearing before the Arizona Board of Clemency, whose stated purpose is to review petitions for clemency and make recommendations to the governor. If the board recommends clemency, the governor must decide whether to grant it or not. If the board votes against clemency, the governor is bound by that decision. It’s well known that the board never recommends clemency, acting instead as a rubber stamp for the courts and a political shield for the governor.
The man in the cage is innocent, and those who seek to kill him know this, having been told so by the actual killer. A prison guard controls the only entrance to the cage, a door at the rear that leads to another room, and from there to other parts of the prison, including the chamber whose sole function is to kill human beings while others watch. Now the chairman calls the proceedings to order, and I rise from my chair.
Michael P. O’Connor
My father was a woodworker by trade. He made furniture, mostly Windsor style, using only hand tools. Over the years, I have amassed a wonderful collection of his works: chairs, shelves, boxes, a cabinet, a settee, a drop-leaf table. As an adult, I was overjoyed to receive these pieces as gifts on birthdays or holidays, but at age nine, I felt quite differently.
For weeks before Christmas, I’d begged for a talking Barbie (“I have a date for the prom!” she said). But on Christmas morning, when my little brother and I rushed out to the living room, the floor under the tree was, for the most part, bare. I wouldn’t even have realized the chair was a present if not for the ribbon wrapped around it.
It was a Windsor chair, of course, beautifully finished with linseed oil, the rungs, spokes, and legs new, the seat antique. But none of this mattered to me at age nine. I knew only that “all the other kids” got toys, and I had gotten a chair.
The story came out later: My father’s boss, who was notorious for bouncing checks, had given my father a bad paycheck on Christmas Eve. Dad had been counting on that money to buy last-minute gifts. In desperation, my father had gone back to his boss to ask, instead, for the chair he’d been repairing at work — the chair he gave to me.
My chair has wheels. I have a broken neck and can’t walk. Despite costing thousands, my wheelchair isn’t all that comfortable. Initially it was difficult to push, and the stares it brought made me self-conscious. The first time I ventured outside the hospital, my eyes filled with tears as I, who had once biked across Colorado, struggled to get up a gentle incline in this damn chair.
Getting around was tough. Ramps were often too steep; traffic intersections were fraught with danger; doors were a constant challenge. I couldn’t do curbs, steps, tight aisles, or narrow doorways. Unable to fold my chair and put it in the trunk, I had to buy a van with a lift and drive seated in my chair. When I flew, I had to be strapped onto a modified hand truck and lifted onto the plane. At times like these, this chair felt like a prison. Yet, as I realized when I surrendered my chair at the airport gate, I felt even more helpless without it — exposed, limited, naked.
Before, I had always defined myself by my activities: skiing, biking, kayaking, climbing, trekking, marathoning, and dancing. My chair made most of these things impossible, or at least devoid of pleasure. For others, my chair often defined me as sick, frail, suffering, helpless, bound, confined. These reactions, while ignorant and hurtful, finally turned me around. Not wanting to be confined or bound to anything, I began to take pride in my mobility every time I ventured out: to the store, to graduate school, to work, to the theater, to the river, to the ski resort, to the airport — to life. Rather than being binding or confining, my chair had become liberating.
I have many chairs now: a highly maneuverable lightweight; a motorized chair for when I’m feeling my fifty-one years; a stair chair to get me to my basement; an old clunker at the bottom of the steps to help me do the laundry. I’ve grown a bit more mobile, and can hop onto a couch, a restaurant chair, a movie-theater seat. (But I still get nervous when someone wants to take my chair away.) I’ve come to love and respect and appreciate all my chairs, as they keep the world open for me.
When my oldest daughter was born, my husband was employed as the cook at a private boarding school in northern Arizona, and we lived on the isolated campus. Our marriage was tenuous, to say the least. I was newly sober and in Alcoholics Anonymous. Neither of us knew how to have a close relationship; we’d broken up twice that year and relocated three times in nine months.
My husband told me I couldn’t bring the baby into bed with us, so I nursed her in a pink upholstered rocking chair I’d lugged with me through dozens of moves. The arms on that chair were just the right height for cradling my daughter’s head while she nursed. It was exhausting getting up and down all night long, and I sometimes dozed off in the comfortable chair with my baby asleep in my arms.
During the day, my husband picked at me about every little thing: Shouldn’t you change her diaper? When are you going to wash the clothes? Why don’t you get a job and hire a girl to help with the baby?
In that timeless twilight zone inhabited by new mothers, I sat in my pink chair almost twenty-four hours a day, rocking, holding, nursing — and plotting my escape. I thought of trying to find a shelter in Flagstaff. I thought of calling my sister. I thought of just walking out to the highway with my baby under my arm. But I couldn’t bring myself to take action. I was agoraphobic and hadn’t driven a car in almost a year. Let’s face it — I was stuck. But my body was keeping my daughter alive, so at least I had a purpose on the planet.
One night, in the wee hours, I sat in my chair with my baby at my breast and thought of all the other mothers on earth who, right at that moment, were nursing their babies. As I laid my daughter gently in her crib, I peeked out the window and saw the winter moon shining bright over the red rock canyon, and I knew that I belonged out there somewhere, that there must be someplace I could go.
The next day, I carried my daughter outside into the snow-laden high desert to get some fresh air. My husband came with us. “Shouldn’t you put a warmer sweater on the baby?” he said.
“I’m leaving,” I said. “I want you to take me to the bus station tonight.”
Two months later, I went back and got my pink chair.
My chair smells of Havana cigars, my grandfather’s brand of choice. It is upholstered in equal parts leather and duct tape. (Yesterday I noticed a new crack where the stuffing is pushing out, so I expect the duct tape will soon predominate.) My grandfather was a large man, but the chair would accommodate all of him and often several grandchildren as well. I liked to believe I was my grandfather’s favorite. He was certainly mine. I’d snuggle up in his lap while he read to me or we watched football after Thanksgiving dinner. Once, before lighting his cigar, he removed the gold foil band, slipped it on my finger, and asked, “Will you marry me?”
My grandfather’s chair is all I have of him now. Yet, as much as I loved my grandfather, the memories associated with the chair come in conflict with others.
I remember once, my grandfather struck me in the face for crossing the road without permission. Evidently, I was almost hit by a car, but I don’t remember that, only him scooping me up in his arms and carrying me back to the lawn, and then his hand descending on my cheek. I couldn’t stop crying, but the tears had nothing to do with the physical pain or the blood in my mouth. I kept asking, between sobs, “Why did you hit me?” My mother’s explanation — “Grandpa was worried about you” — didn’t make sense. I still have a small white scar on my lower lip where a tooth punched through to the outside.
Besides his cigars, the other smell I associate with my grandfather is the faint sweetness on his breath, which I can now identify as bourbon. My grandfather was a hard drinker, as was his father before him and his two sons after him.
Three years ago, my father quit drinking. He’d had a stroke, and the doctor had given him a choice of taking heart medication that prohibited alcohol use, or dying. My childhood memories of my father are of him hugging me and five minutes later hitting me in the head. I never knew why I got either one, the hug or the blow.
By the time I was twenty-two, I hated my father. In my mind, what little family I had ceased to exist with my grandfather’s death. “The man was a bastard,” my father would say. This made me hate him all the more.
My father’s bitterness toward my grandfather is still a hard pill to swallow. But then again, my grandfather was the man who, when he caught my Uncle Joe playing with matches, burned his fingers while my father sat and listened to the screams coming from behind the locked cellar door.
My father has stuck with his abstinence, and I have discovered that there is also much love inside him, as there was inside my grandfather. It saddens me that it has taken forty-five years for my father to become someone I can love.
It wasn’t much of a chair; in fact, at five, I had already outgrown it. It was old, the stain had worn away down to the bare wood in places, and the caning on the bottom was beginning to unravel. Even my larger dolls had a hard time squeezing into it for our afternoon teas.
But that’s just the point: it was old. It had been my great-grandfather’s, then my grandfather’s, then my father’s, and now mine.
“We could leave now, and not have to go through this custody battle. What do you think?” my dad asked me one blustery October day.
I hesitated, then remembered his promise that the things he did with me only showed how much he loved me. I wanted us to stay together, so I agreed.
“You know, this means we can’t come back for any of our things.”
And so we climbed aboard the Greyhound headed for Louisiana, and away from the stinging accusations of child abuse.
Now, fifteen years later, I miss that chair. Not because it once belonged to my grandfather, the one who eventually found out where my father had taken me. And definitely not because it was once my father’s. But because it was from a time when life was simpler, and I didn’t have such a dark secret to keep.
Although I got polio when I was six, I didn’t get my first wheelchair until I was twenty-seven. My childhood doctors feared that if I had a wheelchair, I’d lose the incentive to use my arms. I didn’t understand their reasoning: I couldn’t use my arms at all, though I desperately wanted to.
I got my first wheelchair while living in a hospital. Its hard vinyl back was set at a thirty-degree angle; from the side, it looked like the hands of a clock stopped at ten past nine. Despite its near-horizontal position, sitting in that chair was strenuous exercise for me. I was encouraged by the physical therapists to stay in it for as long as possible, but I’d usually pass out after a half-hour. After much struggle, I managed to stay conscious in my chair for two hours.
In my second wheelchair, I was able to stay up for seven or eight hours a day, but the physical therapist wasn’t satisfied. She thought I should sit at a higher angle, so one day she put me in a wheelchair that sat me nearly straight up. When she saw how much pain I was in, and that I couldn’t breathe, she gave up on that particular chair. But she was determined to make me sit up, and slightly increased the angle of my regular wheelchair every day. Sitting up even just a little higher made me dizzy, sore, and tired, but I endured it for as long as I could, aware that sitting up straight was good for me, and not just physically: the therapist and I shared a belief that physical uprightness was somehow connected with moral uprightness. I never did sit at a higher angle for long, though, and I’ve always been ashamed of this failure.
In 1997, a wheelchair mechanic made my chair wider, softer, and flatter. His concept — that a wheelchair should be a comfortable mode of transportation rather than a means of moral instruction — amazed me. Why hadn’t I thought of that before?
My wife bought me a chair for our anniversary. She said we had made do with what we had for too long, and it was time I had something nice. It really is a nice chair, but . . .
I tried to smile when they delivered it, to keep from hurting her feelings. I tried to keep a straight face when she told me how much it cost — eight hundred dollars, more than the truck I drive to work.
“It’s a sixteen-hundred-dollar chair,” she told me proudly. “I got it half off.”
The chair is a huge leather recliner, an ugly split-pea-soup green, and is as uncomfortable as a Baptist church pew. Every time I sit on it, I feel like the court jester borrowing the king’s throne. It looks out of place among all the cheap furniture in our living room. The worst part of it is, the thing is so well-made, it will last me the rest of my natural life — maybe even until it’s paid for.
For a while, I sat at the kitchen table, “where the light is better,” to read and write. My wife bought a halogen floor lamp and put it by my chair. I argued that the table was still better for writing. She found an antique lap desk at a yard sale.
I write this on my lap desk in my ugly green throne. Short of burning down the house or getting a divorce, I reckon I’m stuck with the damned thing.
My chair? Ha! Who knows where I left the last one? I no longer allow them in my rooms. To me a chair is a trap for unwary assholes, a coffin for the backsides of clerical workers, a perch for bosses to order you around from. I am done with chairs. When you’re done with them, too, come visit me. I’ll bring you cocoa and gingerbread and mangoes and dates, and when they’ve made you sleepy, you can doze off on my floor layered with carpets, rugs, and quilts.
I was eight years old, an only child, chafing under the restrictions placed on me by an overanxious mother and desperate for the approval of my dashing, unpredictable father, who had hoped for a son but was making do with me. He spent most of his time on his ranch several hours from our home in the city, and invited Mama and me to join him only on weekends. I hid my ponytail up under my Stetson (a small replica of my father’s) and wore only jeans, T-shirts, and cowboy boots, refusing dresses, even for school. I kept a little Davy Crockett knife in a sheath on my belt and carried my BB gun everywhere. And I lugged my most-prized possession — a finely tooled Mexican saddle — back and forth from city to ranch, ranch to city.
At home, I placed two of Mama’s dining-room chairs front-to-front, put my saddle across them, and sat there to watch TV and daydream about the freedom and excitement of life on the ranch. Mama said I was ruining her good chairs, but the one time she dared to dismantle my saddle chair I pitched such a fit that she left me alone for a long time.
Upon our return from one ranch trip, I found that my bedroom walls had been covered in cowboy wallpaper, a surprise arranged by my dad. The pattern was a repeated image of a bucking bronco arched high in the air, and on its back was the cowboy, hat in one hand, reins in the other, spurs dug into the horse. The more my mother labeled the wallpaper cheap, common, and vulgar, the more I loved it. I sat in my saddle chair watching Lassie and Black Beauty, and let my imagination run wild.
One morning at the ranch, I awakened to the screams of my mare and her colt. I raced outside to find that my father and his friends had roped the colt and were dragging it from its mother’s side. I wailed and pushed and begged them to stop, knowing in my heart that something bad — something much worse than the sale of my colt — was going to happen, but they ignored my pleas. The colt reared up on its hind legs, and the men, impatient with its antics, jerked the rope, accidentally pulling the animal into an awkward fall that broke its neck. I went numb. Some basic part of me shut down that day.
I made my mother take me home, leaving my knife, gun, and saddle behind, and I spent the rest of the weekend trying futilely to peel the wallpaper from my bedroom walls. My mother finally took pity on me and hired a man to cover the walls with paneling. My father sold my mare and my saddle. And I returned the two chairs to their proper place in my mother’s dining room and learned to sit like a lady.