The first time I realized my family was even crazier than I’d ever imagined was in 1997, the year my mother began renting couches. At first, this seemed to be a marvelous idea. A new couch was an exciting addition to the family of furniture that already existed, although it did not much match the “rugged individualism” of our very American decor.
As time went on, my mother paid off the new couch. But eventually the appeal of it settled and one day, out of the blue, another couch suddenly appeared. And later, another. Again and again the couches appeared, always taking place of a slightly new but not properly pristine couch. I believe this is something like people turning in cars to get newer ones, but with couches. Or perhaps it is more like buying a new bag of popsicles once frostbite sufficiently covers all the leftover purple ones. Either way, it was couches galore in the Wallace family household.
When I moved out of my parents house in 2006, I lived with a few roommates who had acquired a couch from a rather suspicious source. I immediately realized how my world view would be forever tainted by the couch-rental mania that engulfed my mother. I was often frustrated by the sight of the pattern and wear of the couch in my apartment, and quickly took to the nearest chair. On numerous occasions I would ponder the life of the dirty couch, questioning its validity and worth. Who had been on that couch before my roommates? Where had the couch been? And Christ Almighty! How did it get into our apartment? Was it possible that new couches weren’t the norm?
I never thought about buying a couch for myself. My tiny studio hardly fits my possessions, not to mention Zack’s (he is quite the pack rat, although he allows me to control it a bit). I think the ability to live in a small space for so long is born from a comfort of a working class childhood. Perhaps I am also secretly avoiding a general addiction to rent-to-own furniture—there’s really no way for me to know. I could go into some pretty costly therapy to figure out my aversion and attraction to this type of furniture, but that’s clearly a silly and worthless endeavor.
This whole couch debacle not only changed the way I see my mother, but more importantly changed the way I see other people. I realized that the ways people relate to one another are deeply ingrained in the environment and surrounding in which each was raised. For me, a clean couch will always offer the comfort of home, while for others it may be a special food item, a certain blanket, or a type of book that symbolizes those special (sometimes very special) people in our lives.