The couch sagged in the middle. It was old and we talked of getting rid of it. How would I know that it would heal me?
Or maybe help me heal. Or, perhaps, remind me that, as much as accidental, unforeseen events can harm us or make us ill, the same unpredictability can bring benevolence.
Or seem to.
We went to furniture stores. We sat on other couches until we found one that didn’t sag. We were told it was “very mid-century” by a saleswoman with a genuine French accent. We ordered the new couch and were assured it would arrive in time for my wife’s birthday. When it didn’t, we spent six months fretting as it journeyed from wherever it was made, to our front door.
With two couches, the living room had too much stuff in it. We moved things around. The dogs let us know that they liked the old couch better. We put the old couch back where it was while I called people who might carry the old couch away.
They never called back. The couch stayed where it was. The dogs were happy. We talked of putting new foam in the cushions—anything to stop that sway-backed droop.
Then I caught a common cold. I took four Covid tests. They came up negative each time. I felt the contagion move up from my sore throat, to one nostril, and then the other, and finally, into the back of my throat. I developed a loud, hacking, gurgling cough that, because of pandemic unease, made my rare public appearances perilous.
I hoped the bug would work its way out. I wanted my body would to rouse my immune system and stomp the sucker flat. That didn’t happen.
Instead I’d have moments when I thought I was getting better. Then, after a meal, as the sky darkened, as I lay down on the bed and tried to sleep, I felt the drip in the back of my throat. I’d clear my throat and start coughing.
One night I coughed so much that the dogs complained. I decided to spend the night downstairs, on the old couch.
I sank into the cushions and it felt just fine. Instead of a sinking sensation, I found the cushions embracing me. When I was on my back, the angle of my head was just right.
I had a good dream about people I didn’t know in this world doing the right things. I awoke in the middle of the night with a distinct, if thoroughly irrational feeling that the couch had a spirt of some kind, and that it wanted to help me heal.
Or was this just a fever-dream concocted from the cold medicines I had been taken?
For a moment, I thought there could be something to ancient animistic beliefs. What if some of the possessions with which we surround ourselves have an awareness of what we say, and how we feel about them? Just a few weeks ago our garbage-disposal sprung a leak after my wife, aware of the drought experienced in some parts of the country, commented that grinding up food waste in the disposal, instead of dumping it in the kitchen trash can, caused us to use too much water.
We had to get a new garbage disposal.
After the plumber left, it eagerly swallowed the morning’s coffee grounds. I don’t remember thanking it.
I do remember pleading with a pair of shorts that was just a little too snug–please, please, please let me pull the zipper up. The zipper hesitated, then, with the dignity of a medieval king entering his throne room, slowly rose to the occasion.
I let out my breath and recalled those times I begged my car to start on cold mornings, and how, almost precisely after I complained to my wife that we should sell our second car because it was so expensive to repair, that dreaded Check Engine dashboard light winked on.
As much as I am a proud product of enlightened scientific thinking, I can’t deny how comforting it is to assume that some of the things in my life may like me, just a little bit, that the chairs we sit on, the shoes in which we stand, the kitchen gadgets, the computers, phones, lawn mowers, floors, walls and roofs above our heads—just may be able to let us know that they are on our side, that they enjoy adding pleasure to our lives and that when we hack and wheeze and cough in the darkest part of the night, they might help us heal.
Of course, the other side of animism is that these same things could hold a grudge.
When was the last time you said something nice to your dishwasher? It couldn’t hurt.