I moved in the middle of the pandemic, last June. I hadn’t planned to move, but I was living in a faculty apartment in a dorm and that gig was ending in a year. The students were forced to move out, and increasingly, it was just my kid, my cat, and one other adult, in a building that usually housed almost 300 people. To say the halls felt haunted would be an understatement.
Because of a strange feature of the COVID Cares Act, I was able to take out enough money from my retirement account for a down payment on a large one-bedroom apartment in a 1930s coop in Flatbush, Brooklyn. The money was so heavily taxed, I now owe the IRS more money than I can probably ever raise in the next three years, but hey I’m privileged and lucky enough to have a retirement account. I took the money and ran, right to realtor, and then I spent five months doing paper work.
The couch arrived on moving day. At $2500 it was by far the most expensive piece of furniture I’d ever owned. I bought in on an installment plan, on one of the days after my then girlfriend and I broke up. We broke up a lot, but this time it stuck and I wanted a big comfy sectional to wallow in with me, myself, and I. Oh, and also my kid and cat. That’s the couch in the picture above. Pretty snazzy right?
Speaking of wallowing, that’s something that’s very hard for me not to do. When the psychiatrist who works with my neurologist first diagnosed me with depression, I’d been living in terrible physical pain for about a year, falling asleep at 4 pm most days, or forcing myself to stay awake until my kid went to bed. I’d be up again at 3 am, panicked and exhausted. I’d write then because I was 44, and so determined to write and publish my debut novel that I gave myself a nervous breakdown.
I didn’t know I was having a breakdown. I thought my neurological disorder was flaring and that I was very tired. I knew intellectually that pain was a symptom of depression, but it never occurred to me that my pain was depression-related. I thought this was just how you felt when you hit middle-age.
That day, I cried with relief, because my doctor said, “The good news is, we can treat you, you can get better.” He prescribed Lexapro and later Wellbutrin and well, my life changed drastically for the better. I slept through the night, I no longer obsessed and worried over every little thing, my pain stopped being so severe, and I had energy again. Say what you will about SSRIs, but without them I might be dead. I was that miserable. I didn’t want to wake on some days, but I knew I had to be there for my kid. I spent as much time as a could, wallowing on my then very small couch.
The doctor also said I would have to work on my wallowing, forcing myself to get off the couch and do things, not succumbing to it, fighting it.
I’d been doing pretty good with that until COVID came. During the first three months of lockdown in Manhattan, I saw no one but my kid, her dad, and his girlfriend. Thankfully, they touched and hugged me. Still, I was touch starved. I could no longer go to yoga, which was my main defense against wallowing. My depression kicked in and I felt the pull to the couch.
And then I bought the mother of all wallowing couches. A couch so big, you can fit five people and a cat on it. A couch so big, it’s a vessel. A couch my friend Joelle calls the ocean because it sucks you in and puts you to sleep. I’ve taken some epic naps on this couch. It’s held me while I’ve been in pain. I’ve cried on it. I’ve had sex on it far more times than I have in my bed. I’ve read at least fifty books from the couch. I stared out the window from the couch and gazed at our Christmas tree lights in the dark, yes, from the couch. The only things I don’t do on the couch are write and teach, so that’s something.
Now that the re-opening is happening, I don’t want to leave the couch, though I know I must. My brief forays into Manhattan, have left me scared and overwhelmed. Last week, when a tiny white man, high on crack maybe? tried to steal my bike, I fought him for it, and I won! I rode home, utterly wired and screaming at any man who got too close to me. I suppose I was having a trauma response or in shock, but all I could think was, “Just get home to your couch, just get home to your couch.” I made it home bruised and shaken, and I didn’t leave the couch or my apartment for two days.
Nicole C. Kear is right when she says the couch is an allegory. For her, it’s an allegory for our stuckness; the way COVID trapped us. Her kid got stuck in a couch and she freed her! Yay! That’s terrifying!
For me maybe the couch is a stand-in for all of the things I can’t bring myself to do. I don’t have the spoons to hang those pictures that are sitting next to the couch. BTW, they’ve been there for six months. I don’t want to do yoga even though it will help me feel better, and the mat is right there next to the couch. I could roll off the couch and onto it! After over a year of home schooling and online teaching, there’s very little I want to do.
Moms right now don’t want to do shit.
The couch is where I go to not do shit.
I hate the grocery store, laundry, cleaning, and all the damn chores. If you didn’t believe Silvia Federici’s Wages for Housework manifesto you probably do now.
I don’t even want to leave New York City. Somehow that feels wrong and scary, like I don’t want to get too far from the couch.
I don’t want to go back to the way things were — the ridiculous grind, the endless meetings, the constant doing of tasks, and social obligations that were hollow and rote.
How lucky and privileged I have been to wallow like this. I’m lucky and still I lost my second job, have had to defer mortgage payments on my apartment, and currently don’t have enough money to buy a couple of day’s worth of groceries. Again, I’m okay. I’m getting by, but what about the 90% of domestic workers who lost their jobs when COVID began, most of them women of color. What about all the people who have no couch, no raft, no safety net, and no one to bail them out? I sure as hell hope it’s Biden, but the GOP is determined to take us all down.
Still, I’m alive and I’m incredibly thankful for this couch! Maybe one day soon, I can get off of it. I’m vaccinated now too, so come over and sit with me. It’s fine, I swear, we’ll do other things. We won’t just sit on the couch. Or maybe we will.