A View from the Cheap Seats
It came in a set with a matching loveseat. My wife’s great aunt gave them to us after we moved back from California, and even though it was just my wife and me, we took them both anyway. Never ones for entertaining, the loveseat’s sole function became a jungle gym for our dogs.
It’s an ugly set. The texture is somehow leathery and fuzzy at the same time. Even worse, they’re tan. They visually clash with everything and disappear blandly into the background. It’s a wonder to behold.
My wife and I were the kinds of people who would have tan furniture. While we were never completely unhappy, we were just happy enough to be aware of how happy we could be. Our circumstances were dire enough to be a constant stress, but good enough that we could continue to live in emotional limbo.
We existed in that state for more than half a decade.
Until, over the course of a year, we watched our entire lives change from the vantage point of that couch.
The couch was the first major piece of furniture we received upon returning home. It saw the good ol’ bad days. It saw my breakdowns dealing with my perceived failure in LA. It was a place to lie down and sleep off my annual drinking binges. My life passed me by in an angry, depressed stupor around that couch.
But it also saw the other stuff. Once we welcomed two rambunctious beagle mixes into our family, the couch became a place of near-constant cuddles and routinely being pawed in the face while watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine. It was the spot where my wife and I rekindled our companionship.
My wife bought me a hookah for my 29th birthday. It was a pastime I enjoyed considerably, one we picked up from friends in California. Due to a fortuitous weed connection, we were soon adding it to our weekly smoking sessions. Soon after, what started as our nightly TV show marathons quickly became extended episodes of discussion.
We would pause a documentary after five minutes and get lost on a tangent for an hour and a half. After we started the doc up again, we’d last maybe ten minutes before another spurt of conversation struck us. Two hours, sometimes three. In a decade of togetherness, we’d never spent so much time talking to each other.
It became our favorite hobby. With her on her side and me on mine (it’s still the same configuration, you don’t break tradition), we spent months delving into the dirt. Our futures. Past mistakes. Current goals. Open wounds that were still gaping sores, regardless of how much gauze we applied to them over the years.
A few months into this spree, my wife agreed to take psychedelics with me. Alice in Wonderland is my favorite story, and when as a kid I discovered Lewis Carroll was rumored to have taken LSD while he wrote it, I resolved to get my hands on some one day.
Nothing could have prepared me for what happened. All my perceptions about the experience proved to be completely false—a recurring theme over the next year. During that trip we talked about our problems as if for the first time. We saw the same issues with new eyes, heard tired questions with fresh ears. Instead of seeing what our lives had become, we saw what they could be.
The trip tore us down, and we built ourselves back up stronger than ever. The couch was Ground Zero. It was the pilot’s seat for our first psychedelic trip (and second, and third…), and became the view we associated with growth. Her from her spot, me from mine.
After the psilocybin wore off, we’d get back to work. And we never stopped working.
What started as a hand-me-down eyesore became my school desk when I started to return to life. When I started watching fewer Top Ten videos on YouTube and more Jordan Peterson and Mel Robbins. When my 45-minute commute to and from work became filled with lectures and podcasts about science and life instead of ‘90s songs I’d heard a thousand times. The books I read on the couch began to shift from fantasy and fiction to nonfiction and philosophy.
I learned the true meaning of happiness while on my side of the couch. One night, upon spying my wife kissing on one of our pups, a deep warmth enveloped my chest. I had the realization that the sensation I was experiencing at that moment was the universal feeling for happiness. Different circumstances can generate it, but the feeling remains the same.
Getting rich. Getting the promotion. Becoming a beloved writer. Accomplishing a life-long goal. Falling in love. Getting licked to death by your dogs. That sensation of happiness is the same; there are no degrees to happiness. Which meant that it was no longer something to be pursued—it was only there to be experienced.
That couch taught me the true meaning of gratitude. Ever since, it’s been hard not to see each new event in my life as a bonus, no matter how trivial or negative. Because, in a way, I’m already there.
My wife and I are moving out soon. We’ve outgrown the town that’s housed us since our Midwestern return. We decided the couch is staying behind when we go. You can’t remain stagnant for too long, and constantly thinking about all the ways you want to improve your life is its own kind of stagnation.
It’s never good to hold onto the past too long; you have to to learn to appreciate something while you have it. It’s not only the key to happiness, it allows you to let go when you need to. That was one of the most important lessons I discovered that year: the meaning of something is far more important than the thing itself.
I learned that on the couch, too.
Daniel J. Gyure has been making up stories his entire life. He has been published twice in the Indianapolis literary magazine Irvington Reader. You can find him on Twitter, where he talks about life, storytelling, and nonsense. He writes to provide a better life for his dogs.
* This is the author’s first literary award. *