We call it “the $10 couch.” Or “the awesome couch.” Both titles are accurate. The couch was, indeed, $10 at the Attic Thrift Store in South Lake Tahoe. Or rather, it was ticketed at $12, reduced, but the sales clerk gave it to us for an even $10, “just to get it off the floor.”
I remember Adrian and I putting the seats down in my ’98 Volvo station wagon, sliding the couch into the back and driving slow down Lake Tahoe Boulevard with the couch sticking out. I remember him standing outside in the snow, pounding the cushions together hard, slamming decades of dust and strangers’ dirt out of the fibers. I remember the way the muscles in his arms tightened, the way I could see them even though it was cold because he was sweating with effort and had taken off his coat. I remember how we arranged the couch in our first apartment: against the long wall, next to the sliding glass doors, facing the hand-me-down TV.
We’d been together for nine months.
Like I said, it is an awesome couch. A low-rider in light cream, peppered with orange and yellow flowers sprawling out into every crevice. The couch is almost 7 feet long — long enough for both of us to tangle up, his head on one end and mine on the other.
A quick Google search suggests that the couch dates from the 1970s and that it bears a striking resemblance to the 2008 winner of the Sure Fit Ugly Couch Contest. Looking at it today, I can see that the couch is, objectively, very ugly.
But I also see the history. I see the warm colors, like autumn leaves. I see how those colors spell “home” in my mind, how they softened the brightness of our new Silver Lake apartment when we first moved in last year. I see how these colors have bled into our home, our lives. How our journey together with this first piece of furniture has shaped our palette: warm cherry wood and maple, cream drapes and an orange kettle, a vintage lamp painted blue-green for contrast.
Before this couch, I’d never purchased furniture. Before this couch, I’d never cosigned a lease.
Adrian and I met in Mexico at a yoga retreat, where we’d lived out of duffel bags in tents on the beach. Afterward, I visited him at his bachelor pad in Kailua, Hawaii, and he visited me in my rented room in Berkeley. We floated and crashed, from Waikiki to San Francisco. We didn’t own much. We didn’t need to.
Our stint in Tahoe started out the same way, with a seasonal job at a lakeside conference center. We shared a little cabin called the Cave, its front door hidden behind a sea of pines. Life in the cave was like playing house. We pushed our single beds together and bought a print of Telegraph Hill to hang on the wall. We burned incense on the floor in our green-carpeted bathroom with the exposed water heater and bare light bulb over the sink.
But the season ended and the snow fell. So we left the cave and moved into the snowboarder motel down the mountain, where for $50 a night we got a flat screen and a comfortable bed and cold cans of PBR for $1. I remember watching the November 2008 election results on TV, drinking cheap white wine from Grocery Outlet and crying. I remember thinking that anything was possible.
We woke up the next morning and decided to stay in Tahoe. Together. To get an apartment, jobs, furniture. To see what it would feel like, after nine months as nomads, to settle down. To buy a couch.
Eventually, we made our way south, from Tahoe to San Diego, and then, last year, back up to Los Angeles. Now we’re putting down roots. Our Silver Lake apartment no longer smells of fresh paint and cleanser. It smells of roasted squash and French lavender perfume and the palo santo we picked up on a trip to Ojai last month. We’ve built a home here, just like we did in Tahoe. A home anchored not by steady jobs (we’re both freelancers) or a marriage license, but by our belief in possibilities — and in each other.
These days, I walk up and down Sunset Boulevard and look in the windows of the used furniture stores. I see faux velvet easy chairs in lime green and mauve; low-rider couches in saffron and terra cotta. Here, everything is “vintage,” “Danish,” “Midcentury Modern.” In Silver Lake, every shop window looks like our living room. The $10 couch fits right in.
Perhaps it was leading us here all along.
Lauren Westerfield is a freelance writer and editor in Los Angeles.
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