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Wild Sofas

There’s no training for sofa hunting. It just happens, like puberty. One day you’re driving along, babysitting two little boys, and you spy a navy-blue sofa on the sidewalk. You’ve been wanting a place to read and rest in your office. This one was high quality, higher than you could ever afford, if you were someone who bought new furniture instead of scouring the sidewalk.

The linen and lines of the loveseat scream money and Scandinavia. Though strips of the upholstery are faded gray, if you don’t grab it, it will be gone. You pull over and turn to the kids. Two sets of blue eyes widen, wondering why you’ve stopped. “I’ll be right back,” you promise, knowing to withhold facts to avoid arguments, even, or especially, with toddlers. You feel like another person as you wrestle the frame into the back of your station wagon. You’ve Incredible Hulked it, and toss the cushions in the passenger seat. The toddlers are unnerved, their dismay quiet, a pair of held breaths.

That was me, of course. Once I got to my apartment, the superheroine of salvage disappeared, and I had to call a friend to help get it indoors. Each abandoned sofa I’ve seen since compels me, not because it needs me but because someone else no longer needs it. Sofas are sponges for feelings and proxies for rest. What leisure and love did they hold? I imagine books read, quarrels had, tears shed. I imagine couples holding hands, giving and taking kisses. And then—this giant thing, full of spent love and dead chances, lands on the sidewalk.

I’m a busy person, not one to recline until I collapse. Maybe that’s why I’m so intrigued by sofas, because they physically tell me to lie down and stop. At one point, my husband and I had nine sofas, far too many for us and our two little kids. I said yes to every sofa that came our way, making sure a soft horizontal surface would catch us when we stopped spinning. The days were endless and the nights were restless. The kids and I had questions: they wondered how life worked and I wondered how to make it work. Nights, I had multiple choices of where to bring my sleepless self when kids needed me or my brain did, to fret.

A daybed became a car that the kids drove to the ‘hosabilly’ (hospital) and the supermarket. Summers and winters, we read Richard Scarry books together by the fire, and they watched videos of construction sites alone. When my husband and I stayed up canning and freezing, the boys might come downstairs to sleep against the sounds: knives on cutting boards, jams bubbling thick in the pot.

My sofas were islands. There, I could close my eyes and feign sleep to be off limits from requests. Now the boys are legal adults and the elder lives elsewhere. Mornings, the youngest lies on the sofa with the cat on his chest. This is his reset, too, after work or school. Many nights, my husband, our son, and I watch a British comedy while we eat.

We’ve trimmed the sofa collection down to five, passing them on to friends or thrift stores. None of them went to the sidewalk; that would have been too sad. But I can’t remember the specific path of our remnants. Does a snake remember shedding its skin? We accumulate, cling and let go.

Mostly, we don’t imagine where that stuff goes. We live with our furniture and when it crowds us or wears out, we get rid of it; twelve million tons of furniture in America is discarded each year.[1] Some of the material is recovered for re-use, and some is burnt to generate energy, but the bulk, ten million tons, goes to the landfill. Not the anonymous landfill, but the spots on the edges of our communities that need to absorb everything we can’t.

My sister’s old boyfriend talked about burning sofas at his aunt’s place in the country, like it was something everybody did. I grew up in the country, too, but my folks grew up in cities, and when we were finally done with things, we gave them away. Yet, I can picture burning piles stacked for ignition, pianos, sofas, and broken chairs, knit together with tangles of bushes and branches. I think of the formaldehyde in the foam and the plywood glue that will be toxic smoke. I think of people near the flames, silhouettes taking bad breaths. Do they also inhale loss? Is that flammable? If sofas can hold our feelings, does fire consume them, release them to another form, one that creeps into our lungs?

I’m not saying I can do better than burning. All disposal is irresponsible. The green sofa my sister gave up decades ago now holds my life. That’s where I had pneumonia and where we watched the Olympics. I know that when I finally let go of it, something will smolder and bruise us. Even if I take the polyester batting from the wooden frame, and recycle all its parts, I can’t peel off our attachments. I can’t save our memories in a magic urn. What we had would end up at the figurative dump, squeezed between mountains of promises. I needed you, I loved you, goodbye.

1. Durable Goods: Product-Specific Data from the United States Environmental Protection Agency website accessed on July 28, 2022.

AMY HALLORAN lives in upstate New York and writes facts about flour and bread, and fiction that shows our world slightly askew. She's the author of The New Bread Basket, which chronicles the revival of regional grain production, and she is working on a lyrical history of bread and her city.


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