Each month, The Sun magazine offers fiction, poetry, essays, interviews, and photos in a black-and-white format without advertising. Each issue includes provocative ideas from people of science, religion, philosophy, the arts, or a combination. Each issue also includes Readers Write, a feature compiling nonfiction submissions from the magazine’s readers on an intentionally broad topic. Occasionally I submit pieces for consideration. More often, I write essays on the topics too late to submit them.
This piece should have been submitted by September 1, 2015, for consideration for the March 2016 issue.
I managed to get through ten years as an independent adult without owning a single piece of furniture. I had always thought the first piece of furniture I would have to buy would be a bed. For many years I was pleased to have avoided that purchase. In my mind, not owning furniture was synonymous with being independent, being able to make my own way through the world, taking advantage of what serendipity offered. But the furniture purchase that affected me most was when I bought my first sofa.
My first apartment–while I was still a college student in my Minnesota hometown–was furnished. My hometown was a college town. The influx of students who attended one of the three colleges in the area demanded temporary quarters only nine months of the year. Most apartments were therefore furnished.
After graduation, I moved from Minnesota to Berkeley, California, where my first apartment again was furnished. Five months later, I moved in with an older woman who had recently lost her husband. She was confined to a wheelchair and didn’t like the idea of living alone. I slept in her fully furnished spare bedroom. That arrangement didn’t work out for long. By the time I knew I had to move again, I had arranged to borrow furniture from the church I worked at when I found my first unfurnished apartment.
Three years later, I moved across the San Francisco Bay to attend graduate school at San Francisco State University. My first apartment in the city was a studio that had been servants’ quarters a few decades earlier. Furnished again. In the next three years, I had three different roommates and lived in four different apartments. Each time, a roommate had all the furniture we needed, including a spare bed for me.
During all this time, I was able to pack up everything I owned into my 1969 VW bug. It felt liberating to be that free–to be able to pick up and move if something attractive enough to entice me came along, or if something disastrous encouraged me to move on.
My next two moves were overseas, first to Iran and then to Romania, where my sponsoring organization provided a place to live and the furniture needed to fill it. Even when I returned to the United States, to Illinois, I was able to find a furnished apartment just down the street from my first full-time teaching position back home.
But in 1979, ten years after I graduated from college, I bought a sofa–a brand new, three-piece sectional, big enough for two people to sleep on if one of the two curled up all through the night.
It was a symbol of my having truly entered adulthood. I no longer needed to shop at thrift stores or accept hand-me-downs from friends. It should have been a reason to celebrate.
But it also represented the end of my peripatetic lifestyle. As the first piece of furniture I owned that I couldn’t disassemble and somehow cram into a vehicle, it felt more like a millstone around my neck than a certificate of passage into adulthood.