THE GOLD CHAIR
By Rebecca Johnson
It was The Gold Chair that turned everything upside down. It was not an ornate kind of chair. It was not made for Medieval Kings with real gold, fancy scrolling, and a dignified red or royal purple velvet cushion. In fact, it didn’t have a single fleck of gold at all. It was stout, plush, and upholstered.
The Gold Chair was from the 70’s, I assume, when gold was the in-color. Our house was never the type to be filled with trendy or flashy furniture. The kind of furniture found on the marbled tile of expensive showroom floors. More likely it was a hand-me-down from my grandmother, who always disposed of her out-of-style furniture to our garage or our least furnished room. Our living room, becoming merely a cemetery plot of old and invaluable things.
On more than one occasion she said our house didn’t warrant nice things. After a while, I think my mother believed her or I doubt the out-of-date Gold Chair would have stuck around for so long. From my earliest memories, The Gold Chair, that gold chair, dumped from my grandmother’s house to ours, sat in my parent’s bedroom against the wall near the telephone. “It’s always nice to have a comfortable chair in the bedroom,” my mother still tells me.
Since giving up a wealthy childhood for a just-getting-by adulthood, she no longer had pretty or new things. To her, only an insignificant and obvious exchange for the truest kind of love from a man, who grew up with three brothers, on the side of town without slate roves. True love must do that to a person – place importance on things like comfort over beauty or style. The Gold Chair would sit in my parent’s bedroom, in the same spot, for decades.
My grandmother replaced The Gold Chair with a new, store bought, peachy or pinkish one to match the newest 80’s décor pallet. She was unconcerned with a furniture’s ability to offer comfort – that is if it were just the right style. After all, she was the type of lady who wore shoes that pinched your toes if they had colored sequins. She even had purple leather pants. That became her identifier if anyone asked me about my grandmother. Not that she made the most glorious peanut butter cookies. Because she didn’t. Or how as a small child I loved to sit on her lap. Because I didn’t. Or that she colored with me so few times, at age thirty-six, most of the crayons resting in the same box are stillsharp. But that she had purple leather pants. That was all they needed to know.
We never had store bought furniture. But it was okay with me. I didn’t mind much. At least not until high school when I became aware my classmates had store bought furniture. Or antique furniture. And carpet that wasn’t twenty-years-old. Their dad’s had jobs like doctors. While mine sold insurance for his father-in-law’s business out of respect. Though he secretly wanted to have a greenhouse. That was the kind of man he was.
I loved my father. Before I hated him. Before I started to miss him. And so I, too, learned having store bought and stylish furniture, or the newest carpet, wasn’t more important than the comfort of a father’s love.
My first intimate acquaintance with The Gold Chair happened when I was quite young. Three or four. The 80’s weren’t known for time-outs but if I did something especially naughty – which I often did, my mother would say, “Go to The Gold Chair.” I would be sentenced there for an unknown amount of time. The directions were to, “Sit here and think about what you did.” Except I wouldn’t think about it. I would make sure I thought about anything except what I did.
It was also next to my mother’s sewing things. A delicious, red pincushion shaped like a tomato. And a jar of buttons I wasn’t allowed to play with – but always longed to. When punished and sent to The Gold Chair I would open the jar and handle the smooth buttons. And then prick the pincushion with my favorite pins – the long kind with the pearly tops. After a while my mother caught me and removed her sewing things. The Gold Chair was not meant to be a place of forbidden pleasure.
Once those sewing things were taken away I started peeing in the chair. After a few peeing incidents I never had to go back to The Gold Chair. Instead my mother would say, “Go get the yardstick,” and I would be spanked. It never hurt. But I kept that to myself.
The morning my father died my mother told me from The Gold Chair.
That God damn gold chair. In that moment, only a little girl, I hated nothing more than The Gold Chair. As if it were its fault for taking my father from me. I wanted to pee on it. Punch it. Tear it’s upholstery until it was nothing more than decades of dirtied golden thread. It was Mother’s Day. But we didn’t celebrate. My mother sat in The Gold Chair.
All day. Stoic. Motionless. Stunned.
After my father died my mother was never the same. I imagine losing the love of your life at forty-two would do that to anyone. One afternoon, as she sat in The Gold Chair putting on her shoes, she asked me to tie them for her. “Why?” I asked.
“Sometimes it’s just nice to be taken care of,” she said, asking me not to tell anyone. I tied them. My childhood was over.
About the Author:
Rebecca Johnson is an Annapolis-based writer whose creative nonfiction, personal essays, and flash drama has appeared in ‘Fresh, Young, and Relevant,’ ‘Number Eleven,’ and ‘Headquarter Press.’ Her work has also been anthologized in The Geography of Loss. Her first collection, An Abnormal Love of Light, is forthcoming.