Sunday, August 21, 2011

Clinging and Releasing

Twenty years and three houses ago, we yanked our (then) living room out of the dark-paneled, cave-like seventies and heaved it into the nineties, with vaulted ceilings, skylights, and pastel wicker furniture right out of the south-Florida ambience of “The Golden Girls.” The coffee table we chose to complete the ensemble consisted of a massive piece of beveled tempered glass perched atop a white plaster and burnished metal altar that we eventually came to call “the ark of the covenant;” because that was what it looked like. In our smallish living room, it was the perfect combination of big enough to be functional, but transparent enough to take up no visual space at all. Perfect!

But almost immediately, that table’s glow of perfection began to fade. For one thing, glass-topped furniture and a houseful of pets do not mix. What in another home would be a neat, sparkling element becomes a multi-spotted housecleaning nightmare in mine, speckled with everything from kitty footprints, dog-drool and hairball remnants on top to multiple nose-prints on the bottom. Daily scrubbing might keep the thing presentable…but in a household where the human inhabitants have rarely been known to spend more than about 25% of their waking hours, that was a no-go.

And the magical property of the great sheet of glass to “take up no visual space” was a double-edged sword. Every shin that spent more than a couple hours in my living room became painfully aware that my “invisible” coffee table was anything but insubstantial.

Over the next twenty years, we moved three times, acquired and switched out at least four suites of living room furniture (since everyone knows that the furniture assembled for a certain space will almost certainly not work in another.) Oddly enough, the one piece that followed us everywhere was that gigantic, inconvenient and un-hygienic chunk of glass. We ditched the “ark of the covenant” almost immediately, but the glass proved handy. You could plant it atop any chest or trunk and, voilá, a custom-made coffee table. It was the perfect accessory for the shoestring budget home decorator; and so it was carefully packed and trundled from house to house. (Not that the thing would break if you lit a stick of dynamite under it…)

I truly believe that objects absorb some of the energy of the lives and events to which they bear silent witness. That piece of glass “knew” my sister, gone sixteen years now. It held decades of Christmas ornaments, staged on it between packing box and tree and back again. Half a dozen lovingly remembered pets had slid across it or stared quizzically up at me from beneath it. It was part of the story of our home; and though it has been monstrously inconvenient in my current tiny living room—its eternal spots highlighted brilliantly by the morning sun pouring in an east window, and its invisible girth barking nearly every shin attempting to navigate the traffic pattern through the room—there it remained.

About a year ago, I began half-heartedly keeping an eye out for a replacement: Something more twenty-first century. Something that could do double duty as a table and a footrest. Something that took up less than 25% of the width of the room.

Yesterday, we found it: a tufted leather storage ottoman on sale at Costco. Finally…no more sunlit paw-, nose- or puke-prints. No more limb-numbing collisions between bone and glass. No more crab-walk ooching between the furniture and the coffee table. Just a sleek, padded leather rectangle situated primly in front of the loveseat, inviting feet, glassware and bark-free navigation through the newly-opened space. Perfect!

I pulled the gigantic, heavy slab aside and slipped its replacement into its place of honor. That unwieldy piece of glass, heavy with memories, stuck to my hands and my mind as if it were glued. It had to go. I knew it had to go. I have nowhere to put it, and in any case, it had become more a pain than a treasure. And yet… Could I not put it somewhere? Should I not wrap it up and slide it against a wall in the garage; save it…

For what? The Second Coming? I shook my head, opened the front door and slid it out to the husband, who loaded it into the van for its trip to the Goodwill donation site. I watched it drive away, relief and dismay playing tug-of-war across my heart. I am mourning that piece of glass. Silly. The things you cling to in life.

Three months ago, the thing I thought I most wanted to do—the thing I truly believed would give my life a degree of happiness, fulfillment and sense of accomplishment that it had previously utterly lacked—came to an end. I had sunk five years’ worth of every creative atom I possessed into it. It eventually literally became my entire life. But I couldn’t make it work. It didn’t make me happy. It didn’t fulfill me. And I certainly didn’t accomplish anything. So I walked away. No clinging, no crying, no regrets, no fond memories. A clean break, no “what-if’s”, no mourning.

Apparently, my five-year foray into restaurant ownership made a less lasting impression on me than a forty-pound slab of memory-laden tempered glass. I was not even tempted to wrap up that restaurant and put it in my garage in case I changed my mind about it later.

Funny. The things you are more than willing to release from your life.

I do wonder a bit what my things—the things I cling to, the things I release—say about me. But, you know? I don’t really feel as if I’ve made the wrong choices.


  1. One of the activities of my recent stay-cation was the purchase of living room furniture. Not that I thought we would do thus, it just happened. We found a sofa, brand new, which I almost never purchase new furniture. And an area rug and curtains, suddenly the living has a decent start on becoming furnished and inhabitable! We are, however, using a glass topped coffee table that I bought in Arizona, for my office. Around the coffee table in that space were held many contentious and icky meetings. I hope it has not retained that energy, instead I hope it's been yearning for a peaceful place to reside and offer comfort. We shall see...

    In other ways, though, I have let go of many pieces of furniture too big to move, or too worn from animals and humans....some of them I still miss...

  2. I'm proud of you. Getting rid of something you've held onto that long isn't easy, but you made a clean cut decision and let it go. Good for you.