Posted by Mishi Methven on Oct 04, 2011
The couch Aimee and I have is a camel-coloured microfibre couch. It was the very first thing we picked out after we bought our house. I remember that Aimee was insistent we get an "amazing" couch. One that we could grow with as a family and that would last 20 years. She was insistent that you had to pay for quality and though I tried to convince her otherwise and dragged her into at least a dozen couch stores, she ended up convincing me that her mother's DeBoers couch was "the best" and still looked brand-new after years of parties and hard-use. So, off we trotted to DeBoers and under the watchful eye of a skeptical sales clerk, we picked out our own luxury couch. It was our one and only purchase EVER from that store. The couch and matching loveseat cost us $5000 in 2004, and we ended up needing to take out a loan with the store to finance it.
I remember the day the couch arrived. We had just moved into our bungalow and the entire house was a disaster. The wooden floors were old and scuffed, the kitchen cupboards had no doors, the floor was a mess of peeling linoleum and the walls were stained yellowish from years of cigarette smoke. It was a dump, but we were so proud of it…our first home. We loved the original finishes of the house, all the wood and the leaded glass windows. We sat in our empty living room, painting walls and doors, and dreamed about what we could make the house into someday. And our dream house was going to start with the high-class couch.
I remember when the delivery guy came to bring us the couch, he put down a special carpet so he wouldn't "mess" up the floors. I giggled the whole time he was delivering the couch, probably marvelling the whole time at why two young girls living in a total dump would own such an exquisite piece of furniture. When he left he gave us a little wooden pear that he said was compliments of the store. I put it on the mantle and sunk into the couch for the first time. The cushions have down in them and squish like massive marshmallows when you lean against them. The arms are smooth and firm and the perfect height for balancing a water glass. It's as deep as a single bed, perfect for sleeping on when needed. I felt so proud the first time I sat in that couch. I was in love with an amazing girl, I owned a home, I was young and healthy and the world was just waiting for me to pounce. I sat there and imagined our home beautifully done up and decorated, with kids running around, their laughter bouncing off the walls as they leapt onto the couch in a ball of energy and fun.
As the years have passed, we've slowly fixed up our home, one room at a time. Now the house deserves a nice couch like the one we have.
When I was pregnant with Stella we spent hours on that couch. Aimee and I would each lie at either end and I read aloud from our "What to Expect When You're Expecting" Book, or our "Baby Name Wizard" book. Together on the couch we planned for our baby, tossed names back and forth, wrote letters to him or her that we envisioned giving the baby on its 18th birthday to prove how much it was wanted, loved and planned for even before its birth. In the last days of pregnancy I sat on the couch and watched hours of "Baby Story" on TLC, crying hysterically as each baby was born and thinking wondrously about how in just days, I would be a mother myself. Sometimes I would laugh or sneeze and pee on the couch. Aimee always thought that was so funny. When I started labour, I laboured on the couch. My entire body shaking with the pain of the contractions, I remember clutching the back of it and staring out the front window gritting my teeth and cursing to the night sky. All the while Aimee paced close by, managing to be incredibly supporting as a labour partner even as she placed towels all over the couch so I wouldn't stain or ruin it.
When we brought Stella home from the hospital Aimee and I, like any shell-shocked new parents, spent the first three days and nights on the couch---sitting up all night with our baby, afraid to put her down in case she cried. We watched so much HGTV that we learned how the scheduling worked, with each show working on an 8-hour rotation. Even after we learned to put Stella in her crib, night feedings were always on the couch. Stella was bottle-fed so we often took turns. I remember stumbling out with my newborn baby and plopping on the couch to watch television, marvelling at how there was always something on TV even at 2am---4am---5am. I remember crying on the couch because I was scared and lonely and depressed. The couch was my comfort, it hugged me with its soft fabric and helped me cradle my mysterious newborn whose moods and idiosyncrasies I had yet to figure out. In the early days when I was too scared to leave the house with my newborn, we just sat on the couch and stared at one another for hours. She was so intimidating. I was so lost.
As Stella got older, the couch is where we gathered as a family. Aimee would sometimes sit and play guitar while Stella laughed and clapped along. I would read books to her as Aimee cooked us dinner in the kitchen nearby. While Stella slept in her bed at night, peacefully and contentedly, Aimee and I would chat about our days, facing one another on the couch, sipping red wine and swapping stories and laughs about Stella…work…life…our future. On Friday nights we always treated ourselves to good takeout food and a Roger-on-Demand video. Balancing plates on our laps, sometimes Stella would fall asleep between us and we would gently lay her down while we all snuggled under a blanket, sighing deeper into the couch completely surrounded by love.
Whenever Stella was sick as a baby or toddler---if she had a fever, if she was cutting a new tooth, if she had a cold, we would sleep together on the couch. I would add a sheet and blanket and we would snuggle up together, the streetlight outside streaming in right on our faces. I hated it when she was sick, but secretly loved how snuggly and warm my child was, since when she was well she never stopped moving long enough to hug.
The couch is where we first sat and noticed that Stella's walking was a little bit off. We chalked it up to her cheap Zellers sandals at first. Then we wondered if it was an ear infection, or--worst case scenario-- her leg bones were growing inwards slightly, causing her uneven gait. The couch is where I collapsed the day after Doctors at Sick Kids told Aimee and I that Stella had an inoperable, fatal brain tumour. I left Aimee and our friend An in the hospital with Stella and came home to get some clean clothes. I remember falling into the couch and crying in disbelief, horror and rage. The couch is where the palliative care team sat when Stella came home and they first came to tell us how Stella's tumour would progress. Aimee and I squished into the loveseat together and held hands as we were gently told how she would lose her faculties one by one. How our future would be full of difficult decisions around shunts, feeding tubes, medication, vomiting, death.
The couch is where we live now, Stella and I. It starts in the morning when she wakes up (she has been sleeping in our bed for a month now). I carry her gently to the couch and we sit in the corner, her weak body leaning against my arm for support. My Daddy is there every morning, 7 days a week for the last three months, just waiting patiently for us on the loveseat. He greets us with a smile then disappears to the kitchen and returns a few minutes later with hot tea for me and toast cut into fours with butter and jam. We eat our breakfast on the couch and turn on Treehouse TV. She watches the same shows over and over and over again…Barney, Olivia, Caillou, Dora. I tick them off in my brain as they play. Mostly Stella just drifts in and out of sleep on the couch, but sometimes---less often now---she feels like playing. Sometimes the couch is transformed into a fancy dining room where we receive her stuffed animals for formal tea parties. Sometimes the couch is a classroom where her puppets come out and ask her questions about her family and her day. Sometimes there are books, or colouring balanced on our lap. Sometimes Mr. Potato Head gets plastic eyes put on his bum and goes to the corner store (aka the coffee table) to buy milk for "Madam Stella". When we receive friends or visitors, Stella tells them where they may, or may not, sit. The couch is reserved only for those she trusts most in the world, others are relegated to the floor, the kitchen chairs or the loveseat. The couch is where her Auntie Angie spends the night so she can help us get the 12am and 4am morphine doses into Stella. The couch is where Stella sometimes cries, vomits and pulls at her hair when she is not well. The couch is where Aimee and I sit, night after night, crying silent tears to one another at the magnanimity of our loss, her pregnant belly forcing her to slouch against the soft cushions. The couch is where Stella grabs my hands and says, "hold me like a baby". Where she gives hugs and kisses to all who pass through the door. Where I cradle her and sing to her as she sweats and sleeps in my arms. Where she calls out orders for milk…waffles…Aunties…the phone. Like a little Dictator we joke, or a Mafia Queen.
The couch is littered with crumbs now, pink nailpolish stains one of the cushions where we did manicures last week. There are ripped magazines shoved along the sides, a laptop balanced on the arm, books and puppets strewn across the cushions. There is a red blanket and underneath that blanket there is a little girl who means the world to us, slowly living out her last days.
The couch is where we laugh with her, cry when she's not looking, make plans for a future that doesn't include her. The couch makes my back ache, makes me sweat under the blankets, makes my neck and arms cramp up. The couch is where Stella wants to be. The couch is where I need to be.
She understands more than we think. Two weeks ago she looked at the solar system screensaver on my laptop and said with absolute conviction, "Mama…I want to go there". "Go where?" I asked, confused. "To the stars…" she said, touching the screen. Ahhhh. The stars. 'Of course', I thought, 'of course you will go there. The sky is the only place special enough to hold you until I can see you again'. "Yes," I told her, "you can go see the stars soon". She nodded solemnly and sagged back into the couch, content and confident with my promise.
The couch is where I finally understood. Yesterday, her eyes spilling over with tears, Aimee confided in me that she thinks Stella will be a shooting star in the night sky. "You know," she said to me as we sat on the couch together, "shooting stars are rare. They are bright and beautiful… but they come and go so fast, you're lucky if you ever see one at all". And here, now, lying in my arms on the couch, is my very own shooting star. Aptly named Stella Joy.