The decision to donate Charlie the Couch to the Ditch’n’Dash furniture drive after college graduation had been made weeks before. The decision to hurl Charlie the Couch off the second-floor balcony in order to transport him to the Ditch’n’Dash furniture drive was made in a matter of seconds.
We, the girls, had discovered Charlie – and christened him such – at the start of sophomore year of college. He had been slouching abandoned in someone’s driveway, an ancient cream-colored sofa of the ‘70s, splattered with horrendous orange flowers the color of burnt mac and cheese. To conceal Charlie’s mournful mildew stains and cigarette singes, we fitted him with a dapper olive green cover and surrounded him with warm floor lamps and fluffy throw pillows. We claimed him and curled up on him, doing homework, celebrating birthdays, and watching cheesy sorority horror movies on Halloween. The boys liked Charlie too, though they always claimed that he possessed a whiff of something like cat urine, perhaps a remnant of his former life.
On that rainy night, only hours after we had crossed the stage and received our diplomas, they began to slowly peel away Charlie’s olive green covering. The apartment was silent, somber, littered with half-packed boxes. Then a whisper, I still don’t know whose, hissed into the quiet: “Let’s throw Charlie off the balcony.”
There was no elevator; the stairs were crooked, narrow, concrete.
Let’s throw Charlie off the balcony!
Yes, a final adventure, one more unforgettable night as we fought to stifle the heart-in-throat sorrow that threatened to choke us with each farewell. Suddenly we, the girls, were gleeful, ripping off Charlie’s cover, grabbing his pillows, racing out into the wind. Suddenly the boys were all business, lifting Charlie off the floor, tipping him on his side through the doorway, balancing him precariously on the wrought iron railing, yelling for drunken stragglers below to run for cover. Ready? ONE! TWO! THREE!
Charlie the Couch plunged toward the muddy ground, pushed by those that he thought loved him, nothing to shelter him from the rain, his mildew stains and cigarette singes on glorious display.
* * *
The knowledge that I would graduate from college had been hurtling toward me for months. Walking across the stage threw me into free-fall in a matter of moments. I had been balancing precariously for weeks now, crossing final projects off my to-do list, sobbing through the songs of my last Wednesday worship service, emailing hastily to make up for my lack of a job search, and scheduling coffee dates with everyone I’d ever met, all in the last weeks before the plunge. These activities had handed me a sweet case of laryngitis. I couldn’t yell for help, couldn’t demand that time slow down.
But even a full-strength voice couldn’t have rescued me from the ledge, couldn’t stop me from teetering more shakily with each passing day. Each “last,” each moment of finality pushed me closer. I’d heard my older friends talk about the experience, the shove into the real world that they’d known was coming but couldn’t prepare for. Sure, now they could tell me if they had tumbled through rough air or smooth, if their landing had been jarring or gentle. But my older friends’ tales gave me no security, no certainty about how I would plummet. And so I perched, tipping, held in place only by the hands of time.
The first nudge approached with a rush of adrenaline, as we processed onto the college quad to the triumphant peal of bells, squinting in the sunlight, and saw our professors, family and friends beaming. We were shaky, about to fall, but all attention fell on us, and so we grinned back, giddy with accomplishment. My high heels, new for my long and narrow feet, new for the occasion, new for my new life, wobbled as I marched up the steps to the stage, but held me up as I took my diploma and shook hands with the president.
As my classmates mumbled through our Alma Mater and we tossed our caps into the wide green trees, I felt another push, harder, leaving me hanging by only a toe. My face reddened, my heart pounded, my palms sweated profusely onto my newly minted degree. Somehow I held on, posing for family pictures, laughing with friends, watching professors hand out cigars for a celebratory puff.
Then, without warning, it came. The hurl, the yank, the final launch; I knew I was airborne, eyes welling, throat gasping, legs numb and quivering. And I knew what had done it, triggered my drop, built up my speed: all around us, scattered among the joyful embraces and proud handshakes, maintenance workers rushed to dismantle hundreds of white folding chairs set up for the occasion, casually flinging them onto carts, leaving wide patches of mud, silently telling us to leave, pack up – we’re moving on with our lives, so move on with yours. Ready? ONE! TWO! THREE!
I plunged, pushed by those who I thought loved me, nothing to shelter me, my stains and singes and sobs on glorious display.
* * *
Hours later, Charlie the Couch sat, helpless but upright in the wet grass, his ugly orange flowers brightly lit by a lone lamppost. No dapper olive green cover, no warm floor lamps, no fuzzy throw pillows. Bare and open to the rain-soaked world.
We, the girl-women and boy-men, for one night caught in a blurred midsection of life, no longer college but not yet real world, dashed barefoot down the narrow staircase, checking Charlie for damage. We ran and pranced around him in the rain. We sat on him one last time. We breathed in and out. We were still, together.
We loved Charlie the Couch, after all. But since we had been pushed, we had to push him; because we had to start anew, we had to give him up.
And so, raising our umbrellas as if in salute, we lifted Charlie the Couch off the muddy ground, hoisted him onto our shoulders, and carried him to the Ditch’n’Dash furniture drive: the beginning of a new life.
Claire Asbury grew up in Decatur, Ga. with her parents, little brother and two miniature dachshunds. She holds a degree in English from Davidson College, where she fell in love with memoir and college basketball, and she’ll soon begin her MFA in creative nonfiction at Goddard College. Claire divides her time and heart between two lovely southern cities, Charlotte and Atlanta, and enjoys spin classes, singing hymns, and Seinfeld reruns. She blogs about life and faith at www.claireasbury.com, and tweets at @clasbury10.