Laraine Herring
The Transition


The chair was never very attractive. Even new. Mustard wool with strands of orange thread woven into the fabric covered the frame. It was never very comfortable. Buttons poked your back when you sat in it. But it was my father's chair. It lived in the den of our house from 1978 until he died in 1987. Then it lived in the den of my house. Up until last week. Now it's gone.

I moved the chair out of my dusty junk room. You know the room. It's the place in your house where everything you no longer need but can't bear to part with goes to rest. I moved the chair outside to wait for St. Vincent de Paul, the patron saint of lost furniture. The chair must have shivered in its springs from the sun and fresh air. So many years it had lived in the darkness. Its cotton stuffing had been removed from years of feline attentions, and the recliner often stuck and required a hammer to push the footrest back down.

But it was my father's chair. It was someplace he sat. It was something he touched. As I grow older, there are fewer and fewer people in my life whom he knew. There are fewer and fewer things in my house that he touched. He spent countless hours in that chair watching the PGA. The flat voice of the announcer, "Jack Nicolas for a birdie here on twelve. He's two down behind the leader, Hale Irwin." floated through our house like background music. The names of the golfers I knew, if they even play at all anymore, are on the senior tour or designing golf courses from glass encrusted homes.

When we lived in North Carolina, we owned a blue Cadillac that had belonged to Jack Nicolas. It had white leather interior with maroon trim and a big engine – the kind that never let you down – unlike your own body. My dad had polio as a child and his legs never worked right again. He wore shoes with lifts so his legs would be even and relieve pressure from his spine. But he still strained his back often, asking me or my sister to walk with tiny girl feet on his spinal cord while he lay on the green shag carpet, eyes closed. He loved cars and took extra good care of them. "They have to be my legs," he said. "If the car breaks down, I can't walk to get help." To this day, I change the oil in my car regularly. I balance the tires. Tune the engine. My car has never broken down far from help and never when I am alone. I joke that dad has become my car angel.

But back to the chair. As Dad got sicker and sicker, he spent more time in the chair. He often slept there. I would leave him asleep in the morning when I went to school and find him asleep in the afternoon when I came home. I would wonder if he had moved at all during the day. The chair was next to the side door, with its gray sunscreens that lets people inside see out, but no one outside see in. We used that door to leave the house for school or dates or for long walks around the neighborhood when being a teenager was too much to handle. Since the chair was by the door, Dad heard the engines of the cars that belonged to the fathers of the boys who came to pick my sister or me up. He heard the engine approach long before we got out of the car at midnight to come inside. He'd flash the porch light three times if he thought we were staying in the car with a hormonal boy too long. How I've wished now for someone to flash the light if they thought I was out too long, or out with the wrong person, or just out of my mind.

Dad sat in that chair and told me about college at Chapel Hill. He told me how he and his buddies would stay out at the Student Union and play "Stewball" and "Blowin' in the Wind" on the jukebox over and over while they played pool. It was in that chair that he told me he was dying and that if Mom found someone else to love, he wanted me to know that was OK with him. He knew I was the child with attachments. I was the child with loyalties. When my mother remarried, I thought of that conversation, but it didn't make me feel any better and it didn't stop me from feeling that somehow everything had been betrayed on levels I had yet to understand.

I have carried that chair for fourteen years. Each time I'd see it, I'd see Dad in it. Sometimes he was asleep. Sometimes he had a glass of tea in a cobalt blue cup. Sometimes he was reading a golf magazine. But always, he was there. I'd sit in the chair, recline back until I heard the snapping of the gears as the chair ratcheted into place. Dad heard that sound, I'd think. A thousand times Dad must have heard that sound. I could fall asleep in the chair and press my nose into the itchy woolen fabric and convince myself I could smell Mennen and Listerine. The scent of spicy spearmint aftershave the possibility that he might have just been there – just yesterday – and if I waited long enough he'd come back. I searched for a hair, embedded in the weave that could be analyzed to tell me every piece of genetic information that had made him live – to tell me every piece of genetic information that made him die. One hair that would have proven to me that he had lived at all – that I hadn't dreamt it – one long continuous loop waking dream in which I had a father and a mother and a future that didn't involve death. Although now I know that every future involves death. To believe in a tomorrow means to believe in the ending of today. But this is a paradox I continue to fight.

I have carried that chair for fourteen years. I have nursed it, the fuzzy dust covered symbol of my wound, showed it as proof that in my life before I knew this man who left – loved this man who left. Proof, perhaps, that there was a time when I could love a man at all.

Sometimes I think I have invented him. Surely, after fourteen years I have invented the idea of what our relationship would have been today. Surely, I have turned him into something he could never be. But the real pain comes from the fact that I don't know that. Maybe he could have been all that and more. I'll never know. And that not knowing has been a seventy-five pound wooly, dusty, Lazyboy chair on my back.

For fourteen years.

When the chair was out of the house, I felt cold wind cut through my breastbone. The new bullet hole had edges raw as unheld flesh. The pain was brief. Few tears. Then longer breaths. The space was just – space. Heart beat. Thump. Thump. Chair outside, not safe from cold or rain. Unprotected. Vulnerable. Dead. Any hairs remaining could blow away. Any DNA evidence tossed to the azalea bushes or the neighbor's swimming pool. Thump. Thump. Breath in. Breath out. Stand on both feet. Earth spinning in a galaxy bigger than the human mind is capable of comprehending. Desperate – so desperate for connection I hold to anything that feels safe. The fibers from a chair. The melted candle from a birthday cake. I hold and the weight breaks me down, bone by bone, until my perception is ground level – eyeball to eyeball with dust.

The chair is gone. My dad is gone. He wasn't here when the chair was here and he isn't here now that the chair is gone. I'm leaving the space for a while. Letting sage blow through. Letting the edges harden a little – enough so another piece of furniture can go there – one that matches maybe – one that doesn't itch or have buttons that poke me in the back. One that is big enough to hold me and big enough to let me go.

Last night I dreamed of leaving. Leaving the desert. Leaving my family. Leaving my home. I cannot recall a dream in which I was the one leaving. I've had countless dreams of being left – of abandonment in train stations, shipping docks, houses, airports, bedrooms – they're almost always the same. I wave goodbye from platforms to people who didn't love me enough to take me with them. People who had destinies with someone else. In someplace else. My role was to hold others, to support them, to help them until they went away. Each time they went away, I bled. But it was familiar. A vampire, the crimson and salt and heat of my blood nourished me.

In my dream, I went around and said goodbye to the people I loved. I said I would miss them. They shed more tears than I. I got in my car and drove down a wide, black paved street. The street was lined with cherry blossom trees and the road curved around the path of a creek. Houses set back far from the street and autumn colored leaves filled lawns that did not require irrigation to grow green. I woke up before I saw the end of the road – my house, my street, my city. But I was driving the car, and sunlight slanted through elm trees from a latitude I did not recognize. I traveled light. Four passengers. The wind, the road, the sun, and the future.