Sometimes visitors ask me where I got that chair, struck by its incongruous age in the company of my relatively new sofa set. I just say a friend gave it to me, no more. It has its own story though.
It was only when I arrived that the surgeon asked about an escort, because he said he would have to use general anesthesia, and somebody should guide me home. I had none, in a city I had just arrived. I said I would rather that, after the surgery, he asked his nurse to call a taxi to take me home. It was a Friday, and he seemed in a hurry to start his weekend. The moment I recovered, he came to say goodbye and left me in the care of his nurse.
The nurse was Clarissa, a youngish redhead. After finishing her chores and closing the office, she called a taxi. Then she found I was still in no condition to walk to the taxi. She lent me a shoulder, took me to the taxi and then had a second thought. She said, “You are in no shape to walk out to your home. I’ll take you to my apartment close by. You can rest an hour or two, and then go home in another taxi.”
I barely made it into her studio apartment before I collapsed. I remember hearing, “You better sleep it off” as she put me into a bed and pulled a blanket. I also have a fuzzy recollection of someone spooning vanilla ice cream in my mouth, murmuring, “The doctor said this will help soothe the pain.”
When I woke the next morning, the first thing I noticed was the hand on my chest. It was not mine and it had a silver bracelet. Then the angle of light from a window gave me the clearest clue that I was not in my bedroom. It was Clarissa’s. She had only a small loveseat in her tiny apartment and had been forced to share her bed with a stranger. It was the kindest thing she could do for a person in need.
I invited her for dinner the following weekend to thank her and we became friends.
When she married two years later, she introduced me to her husband, Donovan, and friends by saying, facetiously, that I was the one who slept with her, “without, even once, asking for (her) permission.” I responded lamely that I was “too high” to remember.
Donovan bought her the antique rocking chair for their wedding anniversary and, whenever I visited them, she invited me to sit there, for whatever she brought me to drink. I knew she loved the chair. I too liked it, its old-world oddity and its firm back and gentle swing. I liked it even more when Donovan said that she didn’t allow others to use it.
In their living room, the rocking chair occupied a place of honor for twenty years, though Donovan narrated with discomfiture that Clarissa always found a reason to steer guests away from the chair. They were allowed to admire it, but not sit on it.
When Donovan died of leukemia, Clarissa moved into an apartment in a retirement community, a smaller place that reminded me of her bachelor apartment. The rocking chair went there too, a symbolic placeholder for Donovan, she told me. I refrained from mentioning that she barely permitted him to occupy it.
Seven years later, Clarissa started losing her memory. She also had difficulty looking after her apartment. She moved into the assisted-living section of the community, where others looked after her. During the move, she told them to deliver the rocking chair to my address.
She said, laughingly, the next time I visited her, “I decided, just like you, not to ask permission.”
The antique rocking chair sits in my living room, rocking gently and supporting my back, as I sip coffee and read the Sunday papers. When I look at it, I think of Clarissa. It glows in the early light, a symbol of loyalty and kindness, understanding and enduring affection.