Sitting on my loveseat snuggling with Annie, I notice the blue stool sitting by the window near the piano. It’s all wood, a perfect height for playing my guitar—although last night I played Bach and Hayden sitting on the floor and now my back hurts. I have had that stool since 1974. My first husband Jim’s mother gave us that one and its twin for our newlywed apartment. The stools were orange then. Perched by our kitchen counter, they matched the orange “love” hanging I put up in the kitchen and the orange lamp an aunt gave to me. I probably sat on them when I talked on the orange wall phone hanging nearby. It was 1974. Orange was in.
I’m not sure how I got the stools in the divorce. They came from Jim’s mother, and we divided things along family lines. But I took them. It’s possible my friend Arley and my brother didn’t know they weren’t supposed to go with me and just loaded them in their vans. It’s also possible Jim didn’t care what I took. He wasn’t around when I packed up, taking all the bedroom furniture, leaving him nothing but a pile of blankets and clothing and the busted-up wicker hamper. I took the yellow Formica kitchen table, too. What came from my parents’ house went back to my parents’ house. We weren’t married long enough to acquire furniture together, and I was too broken-hearted to be generous.
Did I take both stools? I don’t remember. I only have one now. I have a vague memory of the other one being broken, but was that after the divorce or before? Let’s say before.
The thing I remember most is trying to strip off the orange with some kind of chemical in my parents’ patio. For some reason, I suddenly hated the color orange. I planned to repaint the stool with blue spray paint. The paint-stripping chemical just made bubbles in the paint. I tried sanding it by hand, making minimal progress. I worked at it for hours. Then my father took pity on me. He brought out his electric sander and de-oranged that stool in a hurry. He showed me how to spray on the paint, and voila, I had a blue stool. It’s a rich color-crayon blue that has lasted almost 40 years, through 10 different homes. Even now, its blueness feels like a victory, me claiming my own color, my own life.
The stool came in handy in my Pacifica post-divorce apartment, where the main furnishings in my living room were a desk and a beanbag chair. I used an upside box for an end table.
The stool went into storage when I left to sing with the Billy Vogue Country Singers and came out again when I got another apartment in San Jose, just before I married Fred. After that? I probably used it at the counter in the house on Madison Drive. But where was it on Safari Drive? Where was it in in Lincoln City, in Newport? It’s scary that I don’t know. It’s like I can only access the memories I knit into stories or poems.
After we bought this house in South Beach, the stool became a nightstand in the guest room. I bought a blue lamp to match. When I slept in there after Fred got sick, the stool held my clock, notepad, water, and pills. I no longer saw it as something to sit on. Nor did I seriously consider buying an actual nightstand.
The stool stayed in the bedroom until a few months ago. My back had gotten persnickety. Everywhere I sat to play my guitar was too soft or the wrong height. After pricing stools made for guitar playing (expensive!), I realized I already had the perfect stool pretending to be a nightstand. I traded a TV tray for it.
Now the stool sits by the front window, its blueness clashing with the green and mauve décor chosen by the previous owners. Sometimes I sit on it to play guitar. Sometimes I perch on it to look out the window, feeling the cool air that sneaks in despite the double panes of glass. Sometimes I pile music books on top of it, then scold myself and remove them. The stool is for sitting.
Is a stool just for sitting? Can’t it also be a table, a shelf, a symbol or a work of art? This one has lived so many lives, outlived so many people. I haven’t seen Jim since 1981. His parents are both long gone. So is my mother. So are Fred and his parents. The cats that used the stool to jump from the chair to the counter back in that apartment on Vermont Street crossed the rainbow bridge long ago.
Jim is still going, as are Arley and Mike, my movers back in the days when you could fit all of my possessions into two vans. Dad is hanging on at 95. Do any of them remember the stool? I doubt it. But it’s still here, calling me to come sit and play.
Do you have things that have stayed with you a lifetime, that have meaning a person can’t see by just looking at them? Please share.