The moment I turned the key and opened the door of my “Hacker house" accommodations for the summer in San Francisco (more on this in another post), I was immediately confronted by a piece of my past. Smack in the middle of the already cozy 6-person loft, there it was in front of the TV: a gigantic, s***-colored beanbag.
If you visited me in Boston between August 2013 and May 2015, upon entering my apartment for the first time, you probably said something like, "Whoa, your place is huge! " "Wow, it's so open!" or "What a great space!” before you walked in further, scanned the room, and your eyes fell onto the ameboid mound on the floor to your right. Then you probably said something like, "What the f*** is that?!"
You might have been referring to the "Panda ball" on my bookshelf, which looks like this, but more likely you were likely referring to my Darling Beanbag, which I semi-affectionately called “Turd." Because, well, that’s what it was. A blobby cushion of a toilet-worthy shade taking up the awkward corner in my apartment.
Getting this beanbag in the apartment was as close as my life in Cambridge has gotten to an epic poem. A friend of mine from college, Felicity, recently started at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and was just settling into the area in August 2013. I got coffee with her to welcome her to Cambridge and learned about her unfortunate housing situation: somehow she found herself moving to three different apartments within the span of a month, and I was catching her between apartments 2 and 3. As we walked, she asked me if I knew anyone who needed a beanbag or any other furnishings—there were a few things she knew she wouldn’t have space for in her newest apartment. Hoping for her sake that the third time would be the charm, I told her I just moved into a larger apartment and could probably accommodate some things of hers. I had a lot of floorspace in my new place and I hoped to entertain far more in this apartment than the old one in Beacon Hill. Those extra people I could now have over people should have a place to sit--why not on a beanbag?
Looking at the cushion in Felicity's apartment, it wasn’t too big. Maybe 2 by 2 by 2 feet, as big as the box it came in. Still, it was a little bit heavy and it was a team effort to push the thing out of her doorway, down the two flights of stairs, and over the main lawn of Peabody Terrace. The more the beanbag was “agitated” by rolling, the more the foam inside it fluffed, and the bigger it became. Much like the title character of 1958 sci-fi film, “The Blob,” it expanded horrifically and threatened to swallow anything that got it its way. By the time we reached the corner of Magee and Putnam Avenue, the thing had at least doubled in size. Felicity had to dash for a seminar, leaving me alone, sweating with my inherited burden. Whether she actually had to leave for class or she was embarrassed to be seen with me and this piece of shit on the street is anyone’s guess. If the latter, I don’t blame her. Turd already managed to do the unthinkable: to further the absurdity of the city of Cambridge, which is as close as any city on the East Coast gets to Portlandia.
Knowing there was no way I could push the thing over the river from Cambridge into Boston and that it would be disgusting to transport it on the subway (and that I’d still have to push it to and from the stations), I plopped myself right in the middle of Turd and called a taxi. I entertained some priceless looks from onlookers as I waited for the car to arrive. Needless to say the picture of me sitting in it made for an excellent conversation starter in my tender years and Tinder days.
The cabbie arrived, and seeing me looking like a nincompoop with the poop cushion, gave me a look that somewhere between perplexed and pitying. Together we put in an earnest five minutes’ effort feebly pushing the thing into his Toyota Camry to no avail. I’d have to wait for a van cab, he said. Thankfully, the second cabbie and I were able to fit the thing into his Dodge Caravan, our collaboration hastened by a sudden drizzle of rain. The minivan door slid closed just as the skies opened up in total downpour. After a seemingly-endless ride with my face sandwiched between the car window and the beanbag surface, the cabbie and I tugged the thing out of the car and then I was on my own again. I rolled it into my building, in and out of the freight elevator, and at long last, triumphantly push it into the doorway of my apartment and into the corner where it would live for nearly two years.
I laughed with Beanbag as it sucked people in and would’t let them out at house parties. Beanbag welcomed my weary body when I was memorably (and unfortunately) hungover, wreath still in my hair, after a Garden of Eden hipster theme party in Cambridge. I’d slept in Beanbag before and, if I’m being completely honest, I’d slept with people in Beanbag before--no more than twice (Once because I was curious, once again to determine whether it was the beanbag or the person that accounted for the quality of the intimacy. I’ll just blame it on the beanbag).
The fun of Turd quickly faded. It stopped collecting memories and started collecting dust. In a true “sunk cost” scenario, I figured it had taken me so much time and energy to get the thing into my place that I didn’t want to get rid of it. “Maybe it’ll be good for when X visits!” I rationalized. “You could get a lamp over there and try reading in it tomorrow!” And whenever I tried to relocate the heavy thing for novelty, I gave up and pushed it back to what had become "‘its place.” It became a corner of my living space that I treated like a bad roommate, tiptoe-ing around it, wishing to avoid offending it by my presence, and dreaming of the day it would move out.
It wasn’t until two different people with strong eyes for interior design offered their opinions that I actively considered doing anything else with that corner. “It’s Beanbag corner,” I believed. “I can’t imagine what my place would look like without it.” Thinking about what the space could be without it made me happy, but the thought of what it would take to remove it made me anxious, tired, and depressed. On those more depressed days, stuck in a black haze, I called Turd “Tumor,” because that’s the effect it was having on my life, embodying fear and helplessness.
Because Anaïs Nin says it better than I ever could, “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” Miraculously, one day, I'd had enough.
On May 3, something in me snaps. I’m coming home after an epic weekend up to my eyeballs in visions of beauty. I’d spent the night before dressed to the nines, surrounded by smiling classmates, champagne bubbles floating my head and my feet across the dance floor at “MBA Prom” in Newport. The night was as close as it gets to a Gastby affair in this century. And the man I adore is on my arm all night and in the car with me on the way back to Boston.
We open the door to my apartment and after a weekend of so much beauty, I just can't look at what I’m living in anymore. When we settled on the couch, I get to talking about how I wished I felt like my living room felt like a space I could actually live in and I didn’t know what I could do to change it aside from temporarily clear up some clutter. “I can move some things around,” he tells me. Trusting his spatial reasoning but feeling skeptical than anyone could make this living room feel like a room for living, I think, “Maybe the freedom doesn’t get to carry over out of that weekend. Maybe I don’t deserve it.”
I retreat to the kitchen for a few hours to cook my meals for the week while numbing out with Netflix, and when I emerge, I don’t recognize the place. He’s played an impeccable game of Tetris with my furnishings and tchotchkes. The sight is marvelous. I have to catch my breath. I break down in tears.
“How did I go on living like that?” I said.
“How did I go on living without you?” I think.
For the past two years, I went about thinking there was nothing I could do about my place. I didn’t believe I could get the thing out or have an apartment without it. I couldn’t see my life without it.
As I’ve also heard it said, a miracle is a shift in perception.
Seeing what he’s done with the rest of my apartment is all it takes to make me resolute. I finally lose my patience and complacence and tolerance for the ugliness. The fear of living without the beanbag turns into anger at having let myself live the way I had been for so long: I didn’t have to accept this as it was. This was something I could change but chose not to.
Looking at the beanbag and high on leaps of faith from the weekend, I take one leap more, eyes drying, speaking in a voice with a strength I thought I’d never hear again:
“Let’s destroy this thing."
And we do. Unable to heave the thing through the doorway, we cut the beanbag open and spend the next three hours to a soundtrack of 90s hip hop allocating its foamy innards into 20 garbage bags, which we proceed to distribute across trash rooms on 15 floors of my apartment buidling. Furtively carrying full sacks of murdered beanbag, the two of us are somewhere between Bonnie and Clyde and Santa Claus.
We vacuumed the place and admired the new space. I never felt so free. I never felt so affirmed. I’ve never felt so loved.
We’ve all got our Beanbags. We’ve all got those things in our life we hold onto out of habit even though we want to kick them out. We keep them around because we’re fearful or blind or unwilling to see what we could do or who we could be without them.
My first year of graduate school put me through the wringer, and it was only by the spring that I had emerged from the crucible and started to recognize myself again. The self that didn't settle. The self that had no fear. The self that took no s***, of the metaphorical kind or the literal beanbag-level kind.
Whoever you are reading this, I challenge you to slay your “beanbag.” Find the courage to move the crap out of your life. The relationships that don’t fulfill you. The mindset that disempowers you. The work that doesn’t inspire you. Whatever is keeping you down, make it move.
Nothing will move unless you do. And when you do, you have room to let the good move in. Love, included.
See you on July 1.