My parents conceived me on a sofa in a department store. My mother worked in the underwear section and was a second-year nursing student. My father worked in the household appliances, hardware, and gardening section and was a fifth-year social sciences student. They’d hardly been dating a month, and they’d never worked the same shift. Until that morning in May, no one saw them enter the warehouse holding hands—the store wouldn’t open to the public for another hour. No one heard them either, despite the fact that the sofa still had a plastic covering on the cushions to protect it from any stains. The sofa was more cream than yellow; it had solid wood legs and fit three people comfortably. Though my parents didn’t intend it, that morning there were already three of us.
As soon as my mother knew she was pregnant, she bought the sofa. It was the first thing my parents got on credit, and the only piece of furniture that was delivered to the house they rented with an option to buy in Levittown’s Second Section. My father hauled the rest in his Mazda pickup to save on delivery charges. Not that it mattered much that my father hauled their bed in his pickup; my mother slept on the sofa for most of her pregnancy, because of awful heartburn. “It was worth it,” my mother told me, because I took my first steps clinging to that sofa. Sometime later, I used the cushions as steps to get onto the TV stand and jump to the floor, like someone demonstrating the laws of gravity with his chin.
When my younger sister was born, the sofa was my nuclear bomb shelter—the lamp on the side table was the mushroom cloud after the explosion. Other times it was the Death Star where Luke Skywalker fought with Darth Vader, and so many other times it was the dugout where I was sent when I wasn’t doing well at baseball. That’s how I became a fan of the Boston Red Sox. Not only was it my father’s favorite team, but I liked to listen to the blows he gave the sofa every time Boston failed to get past the league finals, when even Ted Williams—the best player of all time, according to my father—couldn’t save them, because “now all players used steroids” and only wanted to rack up home runs.
I saw the best concerts of my life on the sofa: the only time my father picked up the broom was to turn it into an electric guitar, and on the few occasions my mother held the TV remote, it was to use it as a microphone. I don’t know how many times I saw them dance a bolero on the tile floor and give the longest kisses in the world, after not speaking to each other for a week. I found my mother sleeping on the couch only once, because she had bought a high-priced vacuum cleaner without consulting anyone. But, honestly, my father held the record for sleeping there: once because he came home with lipstick on his neck; another time because he arrived at five in the morning, drunk; and the last time because my mother caught him kissing a cousin who was staying with us because her husband had given her a black eye. My father slept there for an entire month. Until my grandfather peed on the couch. That was the first sign of his forgetfulness. We had to move the couch to the patio because of the stench. We had to wash it with Clorox, and some of the color came off. When it dried, they got it reupholstered and my mother had no choice but to let my father back in their room. “If you had made him cover it with plastic like I told you to, this would have never happened, my maternal grandmother said; she never liked my father.
When the department store where my father worked closed its doors, the sofa was our ally. I don’t know if he ever realized it, but sometimes—without him seeing me—I slid coins between the cushions for him to find. During that time, I stopped eating candy, only to save money and leave it for my father. I was never chubby, but I lost a few pounds and even got a girl to notice me. I told my father about my teenage love affairs when I’d go to the grocery store with him to buy half a gallon of milk, or a pound of bread, a beer or two, a gallon of concentrated juice, and cigarettes.
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