That tattered leather chair was so obviously out of place in the otherwise immaculate décor of our house. It was old, black, and tired, with tiny fissures running down the back cushion like a colony of persistent spider webs. The top skin of leather had been worn off of the seat in soft beige spots but the tarnished brass nail-head trim that surrounded the piece reminded everyone of its regal origins. It had been passed down through my father’s side of the family and had once been a fine specimen of the tradition of North Carolina furniture making.
It sat in the back corner of the den our prototypical seventies household, softly wearing four dents into the rust-colored shag carpet. It was his spot and that fact was non-negotiable. Its purpose was to house him for drinking and watching TV. This was back in the days when children were human remote controls and amateur bartenders. He used to laugh at me for being so heavy handed with the alcohol in his vodka tonics. Hell, I didn’t know the difference; it all looked the same to me. Dad occupied his throne like a lazy benevolent dictator, but as long as his immediate needs were met – ice in his drink and “Hee-Haw” playing on channel 3 – he was largely silent. He had the uncanny ability to tune out any chaos that arose around him. And there was plenty of chaos.
From that chaos, all I really ever wanted was some sort of safe place to just exist without fear or anxiety. I felt ashamed of being scared. Nobody was beating me, well, not unless you count the general smacking around that was the sibling pecking order of the household of which I was on the lowest rung. I had a lovely roof over my head and wanted for nothing material. School was school. Family was family. I was the one they all bullied. It made for long, sometimes terrifying days. All I wanted was for it all to stop, just for a while, until I caught my breath. The only stillness and calm emanated from the man in that chair. I used to mistake that calm for kindness and affection. I’m sure it was there somewhere beneath the shield of alcohol and digital distraction he wore to keep the world out. When I was little, I climbed up in it once when he was there and wrapped my arms around his neck. He gently pushed me away. There was nothing there for me.
When no one was around I used to curl up in that chair seeking solace – that safe warm spot – like a cat sneaking in to take the place of the soft indentation left by its temporarily displaced master. I imagined he was there with me, comforting me. But there was only ever room for one of us in that chair, so I went along my way.