Last night, I sat in the small pink velure chair, cupping Noelle's tiny shoulders with my arm. We sat together reading her favorite books, just as we have done nearly every night for the last two and a half years. These days, we mostly read the books on the couch in the living room before bed, but every now and then we return to the pink chair. This chair has been a part of Noelle's routine since that first burning night home from the hospital.
Memories are etched in my mind with exhaustion and that strange physical bond that happens between mother and baby, of sitting in the pink chair nursing Noelle eight times a day. I quickly discovered in the early hours of the morning, around 1 or 2, that the pink chair was the perfect height for my weary head. While Noelle was busy drinking somewhere between sleep and consciousness, I would drop my head back on to the padded top of the chair and fall asleep.
I lived in that chair for the first month of Noelle's life. I have shared this image often with friends when we talk about learning how to breastfeed and the all-consuming nature of that task: it is the image of me sitting in the back room in that pink chair, naked from the waist up, my arms out ready to receive what ever offering was handed to me next, a hungry baby, or a plate of food.
Now the pink chair sits quietly in the corner of Noelle's room. Gone are the days of nursing. Gone are the afternoons spent rocking in the chair just before naptime. Gone are the evenings, sitting with her on my lap singing songs before bed. Now we have graduated to the couch for our prayers and bedtime stories, but as I said before, sometimes, we return to the chair, like an old familiar family member.
Noelle is old enough now that she does not want to sit on my lap. She wants to sit beside me in the pink chair, and it's arms are not quite wide enough for both of us, so usually I tuck Noelle into the corner of the chair first, and then I wedge my hips in sideways, hook my arm around her shoulders and hold the book in front of us like a ring of love.
Last night, as we sat together in the chair before bed, it hit me like a pile of bedtime books - this chair is the ONE thing I want to take with us to Washington. Everything else we are getting rid of, because the job provides furnished housing. I have been pacing through our apartment, a knot in my stomach gathering as I assess the importance of each item. Do we want this? or this?
"It's just stuff," Dwayne tells me rightfully, but in the face of leaving behind my friends, my family, my job, suddenly my "stuff" has gathered a whole lot more significance. Letting it go is the last tether holding me here, to all the memories and connections we have built over the last seven years.
"Of all the stuff, you want to keep the pink chair?" Dwayne asks me increduously. "It's like used four times over."
And this is the truth. Of all the things in our home it is the least valuable, and that is precisely why I am so attached to it. "Where did it come from?" Dwayne asks.
"APU!" And I am surprised at how quickly the tears appear. "Annie found it in the dumpster." And that's another reason why I'm attached to that small little piece of furniture with it's cheap pink upholstery, and two cigarette burns like dimples on the arm rest -- my sister used to own this chair. My sister, who is now thousands of miles away in New Zealand, and to whom I can only talk but once a week for an hour if we catch each other at the right window.
The chair is a physical reminder of her presence in my home everyday, when I can not reach her anymore. And then there are on top of that all the memories of Noelle's birth, and those difficult first days of learning to be a mother.
"I don't see how we can take it," Dwayne says standing at the sink doing dishes with me. And I nod my head in recognition. The trailer we will bring to haul our stuff won't be big enough to fit the chair. Grief washes over my body.
There was a stretch of time, I remember, when Noelle would nurse before bed. I would gather her up on the boppy, let her drink and fall asleep, while I sat snuggled into the broken-in comfort of the pink chair, reading a book by lamplight. It was a moment for Noelle, and a moment for me. A moment to sink into the foreignness of new motherhood in the comfort of an old chair, imbued as it was with years of memories and personal connections.