The Middle Couch Cushion
“Now you’ve done it. Look at his face!”
I covered my mouth to hide the smile, knowing a hysterical laugh hovered close behind. Never mind the warning alarm warming up in my thoughts; the tableau in front of me demanded insane mirth: A guy looking at me with “are you serious?” painted across his face, while my tabby glared daggers of indignation into the back of his head.
Swallowing a giggle, I crossed my arms. “If you expect to get back on his good side, you’d better apologize.”
“Um, I wanted to sit next to you.”
I smiled. “Yes, but you moved him from his spot on the couch.” I pointed to the slit-eyed displeasure focused on his head. “His face says he’s mad. And I told you you needed their approval for this relationship to continue.”
Nothing drove home the meaning of the evening more than that pivotal moment. I knew inviting this guy over to cook dinner represented a significant step (and a positive one at that, otherwise I’d have volunteered to cook). I even understood the risk of exposing him to the cats, to say nothing of the wrinkle of bringing a new kitten home hours before. It’s one thing to tell your date you own cats and another for him to end up confronted by judgmental feline stares.
But until he shifted Firefly off that middle couch cushion? I never realized the underlying message of the invitation. (Good thing cats possess superior intelligence)
Sure, I’d asked the guy over. I even agreed to let him invade my kitchen to provide dinner. (Who am I to turn down free food?) But I overlooked the fact I was allowing another person into my personal space. After years of blissful alone time in the house, the date represented a potential swing towards cohabitation. If everything went well that night, dominos stacked up, poised to tip over and fall in a terrifying cascade. Rather than making plans for movies, bowling, or meeting friends, I could face nights in front of the television, conversations across the dining table, even sleepovers. I was looking down the barrel of lost privacy, straight toward intimacy.
With one feline sniff, Firefly popped my delusional bubble of “it’s just dinner.” Affronted at the move from his coveted spot beside me, he went from accepting this intruder to informing me I needed to implement an immediate dismissal. Had I not explained to my guest that space on the couch belonged to HIM? Could the fool not see the shed hair — a clear indication of prior claim?
Displeased by my laughter — to say nothing of the inaction on the interloper’s part — Firefly proceeded to walk over my date’s lap and wedge himself between us. Narrowed eyes warned the man he was on thin ice, lest he attempt that stunt again.
The humor did wonders to dissolve any remaining nerves from the night — much to Firefly’s irritation (to say nothing of my date’s as I refused to let him move the cat a second time). That simple couch cushion battle jostled me “awake,” though. After so many years on my own, was I ready to give up my space and share a home with someone else? Did I want to contemplate that risk again? Or did Firefly have the right idea? Was it more important to defend my couch cushion?
When I settled into bed that night, Firefly claimed his spot at my side. No need to ask his opinion on the matter — or any of the other household felines. The status quo kept them comfortable. No one indicated a red flag about this guy (well, outside of that stunt on the couch), which meant he’d earned the right to stick around. But how far was I willing to go? Was I comfortable enough to shatter my routine? To let someone touch and move my pillows, books, DVDs — potentially shift something from its sacred position? Could I consider allowing a bit of chaos into my order? Was there room on the couch for one more?
It took me a few months, but the guy wore me down. He even convinced Firefly to share the couch cushion occasionally (that feline traitor even settled on the guy’s LAP!). Taking a deep breath, I decided my house — my space — could hold two of us. And I watched the wrecking ball enter my front door.
Sharing your life with another person? It’s messy. No one lives the same way you do. And it drove me CRAZY! He wanted to put plates in a different cabinet, fold towels another way, and stack books on the floor instead of on the shelves. I had invited him in, too, so I couldn’t turn into a screaming banshee every other moment of the day. (Well, I could and did, but it didn’t accomplish anything) Instead, I bit my tongue, blew up once a week, dissolved into tears, and retired to the couch. Where Firefly took up his usual spot beside me to reassure me that things would work out in the end.
Eventually (when you find the right person), you start to figure out that your space? It’s now OUR space. And that’s what it took for the two of us. We began communicating with one another, reorganizing the kitchen to satisfy both of us (mostly me). He agreed to learn how to fold the towels. And even though it increases my blood pressure? I pretend not to see those stacks of books beside the bed.
Why? Because he listens when I need someone to talk to. And when I’m struggling with the outside world, he knows the right words to make me smile. He never thinks twice about stepping away when it’s clear I need a little more space around me — even if we occupy the same house. He also feeds me — and not those crackers and cereal I used to consider dinner.
Best of all? He now laughs when Firefly squeezes between us on the couch. Maybe I married the guy, and perhaps the cats adore him and snuggle with him whenever the opportunity presents. But that middle couch cushion? The one right beside me? That space still belongs to Firefly. (And my husband better not forget it)