Pull up a chair

The first time I remember hearing anyone express a political opinion, I was sitting at a brown formica kitchen table. It was at my grandmother’s house (my mom’s mom, who I called “Nan”), and she was listening to a newstalk radio station. Torontonians were calling in to complain about Quebec, I don’t remember why specifically, and my nan muttered something along the lines of “that damn Trudeau has made Quebeckers think they can have anything they wanted”. I had no idea what she was talking about, but I was really excited to listen.

Kids hear a lot of things for the first time at tables, especially if their family isn’t big enough to have a “kids’ table”, which mine wasn’t. So when the adults would eventually get tired of making small talk with us, they would turn to each other and have discussions about current events and movies I wasn’t allowed to watch and other peoples’ relationships. I have no idea how much I understood or misunderstood, but I knew that once we left the table the kids and the grownups would stop hanging out together. I always wanted to be around adults when I was young, so I would stall at the table as long as possible.

When I was 25 years old, my now ex-husband and I moved into the main floor apartment at 2040 Maynard, a duplex in North End Halifax. My upstairs neighbours were my friends, but also intimidating celebrities. Kate Greenaway was the head of Medical Students for Choice, and Marshall Haywood managed a feminist sex toy/book shop called Venus Envy.

Their apartment was perfect.  The kitchen floor was black and white tiles, their bathroom window ledge was decorated with colourful dildos, and their patio had flower boxes with tomatoes and herbs. There was always great music playing. To me, though, the heart of the space was a giant wooden table that I’m pretty sure Marshall had built.

I never felt completely at ease in that apartment, because I never felt completely at ease in my 20’s, but there were some moments of grace. Most of these involved sitting at that table with Kate and Marshall and their friends, until the tea was cold and we were being nostalgic about jokes we’d made only hours before. I would stall at that table, too, feeling again like a kid among adults, even though we were all the same age.

In every place I’ve lived since, I have made sure to have a table big enough for at least a couple of people to sit at. In Edmonton, Jesse and I had a great 50’s table that we sold before we moved to Ottawa, where we bought a big dinner table from Ikea. I loved sitting those tables together, doing crosswords and having meals and talking about our day. It’s one of the things I miss the most. When I moved to Toronto and Jesse moved in with Kira, Lili ended up with our dining room table. In May, she moved to Toronto, too, where she now lives with JJ. Seeing my old table in their apartment always knocks the wind out of me a little; it feels haunted.

Writing this entry made me realize how much tangible evidence there is that tables preoccupy me. I can never walk past one on the street without bringing it home.  In the 600 square foot apartment I am about to move out of, I at one point had three tables: one in the middle of my bedroom, one taking up my entire balcony, and one crammed in my kitchen. I love eating at this last one with my friends, but I am fully aware of the fact that it doesn’t exactly … work.

I’m about to move again, and had no idea how to put a table and chairs in this new apartment. I figured maybe I wouldn’t get to, remembered that a lot of my friends didn’t have them, and tried to feel like it would be alright to eat/chat on my couch.

The thing is, I find couches to be a sort of awkward. I never know how to situate myself with others. How do you face the person? Do you turn your head? Do you turn your whole body? What if there is more than one person? Do you all sit in a row? How do you know where to put your hands so you look natural and relaxed? How do three people on a couch have a conversation? I find it really trying to even think about. Couches are great for sitting on and watching something together, but since the only TV I have is my laptop, piling on the bed works just as well for that.

So in an ongoing effort to keep trusting myself, I decided that my next apartment won’t have a couch or a living room. I’ll have a deck (with a picnic table), a kitchen, a dining room, and a bedroom with a futon that can fold into a couch if the situation ever calls for it. When I came to this conclusion, I was instantly so relieved. I took to Craigslist to find the perfect table. Not a table that I found on the street or bought because it was small enough to fit in the space I had available, but a table that was going to be given its own room. A table my friends would sit around and gossip and craft. A table I could write cards at if I wanted to, if I ever progress to the point where I am someone who has stamps.

I found it! A 25 year old was selling the table he grew up eating at. I went and picked it up in a taxi van and now it is waiting in Jairus’s garage for me to move in my new apartment with it. It is solid and maple and gorgeous and has leaves that fold out at the sides and I will sit at it with some of you and I will sit at it alone and I’ll shoo the cats off of it and I’ll let it get too piled with papers.

I am also looking forward to this table being a place where Nico, Theo, Isadora, and my other small friends can hang out with adults and overhear our conversations. Maybe they won’t understand them right away but I hope they enjoy themselves and feel included. If they prolong things by stalling, I’ll be really really happy.

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7 thoughts on “Pull up a chair

  1. I can’t imagine not having a couch, but I am obsessed with watching TV and prefer falling asleep on the couch to the bed. I also like having a laying down place different from the bed, but if I didn’t live with someone I wouldn’t need that as much. I am all for people realizing that we are adults and can use our houses how we want to. I did it the opposite way – set up my dining room, realized I never used it, and would prefer 2 living rooms. haha
    It is brilliant when we realize we can just do what we want with our rooms. I put a couch in my living room.
    Also, if you only have chairs and not couches to lounge in, get cushions for those chairs? just an idea.

  2. I am such a fan of your writing and philosophy. I hope Hugh and Vera get to sit at your table someday. In fact I need to make it happen.

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