Rosemary climbed the stairs to the furniture section faster than I could, and when I arrived at the top she was sitting on an L-shaped sofa that was the color of amber, lighter than her own dark brown eyes which smiled at me as she bounced gently on the soft cushions. She patted the seat beside her in invitation. I stood for a few moments at the top of the stairs, briefly scanning the carefully arranged living room sets on the rest of the floor. I had thought we would look around the expansive display, but, when my eyes came back to rest on Rosemary, I could see she was not moving. I went over and sat down next to her.
“It looks as if you have found the one you want,” I observed, looking into her eyes. She nodded. Rosemary was normally not this spontaneous. We had discussed not only looking at what was available in this store, but also, before we left our new condo with its views of the Connecticut River and its marshes, we had written down the addresses of furniture stores nearby.
She smiled almost smugly, still saying nothing, as I leaned my thigh against hers. The sales clerk had followed us and was standing nearby watching. She had introduced herself when we entered the store.
“Kathryn,” I said, looking up at her, “I think this is the sofa.” I doubt she had ever spent fewer minutes with a customer before a furniture purchase.
“Great choice,” she said simply.
We had a certain frivolity in those days. We were excited about our new condo; we had set aside some of the money from the sale of our previous house to renovate and furnish this one. Rosemary had finished with a year of radiation and chemo and was declared free of cancer. I was perhaps a little manic. I had reluctantly given up our house on the lake in Maine that we could no longer care for and making a home out of our new condo helped to block my sadness of that loss. We giggled like teenagers – teenagers with some unexpected money.
“Wait!” Rosemary spoke as we stood up to go to the desk to sign the sales slip. “We need something for you! A chair for you! Something colorful.” Rosemary declared. She was perhaps thinking I found the couch too plain.
“I really like this couch,” I reassured her, “It’s a beautiful color. It’s the one I would have chosen.”
“We have a few chairs here you might look at,” Kathryn motioned and walked behind us into an adjacent area.
We surveyed the possibilities. I had wanted a recliner for some time, but I knew Rosemary would object. She was adamant that a stylish living room had no space for recliners. No matter what pictures I had shown her of small, stylish recliners, she could not get past the image of a fifty’s basement rec room with a leather recliner for the father of the family. I sat in a few of the chairs, and found an upholstered swivel chair that was comfortable.
“Here, try it!” I got up, so Rosemary could sit in it.
Rosemary sat briefly, nodded yes, and turned to Kathryn, “The chair is good, but it doesn’t match the couch. Don’t you think we need a different fabric? Do you have upholstery fabric here?”
Kathryn introduced us to Sarah, whom we followed around to the fabric samples that hung on little hangers down the middle of the floor. After much more chatting and giggling as we surveyed the choices, we came to a light beige fabric with big, colorful birds. Not tropical colors. The feathers on these large, beautiful birds were northern colors: garnet, ochre, slate, taupe, tan, mustard, and amber. They were perched on a dark red wire which wound in rows around the fabric. They were facing in every direction, several in profile, but others with their tails in the air, looking at the ground, and others looking straight into your eyes. I put up my hand to stop Sarah’s from moving any further down the row of fabrics, but I didn’t need to. Although neither Rosemary nor I said a word, Sarah had seen our body language.
“This is a gorgeous one,” she said, holding the sample out further so we could see it better. I looked at Rosemary and she nodded. There was no question that this was the right one. The fabric matched our sofa and our mood.
“Oh,” I added giddily, as we went to sign the slip for the fabric, “could I have a pillow made out of the fabric too?” Of course, I could. It was that kind of day.
In our Old Saybrook condo, we placed the new chair next to the fireplace and Rosemary referred to it as my Bird Chair. I could swivel to look at the fireplace, the television, the view of the marshes and river through the sunroom, or at Rosemary, who sat happily on her amber sofa.
But, two years later, Rosemary’s cancer returned, and we sold our beautiful condo and moved the Bird Chair and the rest of our furniture to an apartment in Brooklyn, high on the 32nd floor, close to the oncologist with views of the City and its rivers and harbor. Rosemary always longed for views.
Then came COVID. Being on lockdown is an effective way of really engaging with a place. Although we didn’t have many years in 32H, we probably spent as many hours in its confines as we had in places where we had lived longer. During that time, the Bird Chair became Rosemary’s. Her arm had grown heavy with lymphedema, a side effect of the chemo, and the arm of the Bird Chair supported her own arm, so she moved from the sofa to the Bird Chair. She had a compression sleeve and glove which she wore throughout the day, and each morning found her in the Bird Chair, crying with the difficulty of pulling the tight compress in place, even with my awkward assistance.
We didn’t ordinarily watch much television, but in those early COVID days, we spent considerable time in front of the set. From my place on the corner of the amber-colored couch, I could reach out and touch Rosemary in the Bird Chair, which she seldom left. We ate our breakfast each morning from these seats and became friends with the morning broadcasters, as they shared the news from the makeshift studios in their own homes. We anxiously awaited 11:30, when then-Governor Cuomo gave updates on the pandemic, connecting us to the outside world. And in the evenings, we did crossword puzzles in those seats until Rosemary could no longer see the print, even after I made copies with enlarged letters.
When the second wave of the pandemic threatened to visit the City in the fall, we rented a place in the country to ride it out. Rosemary didn’t want to leave. She did it for me. She had seen how I worried that one of us would catch the disease; concerned that I would get COVID and wouldn’t be able to care for her; that she would be left alone. Or she would get sick and be taken out of my care.
After weeks of discussion, she came to me and said she had decided what we should do. One of the places that we had considered was a house on a small river in Connecticut. She thought we should go there for the winter. We didn’t know then that Rosemary wouldn’t be returning to the apartment with the views that had brought her such joy, or to the Bird Chair.
I went back to the Brooklyn apartment several times after Rosemary’s death, to prepare the apartment for prospective buyers and then to pack. I knew that I could not live there. Aside from the apartment being on a high floor, which I had never liked, I could no longer manage the subway stairs to get around the City, and the car services had become very expensive. Many of my friends had left the City, and my own inability, due to my immunocompromised status, to attend shows or visit museums gave me even less reason to stay.
But each time, when I arrived at the apartment to pack my belongings, I could see Rosemary sitting in the Bird Chair where she had spent so many of her days.
It’s been eight months since she left me. I have a temporary rental near my sister and brother-in-law in Connecticut where I will live until I decide where my next home will be. I find it impossible to visualize it. My bereavement counselor explained it wisely, “Home to you meant being with Rosemary.” Getting ready to leave the last home that Rosemary and I shared hasn’t been easy.
Most of the furniture will go into storage, but I will take the Bird Chair with me to my temporary condo, and when I look, maybe I will see Rosemary sitting in it, and I will feel a little more at home there. I will be resting in my small beige recliner across the room.