I tossed on my thin pillows the other night, waiting for a wave of sleepiness to carry me away. In my layered haze of drifting colored consciousness, I remembered the long forgotten wooden dining room table I ate at as a child. At its modest size, it could easily fit six people, but when there were more guests, there was a wooden insert we would use to make it longer and, during these special occasions, my mom would usually bring out the piano bench and put it at the end of the table. Two small kids would then be seated close together on the back-less bench. I don’t remember when it was bought, I don’t remember picking it out of a showroom or the delivery men bringing it inside and assembling it. Perhaps it was bought before our move to the west coast and transported by truck to a small Southern California town that resembled New England but lacked any of the snow. In my memory, it was always there in our dining room, a piece of furniture, an active and eternal element in the Harari family story. The table itself was a lacquered medium colored wood, a chocolate brown that matched the color of my hair.
Coupled with the table were six matching chairs. The seats were a cushion of woven material in an alternating weave of tan and white yarn that varied in thickness. The back of the chair was a lattice of thin woven wood which was tall and straight and the sides of the chair went straight up but tapered into a carved, elegant peak that curled like crashing waves. Because of the weave on the back of the chairs, every couple of years, my mom would take the broken ones to be re-caned by a man whom I always imagined to have a long white beard and dirty jeans.
We ate almost all our meals at the smaller kitchen table. It was a sturdy table made from blond wood, a table I would expect to find in a modern Norwegian home. One side of it was placed against the wall of our kitchen and, because of its orientation, during meals, two people sat on either end and two sat facing the white wall. The dining room table was only a couple of feet away from the kitchen table. There was no doorway separating the two rooms, the kitchen flowed into the dining room which opened to the living room. In fact, it was not really a dining room, it was a large room with a couch, TV and a fireplace on one side and a large table and bookshelves on the other. The distinction between rooms was made by the tiled floor in the kitchen and the cream colored carpet inside the dining room and also from an architectural accent of the ceiling. During Chanukah, my mom would hang a “Happy Chanukah” banner from the small wall.
The dining room table was reserved for Friday night dinner (Shabbat), holidays, for entertaining guests and other rare occasions. One of these days was a Sunday morning when my dad made his famous crepes and we little girls squealed when he flipped the flat pancakes in the pan with only one hand like a 5 star chef. There was also a rainy Saturday afternoon when my dad made fish'n'chips after my mom and I fought the enormous downpour of rain to get potatoes and white fish fillets at the supermarket. We ate that meal at the dining room table, maybe we had struggled so much to make it happen. Sometimes today, when the smell hits the air just right and the temperature enters me in the perfect way, I will say it’s fish n’ chips weather. On Friday nights and whenever we ate on it, we would cover its smooth surface with either a blue or white polyester tablecloth.
When I cleaned the house on Thursday’s, which also coincided with my dad’s regular payday, I would Pledge the dark wooden table with a soft rag and I would make sure to get the polish into all the grooves and contours of the wooden chairs. There was one blemish upon the table, a spot where my mother had accidentally left the iron face down and, because of the heat, the varnish on the wood had warped and formed a crater like a surface the size of a saucer.
As I lay drifting into sleep, I remembered this table and its little deformed scar. I cannot remember what happened to the table. When I was seventeen, we moved into a smaller condo. I cannot remember if we brought it with us. The table has vanished from our history.
And then another night, as I clutched my pillows and wished I was holding onto the soft folds of a beautiful man, I remembered a small decorative pillow I used to have as a teenager. Its origins begin long before it ever existed. When I was in eighth grade, I was best friends with Aryn Wilder. In junior high, we met another team of best friends: Erin McAdoo and Shelly Coleman. We became a close group, a close knit mass of weird alternates in a mainstream school. For Christmas, we decided to have a gift exchange. We made or bought something for each person, and that year we opened gifts at Aryn’s house, on the linoleum floor of her kitchen next to her big Christmas tree. We took turn opening gifts and the gift opening seemed to go on forever and each gift was thoughtful and beautiful and a little bit of electrified joy. That year Aryn gave me a small pewter seahorse pendant, which I have since lost in my dozens of moves but I did wear it faithfully for years. The next year, in high school, our group merged with some new girls, other awkward, artsy weird girls that we had somehow never connected with the year before. That year, we also had a Christmas party with all the new people. The next year, our group of mainstream rejects had grown to about 10, and we made or bought presents for everyone that year as well. That year, Erin and Shelly had joined forces and sewn me a small yellow purse and a small pillow. The pillow was about a foot square. On the back, what I considered to be the back, was a solid patch of blue cotton fabric with very small flowers, the standard print used for quilts. The front was made from nine patches, each the same size in 3 rows of 3. They were the same style of fabric with little flowers, but each was a different color. Red, blue, yellow and maroon. The red and yellow patches stick out in my mind. The inside was filled with a soft fluffy material. I had that pillow on my bed for years. I cuddled it at night and, when I made my bed, it was the one decorative pillow in front of the other flat ones I slept on.
I have no idea what happened to the pillow. The pillow has vanished from my history. I look around myself now, knowing that all I see, every single thing down to the smallest detail, will some day disappear from my history as well, and then all these things will be like fading dreams, like an old table, like an old pillow, like an old boyfriend, like an old human form. If they will be dreams then, if they will make that leap into a land where rules are not so fixed and heavy, are they not dreams now? Is it only my insistence on their reality that keeps them from fading even as I stand before them now? I press my face into the new thin pillows, finding comfort in their presence, relishing the thought that they haven’t yet disappeared.