The other day I wrote about Letting Go and I didn’t even mention its ugly stepsister, Forgiveness. I suspect that’s because, for whatever reason, forgiveness seems like a practically impossible feat. Especially if I need to forgive someone that hasn’t sprung directly from my loins. Or if it’s just someone that should have known better. And especially especially especially if what the person did was 100% wrong.
Although it happened over a decade ago, I remember, like it was yesterday, the moment that Mike Brady stole my couch. Not really a couch – a chaise longue. And not really mine – my mother in law’s. It’s not as if he came under the cloak of darkness and scurried off with it. No, it was worse. It was broad daylight and I held the door open for him and thanked him as he and his helper loaded it into their truck.
I didn’t even really like the chaise. My husband used to call it The Psychiatrist’s Couch and I usually rolled my eyes. He brought it back from his parent’s house and I was forced to find a place for it. The carved wood frame needed refinishing and the gold satin fabric was frayed in areas. The shiny gold didn’t go with anything we owned, plus it had little embroidered bees on it (bees!) and it took a year or two before I could even accept it as part of my household, then another year before I could muster the energy to have it recovered.
“It’s going to look great,” Mike Brady told me (yes, like the Brady Bunch) the first time we met. He was my age – 30-something – and bore no resemblance at all to the namesake patriarch of my favorite childhood TV family. He said he would order the fabric and call me when the chaise was ready. He took the couch, a $400 deposit, and drove off.
Weeks and weeks went by and I didn’t hear from him. His small side-street shop was always closed and his phone always went to voicemail. I started stalking him, pushing the stroller past his store every time I took my son for a walk. Finally, one day, I happened upon his landlord who told me that Mike Brady worked evenings as a waiter at a restaurant near the park.
I called the restaurant one night and got him on the phone.
“Where’s my couch?” I asked.
“Oh, it was delayed. I should have it next week,” he said.
Next week came and went, as did the weeks following. I called the town to file a complaint and they said there was nothing they could do. I took him to small claims court, but he didn’t show up for the hearing.
“Doesn’t that mean I win?” I said to the bailiff.
“Yup,” he said. But he didn’t explain that winning didn’t mean I would get my couch back.
I tracked down Mike Brady’s bank account from my cancelled deposit check. I called the police to have him arrested. I called the courts to garnish his wages. No one could do anything.
I went to the restaurant to confront him face to face and the hostess told me he was off that night. “But he’s right across the street,” she volunteered, giving me the address of his apartment, a second-floor walk up in an old stucco row house that was painted Kelly green.
I had no business doing it, but I rang the front bell and was buzzed in. The hallway was dark and musty, the stairs unlevel. There was a door at the far end that sat ajar and I walked up to it and pushed it open, not really sure what I was going to say to Mike Brady now that I was about to step into his home.
No one stood to greet me. Mike was one of three young men sitting on a couch (not mine) amid a roomful of billowy smoke and a bong (yes, like Cheech and Chong) and when he finally realized who I was he didn’t seem the least bit rattled.
“I want my couch,” I said.
“Yeah, see, I’ve run into some problems,” he said, and started in on a skimpy explanation about how he owed his upholsterer money and my couch was being held as collateral.
“It’s a family heirloom,” I said.
“No worries,” he said. “You’ll get it back. I’ve got the money for him and he’s going to drop it off next week.”
“I don’t even care about it being reupholstered,” I said, “I just want the piece returned.”
“Yeah, sure. Call me next week if you don’t hear from me.”
Of course, I didn’t hear from him.
Over the next year, I kept a dossier that listed every event that took place, notarized letters I collected from witnesses, the certified letters I sent Mike Brady that were returned as undeliverable. I met a woman who’d also had chairs “stolen” by Mike Brady and I kept a journal of her progress as well. I went back to the police. I filed complaints with the Better Business Bureau and the Department of Consumer Affairs.
One day, I brought it all to the courthouse, where I was going to file for another hearing. The woman behind the glass was eating a bag of Cheetos and I could tell I annoyed her just by being there. She handed me a stack of forms that I filled out for 30 minutes and when I brought them back to her, she brushed off the orange Cheetos dust and ripped them in two. “Sorry, those weren’t the right forms.”
I spent that year so busy being enraged, I completely forgot that I didn’t even like the couch. Finally, when my husband could listen to me rant no more, he said, “You have to let this go.”
“But I’m right,” I told him, as if that was ever going to matter to anyone.
“Forgiveness is the fragrance the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.”
My husband didn’t say that. Mark Twain did. Long before my couch was stolen. There’s so much I love about that sentiment, but I now know that the analogy is incomplete. Because while it captures the sheer impossibility of the gesture, it doesn’t really get to the heart of the matter, which is that the emanating fragrance is not for the heel’s benefit, or even to make the world a sweeter smelling place. The fragrance is solely for the benefit of the violet – its crushed, crumpled self – which somehow it manages to make whole again.