By David Olimpio
I didn’t have anyplace to live for almost the entire winter. I just slept on people’s couches. I remember just walking around during the daytime with absolutely nothing to do. And always ending up at the library. I spent so much time at the library, just sitting there reading and just waiting for the day to end.
-Kurt Cobain, Interview from About a Son
I don't remember which one of us found the couch, but I do remember we found it on the side of a road near a bar called Spanky's in Lexington, Virginia. That was in the fall of 1993, the beginning of our sophomore year. We brought the heavy couch frame up several flights of stairs to our University-Housing apartment. It was non-trivial, the weight of that couch. I am sure a sweat was broken during the move. I am sure it took at least two Camel Lights to recover.
The couch was the perfect decorative fixture for our industrial residence, whose other features included cinder-block walls, a dark-wood kitchen with linoleum floors at least twenty years old, and a giant box of toilet paper, which we never moved from the place where we found it near the front door. I guess the University wanted to make sure we didn't ever want for toilet paper. This was probably something its directors and deans had learned long ago. The hard way.
The apartment was "nice" by our standards, but if you were tasked with finding appropriate adjectives for it, probably the nicest thing you could actually say about it was that it was "no frills." Also, it did have a pretty good view. The apartment building was away from the main part of the campus, behind the library and off in the woods, and our balcony looked out on a beautiful patch of trees and the gentle running water of the accurately-named "Woods Creek." One day, after bong hits, a few of us rappelled off that balcony to the grassy hill below because it was something to do, and the news that day was that nobody died.
The couch was just a bare wood frame with beige cushions that were made out of a rough material and contained within them all manner of the musty and the dank. When we first brought it inside, we wondered about who and what had been on those cushions. We were in a college town, after all, and so the couch had probably belonged to college kids. College kids who lived near the bar called Spanky's. And those college kids had probably done college things on it, some or all of which had no-doubt been disgusting.
One of us eventually covered the cushions with a tie-dyed wall tapestry and that seemed to solve the germ predicament. The tapestry always wound up getting pulled off the cushions, though, so that eventually one of us would have to break down and re-position it. But after a while, we stopped caring so much whether or not the tapestry kinked up in the cracks. Eventually, we’d just let it. Because now we were the college kids who did college things on the couch cushions, most of which were disgusting.
We were happy to have the couch. The couch made our stark apartment feel more like a home. In addition to it, we also accumulated, through various means, a chair, a coffee table, and a long, narrow table we used as a TV stand to house a 15 inch, not-at-all-flat screen and a VCR. At some point we acquired a table lamp which, for lack of table, we kept on the floor. In keeping with our aesthetic, one of us decided we should put a tapestry over that, too. We would sit in our checkered living room late at night and watch Matt Penfield host 120 minutes or Riki Rachtman host Headbanger's Ball. Beavis and Butthead, obviously. We would meet there for study breaks. To smoke a cigarette together and talk about a girl (there was always a girl), or a paper (there was always a paper), or the latest music (have you seen that latest Tool video?!).
That year, if we weren’t at the library or in class, we were usually on the couch. We spilled beer and bong water on the couch. We ashed cigarettes on the couch. For a while, one of us had a cat and that cat did some cat things on the couch. We took naps on the couch. We had sex with girlfriends on the couch. If nobody else was home, we masturbated on the couch.
We started out as four in the apartment. But two of us got dropped from the college and eventually it was just Frank and me, two long-haired, flannel-and-Chucks-wearing dudes with the whole place to ourselves.
One holiday, I left to visit family and Frank stayed at school with his girlfriend. When I got back, he said: "I was naked on the couch, Dave. I had sex right where you're sitting."
And I smoked my cigarette and looked at Frank and didn't say anything.
"Right where you're sitting, Dave."
On Friday, April 8th 1994, the last day of exams before our spring break, as the grass was turning green and the leaves on the trees were growing in central Virginia, we sat on the couch with the sliding glass door to the balcony open, and we watched Kurt Loder on MTV tell us that another Kurt had put a shotgun in his mouth a few days earlier and had pulled the trigger and now he was gone.
And we kept watching the news for days to glean what we could about it. About Cobain and the thing he had done, which was a thing that seemed deeply sad to us. This person who always seemed like he could have been us, a guy just sitting on a couch he had found with his friends on the side of the road, just smoking Camels and making a joke about the sex he'd had in the exact place where you were sitting.
And just waiting for another cigarette to burn down. And just waiting for another spring to happen. And just waiting for another cold day to end.
But for this zoom-lens paparazzi photo of him, circulating in all the papers and on TV, taken through an open balcony door, him lying on the linoleum floor of the greenhouse above his detached garage in Seattle: right leg, blue jeans, dark Converse sneaker, the pile of his things next to him, the white fisted hand of our ordinary hero.
David Olimpio grew up in Texas, but currently lives and writes in Northern New Jersey. He believes that we create ourselves through the stories we tell, and that is what he aims to do every day. He has been published in The Nervous Breakdown, The Austin Review, Rappahannock Review, Crate, and other places. His book, This is Not a Confession, is forthcoming from Awst Press. You can find more about him here, including links to his writing and photography.