There's a table in my kitchen that I try not to hate. Whenever my husband boasts that it cost him all of $8 at a sidewalk sale, new friends laugh while old friends avoid my eyes. To his credit, he spent an entire day spray painting it egg-yolk yellow, so I hardly notice the scratches on its legs or the missing fourth foot replaced with an unvarnished block of wood. He swears the table refers to some important design period, I'm guessing around the time instant cake mixes became the rage of the day, and he keeps trying to convince me that its linoleum surface is practical.
Since it's too heavy for me to lift, I once discreetly priced having it hauled away -- far, far away -- but the cost of getting rid of it actually pained my stomach, while the table itself just hurts my eyes.
That poor table has been the topic of many circular "discussions." Forget about buying a house or moving to the East Coast or even hopping to the East Bay. Some days, one piece of furniture can define all that is pivotal in a relationship. It can take on mythic importance, a talisman of artful independence or the curse of comfortable inertia.
On other days, though, small acts of kindness remind me that the objects in our lives are not what tie us together. The table itself (I repeat to myself) is not the foundation of our meals. Our time together is its real benefit, and for that, it doesn't matter what color it is or how many parts are missing.