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Credit: Courtesy of Jiayi Ying

This $25 Craigslist Papasan Chair Survived a Fire and All My Second-Guessing

published Aug 4, 2020
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Twenty stories of objects and areas in people’s homes that nourish their souls more than their social feeds. Read them all here throughout August.

My papasan chair is big and gray and fluffy, and brings the same sort of comfort that a pet of a similar description might bring a person. 

I got this chair via Craigslist. It marked the beginning of a new phase for my old apartment—a four-bedroom that I previously shared with an acquaintance from college and two girls we found via roommate-searching websites. But a couple of years later, when everyone else moved out, I had two new friends move in and we decided on grand plans to turn the spare bedroom into a library.

So, we started hunting for furniture. Nothing fancy, but things with personality. Things that we felt drawn to and, in that way, reflected us. I don’t know what it was about the papasan chair that drew me in—I had sat in one in college once, but that was the extent of my experience with it. We did have a big, purple, velvet couch that one of the girls had left behind—this felt like a good complement to it. 

The chair itself cost $25. The woman who parted with it was moving to London for a job, which she revealed to me in a point of conversation that meant, “I wouldn’t be getting rid of this otherwise.” 

For about seven months, I started most of my mornings and ended most of my evenings in this chair. Wide around its girth, it was too bulky for the library, but fit in nicely by a living room window that brought in a soft morning light. I lounged back in it as I watched the light bounce off my watch onto the faint yellow walls across from me, my friend’s cat absolutely mesmerized by this morning show every single day. It was our little routine, my pit stop between the comfort of bed and the resolve needed to face the day. 

That apartment burned down on Halloween night 2019, after a fire started in the unit above ours. My friend and I watched—each with a cat in our arms, surrounded by livestreaming zombies en route to parties—as firefighters blew out the windows, and the ceiling collapsed in one of the rooms. 

No people were hurt, luckily. But only some of our things survived the damage from the fire and the half-foot of water that followed. The papasan was one of them. 

Credit: Courtesy of Jiayi Ying

A month after the fire, I moved into a new apartment on my own. The decision was rife with uncertainty and doubt: Having my previous home upended so suddenly brought a lot of certainties into freefall for me, and more questions into view, spurring along a lot of options and scenarios, each with equally appealing pros and no-dealbreaker cons, leaving me with nearly no way to make a confident decision.

But something about this apartment—a one-room studio at the top-floor of a walk-up—spoke to me the same way the chair did. A quiet understanding that I can’t quite explain and that, despite my second-guessing and hemming and hawing about the lease, worked itself out. 

After the movers left, I found myself sitting in a papasan chair that smelled faintly of smoke, both of us dropped into a new place, a new neighborhood, a new life. It was just the chair and me and a handful of moving boxes from Home Depot that I had scrawled “FRAGILE” all across. The ruins from which they were salvaged was out of view in my mind. That vivid reality suddenly became an intangible past.

In that moment, sitting in that chair, I finally took in my new surroundings. For the first time in a long time, I felt a certain resolve. “You did the right thing,” I told myself. “This was the right choice.”