Heather L Johnson
In Search of the Frightening and Beautiful


Stories contributed to In Search of the Frightening & Beautiful 4 / 2019. These are descriptions of transformative moments in people’s lives, from the subtle to the sublime. From each story I extract a key phrase and stitch it to a piece of linen that will be given as gifts to others I meet on the road, in exchange for a story of their own.

Stories contributed to the upcoming fourth leg of In Search of the Frightening & Beautiful. These are descriptions of transformative moments in people’s lives, from the subtle to the sublime. From each story I extract a key phrase and stitch it to a piece of linen that will be given as gifts to others I meet on the road this summer, in exchange for a story of their own.

"A Good Cause." Debra Gross. Houston, TX

I was recently asked when was the first time I realized I was an adult. That’s a pretty heavy question and I wish I had a better answer, but this is kind of what I came up with.

When I was 21, I moved from Michigan to Atlanta. In order to move cross-country, I packed up my 2001 Nissan Altima with a couple of suitcases of clothing and some pots and pans-- most of which that I gathered from cleaning out my mother’s kitchen, grabbing whatever unopened 1980’s wedding gifts and rarely used dish ware/utensils I could get my hands on. But for the most part, I really didn’t own much stuff or had really anything of value to bring down with me.

After an intensive research process of finding a rental property in the city of Atlanta that had fit my budget, was in a decent part of town, and where I wouldn’t get murdered, I finally moved into my first “grown up” apartment. So, after my mom and her boyfriend finished helping me move in, and left to drive back to Michigan; I sat down alone on the floor in the wide, vast living room of my new, empty apartment. There was something about being in an empty space, in a city I barely knew, and not knowing anyone that hit me pretty hard, and I realized at this moment, that I was an adult.

From here, I looked around the room and decided I was going to need some furniture to make my apartment a less daunting place to come home to.

The timing in which I moved down was exactly a month before I started my first post-college job and I was just broke. I did what any person without a steady paycheck would do, I bought the bare minimum---a futon to sleep on--- and basically nothing else, until I could start my new job and actually pay for furniture.

Luckily for me, I moved into a mid-priced apartment complex in a yuppie part of town, meaning I was accessible to a pool, a mini gym, some really divey bars, and relatively young professional slew of neighbors. The thing about young professional neighbors is that they’re always moving somewhere. After a couple of months, I noticed on my walks to the communal apartment dumpster, that people were CONSTANTLY throwing away semi-usable stuff. Lamps. Old wooden furniture. Big box Tvs. All of this gave me an idea.

I ran home and got onto Microsoft Word and with my minimal design skills, I pieced together a sheet that read:

DONATE IT TO A ‘GOOD CAUSE’ ---( “good cause” was clearly in quotes on purpose)

Then I included my contact info at the bottom with a nickname from high school that I no longer went by. (This would let me know that if I got a call from a number that I was unfamiliar with and they addressed me by that name; that one of my old friends got a new number, or this was going to be a stranger that would soon be giving me housewarming gifts.)

As cheesy as this was, I quickly printed off this poor excuse for a flyer and posted it on the bulletin board next to the mail box area in the complex. After a while, every couple of weeks, I seemed to get a variation of the same phone call. It went a little something like:

Them: “Hello, I saw you’re taking furniture?”
Me: “Yes, ma’am, that’s correct. We’re accepting donations at this time”
Them: “Where exactly do these donations go?”
Me: “Well, Ma’am they go to local, temporary worker households in the Atlanta area for those who are unable to afford furniture.”
(note: this was technically not a lie, but more of a stretching of the truth. I WAS in a rotational program and couldn’t afford furniture.)
Them: “Ok then, I have a couch [or insert any other type of furniture] I would like to donate, what do I do?”
Me: “Well, we would send one of our qualified inspectors over to your place in order to see if the item you would like to donate is in working order and a match for one of our current recipients”

(^this was my best version of “quality control”—I wasn’t going to commit to schlepping any flea ridden piece of garbage anyone was going to give away without making sure it fit in my apartment, or at least suited my décor and/or color scheme. Haha just kidding—What color scheme? Am I right??? )

Eventually the conversation would lead to me booking a “viewing appointment” with the caller where I would come over and see if they had anything worth grabbing up. Upon my arrival to their home, “my client” would invite me in, show me the item---let’s say a couch, and ask if I could take it off their hands.

Because I was pretending to be the “furniture inspector”, I would pick up the cushions; then maybe cautiously fluff them once or twice. I would then check around the couch to make sure there were no big rips, or stuffing coming out of any gaping holes. Often times, I would offhandedly make a comment about the “quality and wear” of the fabric--Basically, I tried to pretend I looked like I knew what I was doing, which in reality, I most definitely did not. Eventually I would make the decision of whether to take the item and drag it the short distance between this person’s apartment and my own in the same complex, or to reject the item altogether and claim it “unsuitable for our recipients at this time” if it was ugly, or “logistically not within our means of transport”, if it was too big.

Believe it or not, this plan actually worked and within 6-8 months, I was finally able to fill my apartment with the basic necessities:

I had a couch, 3 floor lamps, a desk, various shelving units, 2 coffee tables (one of which was being used as a TV stand), a TV (with VHS and DVD player attached as part of the same unit), a lime green Victorian loveseat, a dinner table, 2 cheap lawn chairs, an Ikea LACK table (Yes. We all know the $8 one that only comes in one of 3 neutral colors…), a DVD rack, a decorative chair I used as a nightstand for a while, and some shitty artwork that I removed from the frames and replaced with my own stuff to fill up the walls.

At this point, I was very lucky to have what I had. However, I kept on with this interesting experiment I had going. It was clearly working well for me and I knew if I stopped, all of this stuff would be trashed anyway. So whenever I would get something donated to me that was nicer than an item I currently had, I would typically swap out my old item for the newer and better find, and then I would give the leftovers to my friends -- most of which were also in their 20s and didn’t have much furniture of their own either.

THEY LOVED IT. Every time I had a new gem to give away, they were open and willing to accept. Over time, some of my friends would even have requests of the furniture they needed to upgrade, like “if you ever get a set of barstools, can you let me know?” or “I’m really in the market for a new bookshelf”.

There was 1 time when a neighbor had moved out of their apartment, leaving me with 2 couches. I texted 2 of my friends, both of which I knew were looking actively for one. I texted them at the same exact time and told them I have 2 couches: 1st come, first serve. You never quite get to know your friends’ true nature until you see them both standing in the middle of an apartment complex parking lot, arguing and negotiating in the rain, between 2 used couches, about who gets to have the more “modern looking” used, drab couch.

During the year that I lived in that same apartment, I had swapped out 5 times for different couches, 3 times for newer TV’s, and had an curiously ever-changing night stand (which went from being a milk crate, to a wooden chair, to a gross wicker end table, and back to a milk crate again.)

Months later, at about the time that I finally got my apartment looking the way I wanted to, I was notified by the company I worked for that I was being relocated to Houston. So upon saying all my goodbyes to Atlanta, for the next couple weeks I listed all the furniture on craigslist, sold half of it, and gave the rest away to friends, neighbors, and acquaintances that really needed some new stuff. So when it was time to pack up, I left Atlanta once again with my clothes, some kitchen stuff, and the only piece of furniture I did buy, my mattress, only to move to Houston where I have since lived with roommates with fully furnished apartments. I have yet to buy a piece of furniture since then.

The End.

Heather L Johnson