I appreciate our bed the most after returning from a trip. I try to leave the bed in a good state, made up nicely or with clean sheets before departing. But I’m usually so grateful to see it and to collapse upon it after my travels that it could be a tangle of blankets and pillows of dubious freshness and I would tenderly embrace my bed and rejoice in its warmth and comfort.
The bed is the newest piece of furniture in our home at about four years old. We got the mattress and platform frame after a protracted campaign I waged to replace the futon M had had for many years since his college days. I didn’t have anything against multi-use furniture. But my hip bones were boring through the futon pad’s slowly disintegrating filling and we both had full time jobs at that time, so I thought we deserved some comfortable and supportive sleep. M was reluctant. I would occasionally broach conversations that went something like this:
Me: I think we should replace the futon with a mattress.
Me: It’s just that my hips are poking into the slats of the frame. And your shoulder bothers you too after sleeping.
M: It can’t be too tall. These beds today are too tall.
Me: We don’t have to get a tall bed. We could even just get a mattress and put it on the floor.
M: [pondering silence] I just don’t want a high bed.
During this process, I had learned of M’s childhood propensity to roll out of bed and end up on the floor, engendering a deep suspicion against most bed frame/mattress configurations. I also learned that the futon was an important connection to the reduced responsibility and flexibility of his youth: If we bought a mattress, no longer would we be able to pack all of our possessions into a car and his dad’s boat on a trailer and leave swiftly in the night. I sympathized with these positions. I too had a fear of furniture that would be difficult for two people to move themselves; I have long cherished the notion of having all my possessions fit into two suitcases, and a mattress does not easily squeeze into that system of organization. Often these conversations would result in me feeling newly determined to live our easy, encumbrance-free lifestyle and protect our money from the ruinous (unresearched and highly speculative) expense of beds.
As our main piece of furniture, the bed has been utilized for more than sleep and sex. There is some conventional wisdom that using one’s bed for anything besides these two activities can destroy the possibility of deep and restful sleep. We have ignored this for a number of reasons. One: the bed is by far our most comfortable piece of furniture. Two: it resides in the room with the most versatile avenues for climate control. Three: eating on a non-table surface is greatly preferred.
These reasons and their attractiveness could all be traced back to our time in South Korea, when we lived in one large room with two twin mattresses (of varying heights) pushed together, even though we had a second “bedroom” and a kitchen. The room had the best light, and while the mattresses were not the most comfortable in the world, they were better than the rickety table and chairs in the dark kitchen.
The gray wool blanket covering the bed is heavy enough to feel substantial, but light enough to breathe. Puffy comforters end up making me sweat profusely and always feel like they are about to slide off. The wool blanket conforms and stays put without the threat of exposure. Cotton sheets are a must, and ones that are not too slippery. Sheets are the bane of M’s sleeping life as they are always tangled and confused. If slipperiness is a factor, the cover situation quickly turns to chaos.
When acquiring sheets, slipperiness is difficult to avoid, particularly with the tendency for no-iron sheets. I was unaware for many years that household duties should include ironing sheets to attain the crisp smoothness touted in lifestyle magazines as an important feature of the diligent host or hostess. I just thought it was like food styling or pornography: people amused themselves by looking at it, but would probably never attempt such feats of professionalism at home. No-iron sheets’ prevalence has shown that not only are people under the impression that they can attain sheet perfection, but that there is no extra effort required.
The bed is also a great place for hiding. One of my most frequently engaged forms of hiding is defensive sleeping. I have a tendency towards melancholy that can ebb at a pretty low register for extended periods of time. When my brooding or self recrimination during these dark times becomes excessive, I will often unintentionally fall asleep. The sleep is swift, rendering me dreamless and unconscious. If it strikes in the afternoon, I’m out for one or two hours, in the evening I could end up asleep for the night by 8:00 p.m. Defensive sleeping seems a kind way of my uber brain handling the destructive nature of self loathing, shutting down the infected portion before it spreads out of control.
In sickness, the bed becomes the only place for total horizontality, an oasis from the harsh world. Where else can you be entirely ensconced in warmth? As a child, I would stay on the couch during illness to be close to the television, but the glorious advent of video streaming on the internet has made it possible to have my own private viewing of the programs that I want to watch. Being sick no longer means having to slog through stereotypically feminized afternoon gameshows, soap operas, or talk shows just to stay awake enough during the day to sleep through the night.
The first stages of sickness are the worst, but also the best. There is no way I can do anything but lie there. Everything is exhausting, so all movements of the body and brain are limited to getting out of bed for necessities like peeing or getting dry toast, which creates a glorious time of total inactivity. Sure, it’s uncomfortable but the next stages of sickness are worse. When I’m getting better, that’s when the antsy-ness sets in. I constantly need to change position, and my joints begin to complain about the lack of activity. When I begin to feel somewhat better, my brain starts working again, but that just invites in boredom. Suddenly, I can find nothing of interest on Netflix, and I begin listlessly flailing about the internet. Not being entirely well yet, I cannot actually think clearly enough to do anything interesting, but I definitely have enough facility to think I want to. It’s a dangerous time. I could end up committing to tasks, like making myself chicken soup or scrubbing the grout in the shower, that I inevitably would abandon half way through.
When I’m actually better, there is the first thrill of getting to leave the bed. Finally, the shackles of inactivity can be cast aside! I strip the bed of its sweat and sneeze permeated sheets and remake it with a clean new set. I move my base of operations from the bed out into the rest of the apartment, reveling in sitting up straight in chairs and moving about freely. The bed is temporarily abandoned, only to be returned to that night, and eventually each subsequent day.