My Beds Are Never My Own

Had I known, the morning I left home at 17, it would be the last time I'd have a space like that for some time, I wonder if I would have gotten up.

Jul 25, 2012 at 6:00pm | Leave a comment

At my mother's house, a twin Beauty Rest sits in a deep, dark wooden frame that belonged to my great-grandmother. Carved on the head are three feathers, one, two, three, standing, fluffy. These feathers are some of the earliest images burned in my brain.

That bed! My true and glorious home!  A luscious lagoon! A smooth womb! An exquisite cloud on which to watch the world roll by! A place to eat Fluff and watch Jaws! With blankets abundant and more pillows than elf babies have toes! My bed! My home! My bed!

Had I known, the morning I left home at 17, it would be the last time I'd have a space like that for some time, I wonder if I would have gotten up.

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Since graduating college, I've yet to live in the same city for more than a year or in the same house for more than 9 months.  I was in New York for a month; my mom's house in Vermont; CA; Massachusetts twice; sent myself to Europe; North Carolina; and now Brooklyn, since May. Always looking for a spot I can’t find.

At my mother’s ranch modular, my bed is in a room that belongs to a rescued rabbit named Harriet. The sheets have been replaced to accommodate guests who might chew through them. I often find turd balls beneath the marble-topped night stand I inherited from my grandparents. The room is about the size of two kitchen fridges and Harriet's cage is the size of one. Last visit home, I found a box with my old journals in it, one dates to fourth grade and inside is a birthday list. 

What did I ask for? Sheets and the perfect down comforter. What did I ask for freshman year of college? Sheets and the perfect down comforter. You know what would put pep in my step right now? New sheets and the perfect down comforter.

In CA, I share a bed with my then boyfriend, Milo, at his mother's house. On the ceiling above his double is a silk-screened cowboy on a playing card, askew. I disdained how he had no headboard and the damn bed wasn't against a wall. The pillows fell off.

Returning to Massachusetts, where I'd gone to school, I spent the darkest part of winter with my best friend in the attic room of her parents’ house. I'm working four jobs, she's mending a broken heart, it's colder than a witch's tit and we have a boisterous family of squirrels in the walls. We usually share a bed. One night, she turns over asleep and touches my shoulder with her fingertips. I smack her in the face thinking a squirrel has fallen through the ceiling. As we scream, flailing sheets in a dark illuminated just slightly by moonlight from the overhead window, we calm, breath loud, and she asks,
"Will it always be like this?"

I say, not knowing, "Of course not, you idiot."

Not long after, we move into a nicer house and for months I sleep on a mattress she finds and I have my own room, I paint the walls cream.

********

In Japan they have capsule hotels: these buildings with tiny beds, a wall of little sleeping tubes stacked all atop one another, mostly for commuters. All you really need is a place to lie down, so why make an ornate deal out of it? Right?

I stay in a hostel for a bit on my journey in Scotland and I share a room with Mary. She's looking for a new place to live and can't decide on a city. Mary is probably 45 or 50, and wears a long denim jumper dress with a soft cotton T-shirt underneath. She's rotund, has long dirty blond hair, moon sized, striking, watery eyes and a terrible cough. Unprompted, she says to me after a few hours in the room,

"Did you have a nice middle-class childhood?" 

I shrug, "It wasn't that nice." 

She asks if I mind if she takes the bottom bunk, I don't. She opens a huge suitcase, sits down, unzips and surveys what’s inside: a plastic bowl, a mug, clothes, pamphlets, Garnier sunscreen, baby-blue terry slippers and a worn prayer book with a picture of Jesus on it. She keeps coughing and it smells like a stale box of raisins.

“These beds aren't bad” she says “and for what we're paying! Cheap, 15 a night.”
 
I agree. The sheets are well worn soft and have large geo-shapes, primary colors.

She says, “Six months ago, I had the money to buy a mobile home, now it’s gone. At least I would have somewhere to be. It's OK when you're young, moving around. Not now. People don't think it's OK."

I climb the bunk and ask her,

"Did you have a nice childhood?"

I know the answer. I hang my head over the side and look at her as she starts to tell me why not. Beneath her drooping eyes, I see a pretty, soft face. Am I glimpsing my future?

One night, Mary and I hear a ruckus that wakes us. We jump to our feet and I notice we're both wearing similar light blue nightshirts. We stick our heads out the third floor window; this hostel is an old stone town house with a perfect view of the street.  Below, skateboarding boys made a ramp off a broken bench. Watching them she says,

"That's neat, what they're doing but they should be asleep in their beds." She talks so soft.  "You think those boys have homes?"
 
I shrug.

"Who am I to ask," her words disappear in the air, "My beds are never my own."
 
I exhale, and think, Oh god.

We clamber back to our bunks.

******

When I get back to Massachusetts,  I write this poem in dull pencil while laying on a leftover twin in a poorly heated house in an empty room I share with a dog that isn't mine:

The overhead light has a low voltage of electricity
The ceiling is peeling
The bedroom floor is beige linoleum
The  previous inhabitant drew a whale on the wall in pencil
The phone messages are from a debt collector named Jason
The dog has dandruff
The fridge reeks

My stay here is brief.

****

I have the thought that if I strike it filthy rich: I will continue being a miser. Save for one thing. Bedding. I want a thread count that feels like I'm sliding into a temperature controlled Country Crock tub, mattress not hard, not soft, and cooling blankets of goose down, goose down, goose down.

Still in MA, I get a well paying job, I’m a  nanny for three seasons. Some nights I stay over at work, lying beside the flinging limbs of a tween. It’s a solid bed, the job feeds well, and we fall asleep like good girls streaming the NEW 90210.

I’m sliced a deal in a townhouse with a cozy white room and a double bed my new roommate provides. Smooth sheets. The smoothest I’ve known, in fact. For months on end, I’ve got one job and no compulsive financial worries. I start to pay some loans. I splurge on leather shoes. I start a payment plan with Jason, debt collector. Here it is, I think, you got what you wanted, a new luscious lagoon.

In a bit of trouble I move to North Carolina, and for 6 months sleep on a futon deeply textured with dog hair in my brother’s office.

***

In Brooklyn I sleep on an air mattress with a floral throw in a hot bedroom I will be in until September. It’s a big open room and not long for mine. 

The air mattress seeps and seethes at random increments and deflates partially, leaving my body uneven. When it belches I remember my first bed, wonder how it all got shot to shit. I think; Girl, buckle down, grow up, make the choice.

In response a nagging consciousness breathes these images into my eyes;  Milo’s palm on my stomach, Mary, the dog fluff futon, tween limbs, Harriet’s turd balls, the way night light hits the cream room. A myriad of moments. People who allow me the tiniest details of their lives. Places that crack me open, break me down. My home is no bed or room, it's no city, it's certainly not sheets. Home is simply wherever I am.