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13:21

Every Morning Starts with The Bed

Read and listen to part one of ON MORNINGS, a nonfiction writing & podcast series

When I asked people to tell stories about their mornings, it didn’t surprise me that a frequent centerpiece was the bed. What did surprise me was how often the bed was the subject, not the object, of the stories they told. It was a sometime friend, a sometime antagonist. It wasn’t just a vessel for sleep; it was a safe harbor, a secret-keeper.

For most of us, the bed is where we start our mornings. Whether it’s an oasis of tranquility or a battleground where pets and partners and kids compete for our space, it’s our beginning. It defines us so much that if we’re in a bad mood, someone will say we got out on the wrong side of it. These six stories, all from different authors about their own morning experiences, show us that you can’t talk about the morning without beginning with the bed. — From the Editor, Evyn Williams


I.

A ray of light leaks through the blinds and assaults my eyelids. I turn my body, breaking the seal of my warm imprint on the bed. A looming glow invades the room; darkness turns to soft shadows. A low-level crisis begins. The day is about to break free.

I scramble. Take hold of my majestic blanket. Envelop myself in it like a warm hug. A leg escapes from under the covers, hoping to find the perfect balance of warmth and coolness.

All I want at this moment is to binge watch my dreams and sleep for a thousand years. But then I hear tiny footsteps against the wood floor.

Before I can open my eyes, a little hand clasps my face. “Dada,” I hear and I scoop up a small body that smells of doughy sweetness. She climbs my body as if it were a jungle gym. She squeezes herself between my wife and me. We both clamber to wrap our arms around her. Make claims on her soft, petite body. But she is a harbinger of the morning. We instantly realize our mistake as she thrashes about, wreaking havoc on the small chance of remaining asleep.

I bury my face in my pillow, throw the covers over my head, but I am outnumbered. My four-year-old bounces on the bed like a trapeze artist and my wife declares it a glorious morning. There is no salvation, no sanctuary, no refuge. Just as I think all is lost, a vision is delivered to the center of my puny brain; it arrives like an answer to a prayer, the one thing sweeter than the pillow under my head. Coffee.

II.

“When are you getting those kids out of your bed?” a friend asks again.

I usually say something noncommittal to deflect the conversation. “Maybe when we get Kate a big girl bed.” Or: “I think we’ll work on that over the summer.”

I never say anything about how much I love sharing my bed. Not at night when I’m tired and my daughter’s little body squirms and fidgets beside me, and my son kicks and flails, but in the morning. Nothing is sweeter.

There is something decadent and sinful in admitting I let them sleep with me because I like waking up with them near. Morning fills the room and there they are, pink cheeked and peaceful in the peach light of dawn. My son has always kicked his way out of blankets and lies diagonally across my husband’s chest. My daughter shares my pillow, a mop of curly hair that mingles with my own so you can hardly tell where mine ends and hers begins.

Most mornings, I can’t help but bury my face in my daughter’s curls. I breathe in the sweet scent of her, the complicated perfume that tells my DNA this child is mine. The smell is fading now, but once, when she was new and fresh, the pheromones fired like a cannon blast targeted straight for my center, meant for me and only me, designed by years of evolution to draw me in.

She feels me curl around her and turns towards me, nuzzling in like a newborn pup. One hand wraps around my neck, tiny fingers tangling in my hair. Her breath is whisper-soft against my cheek. Her eyelids flutter as she slowly surfaces from wherever she wanders in her dreams.

When she finally sheds sleep completely, it will be with a suddenness that is beautiful and baffling. One minute she is snuggled into me and the next she is perched on her knees, rifling through the books on the bedside table. She finds the one she wants and snuggles back into a nest made of blankets, pillows, and me. “Read it, Mommy,” she says. Of course I do. I read it with funny voices and silly words and she giggles beside me, a sound that fills and breaks my heart; it’s a sound too perfect for this world or any other I can imagine. I tell her hush in between our laughter, because Daddy and James are still asleep, cuddled together on the other side of the bed. Even the dog still sleeps, splayed at my feet, taking up more space than she needs, one paw draped over my ankle. They are all still somewhere else, while we are here, relishing in the soft beginning of a new day.

It’s in those moments that I think of the people who find some flaw or disfunction in the way we sleep. I think of the friend at work and her pointed questions; I feel bad that she doesn’t know the joy of this. I think of her missing out on all the love and mess and fullness. I think about how lucky I am to have so much, to have all my loves here in one place in the world, together and safe. I think it’s a damn good thing we have a king size bed.

III.

She asked for help changing the bedding one morning. That is when the chalked outline of the body on the mattress was first revealed to me. The previous boyfriend. It was a traced reminder. A linear warning. She explained all this in just two words: he cheated.

She went back to humming while working the sheets. The chalk outline indicated the body had slept in the same corner of the bed, same fetal position, just aft of the dog. Fuck.

“Nothing better than clean linen!” She paused for a moment to let the sight sink in before tucking a fitted sheet over the ex.

The ex vanished back down into the 300 count crime scene cover-up.

She looked up, beaming. “So, how do you like the bamboo pillows?”

IV.

I wake up slowly, enjoying the light slanting through my window. My back arches and curls, becoming limber with movement. I’m lost in the feel of sheets against skin. I let myself float in the large house’s silence, only broken by the birds greeting spring.

There’s a beautiful sensuality in the mornings. Feel is not right or wrong. It’s just feeling. I lay here, my hair splayed against the pillow. I run my fingers through it, the dark giving it a rusted hue. I should get up and check on the cat I’m here to watch. Instead, I let my thumb rub against my sternum, down my belly. He’s inside and indoors, I remind myself. No need to rush.

I stay in bed, trying to hold onto this moment. I make constellations with my freckles. I root myself in the body, in hair and skin and sensory softness. I need a space before society comes crashing in with all its messages of who I’m supposed to be. If I stay in this queen size bed with too many pillows, I have a few more moments with my own radical truth: this body is made to feel and enjoy.

Despite thick blinds, the sun gets brighter. I get up slowly, walking to the bathroom. My eyes travel down, enjoying the warm light against my pale skin. My breasts hang a bit, swaying with my motion. At the mirror, my fingers trace the creases along my thighs, the only evidence of my restless night.

Once I’m done, I turn back, facing the large bed again. I should get up, do an inspection of the house, bring in the newspaper. But the bed is the right balance of firm and soft. The thick covers are a siren call. I could nestle in, and read a book.

For a moment, I’m torn, until I realize my legs are already climbing back into bed. There’s time enough to look for the cat. For now, there are simple pleasures waiting for me between the sheets.

V.

In some parts of the world, hard labour is not always paid in terms of monetary value. So, when I spent one summer in the Scottish Highlands helping to dig over a particularly weed infested piece of land (for possible, but not probable, horticultural use), I was offered a bed in return. One that’s handmade, not from driftwood, but proper locally sourced Scottish pine. I had never owned a bed before, mainly due to living in rented properties that already had a frame, or with men who came as a package where the sleeping arrangements were the least of my problems.

When the bed arrived, it was in bits and pieces. That doesn’t matter, I thought. I can handle a drill.

As I put it together, it seemed to me the frame was a bit short. I worried about my mattress. By the time I’d assembled the screws and fittings, it dawned on me that it was not the length that was the problem — it was the width. They had sent me a single bed.

Who do they think I am? A teenager in need of extra space for the drum kit or the dirty laundry? A hippie hermit worried that too big a bed would leave no room for the yoga mat?

Looking longingly at my double mattress, I questioned where to place my books. In the morning, I would always wake up with a minimum of five books next to me. And what about the laptop? I knew I’d need it close by to play my audio books, without which I could not fall asleep — most of them still playing in the morning, telling me reassuringly that once again Elizabeth got her Mister Darcy. And where do I sleep? I always slept on the right side, a position I had ferociously defended against boyfriends, my daughter, and even my sister’s cat. The bed they sent didn’t even have a right side. It didn’t have a left side either. It didn’t have a middle. It was just a piece of empty space.

Then, paranoia set in.

I remembered the expression, “Can you imagine waking up next to that one?”and ice cold fear gripped me. Had I really got that old and ugly that nobody wanted to wake up next to me? Is that why they’d got me a single bed? I might have had a few more cracks and wrinkles in the morning than I had ten years ago, but who did they suspect I wanted to lie next to? Some twenty-something model? Just where would I have gotten him from? Fear turned into rage. Maybe they thought I was too old to even consider waking up next to anyone. Maybe they assumed, since I came there single, and stayed single, that I was forever meant to remain single. Who are they to decide?

There was no way I was going to wake up in a single bed every morning. It would have meant accepting defeat, without a fight (never mind the books and the laptop). I threw the offending frame parts and the screws and all the damn fittings into the back of my car and drove out to return the whole mess, seething about my suspicions.

Two weeks later, a new bed arrived. It’s was a double this time. It was beautiful and truly massive. Every piece of the frame had been reinforced, and the wooden slats the mattress was meant to rest on were twice the size of any previous bed I’d slept in.

Wow, I thought. Have I put on a lot of weight? Maybe they think that I’m going in the wrong direction, proverbially — and literally. Maybe they think –

The man delivering the frame blanched as I demanded to know the meaning of it.

“Yeah, about that,” he said, his head dipping as he scratched the back of his neck. “We didn’t want to put our feet right into it again, but since you never take anyone home, we didn’t know your preferences and decided to cater for all possibilities. It can carry a four hundred pound man — or a couple of two hundred pound men — and will most likely survive even the most extravagant shenanigans you could come up with.”

Touché.

I thanked him, and got the drill once again, imagining how my laptop would look next to a full volume of Shakespeare’s Collected Works and an unabridged version of Gray’s Anatomy in the morning.

VI.

I have a husband who builds furniture. He has an eye for proportion and a true love and understanding of wood. Our cabinetry is cherry of his design, the coffee table thick oak with the butterfly joint, the walnut buffet, the maple full-length mirror. He takes his time in the shop. He hand-planes, delicate lacy curls surrounding him when I pop in with a coffee, Neil Young in the background. And he will build us a bed. No, we cannot buy a bed. For, one day, he will build it. And for 20 years we have had a mattress on the floor.

I think I would not know our bed if it was elegantly and sturdily framed. What sharp edges would need negotiation during drunken sexy tumbles? How far to the floor to reach folded over novels and half-finished bottles of San Pellegrino, glasses of red wine?

We talk about The Bed That Will Be Made: four-poster, simple lines, hidden drawers. But I love the broad drape of the duvet on all sides now; how quick to mess up, how quick to make up. How accessible and humble. The children jump freely, we make love and argue and wrap Christmas presents, where coats are thrown during parties, for morning spooning and drowsy reaching and toes easily touching floor.

I never sweep beneath; indeed, no space for monsters there.


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Here are the full Contributor Credits for THE BED, and the entire ON MORNINGS series.