Beds. Beds. Beds. By MAYA ELMER

Friday December 30, 2005

There’s a whole dictionary of used beds I have tried out for size in my life time. The iron cot in the room I shared with my small sister when I was 5 years old. I dream of a pretty, long, cold snake lying next to me. It wasn’t scary, but that’s what happens to a bed wetter when the sheets are wet in a cold winter morning. Mommy, I really tried to wake up.  

Teenage mattresses slumber on Marthe’s back porch where I see my first northern lights on one hot summer evening in Grosse Pointe. The green-gold ribbons wave; the stars overhead seduce our inane chatter into silence. I hear the distant wailing of trains promising a future for all.  

There’s the bed in Elaine’s guest room, my future mother-in-law’s. She was a nice enough little-old-lady; really old and really little when I knew her. And so was the guest-room bed: really old. The cotton stuffings had suffered so much through the years. Pushed apart by other bodies; where other knees had ground, other heels had pounded. My hips and spine clamber to the edges in the dark to keep from falling into this worn-out trough.  

There’s no ignoring the bed for the poor university student honeymooners: the St. Clair Inn was an old, but well-respected hotel on a Great Lakes beach front. It had class. This room must have been designed as a walk-in closet, for the double bed was pushed against the side and end walls; the door, when opened, touched the end of a dresser. Yes, there was a minuscule bathroom, too.  

We toasted to the taste of vinegary, cheap champagne. The hours of wake and sleep and the thrust of love. Then the desperation-comedy of running out of matches at 3 a.m. The ignominy of his buttoning his tweed raincoat over pajamas to go down to the lobby and get a pack of matches from the ever awake, and no doubt amused, bellboy on duty at the desk. It’s not amazing that I should remember that bed well.  

Are there always old mattresses and box springs hiding in attics to lend? Do they float in some giant airport carousel to be parceled out when a clerk beckons to help out the aspiring lawyer or the writer-to-be? With what signs of relief are these used bed sets dealt from body to body, dreams to dreams ? Do they ever start from new ?  

There was one in the rented apartment in a college town where Mrs. Yarmain and her Armenian flavors rose up the varnished brown stairs to the attic. They say “The first year is the hardest…” Will you believe me if I admit to dragging blankets into the long, old-fashioned bath tub one night of disagreement?  

Another year. Another apartment. This time the bedsprings squeaked, and the bed wobbled. There was no anonymity to our lovemaking for the landlord on the first floor.  

The ones dealt to us in wartime rooms across the U.S.A. were equally the same, but with different bedspreads: Boston, New York, Rhode Island on the East Coast. Alameda, Oakland, and Pacific Grove on the West Coast. Lower berths and upper berths, years and events roll on.  


• • •  

He never said he was ordering twin beds; our verbal jousts continue. I protest at his sailing away on a Saturday morning on his 20-foot sloop while I cope with the children. We are indeed coming apart, but our disagreements don’t seem to solve anything.  

Spring arrived early that year. The gentle pink bloom on the hawthorn tree in the middle of the lawn spoke quietly to the Michigan afternoon breezes. I watched from the second floor, through the tall clerestory window which overlooked the front yard. A Macy’s delivery truck stood in front. Surprise. I hadn’t been to the store for weeks. The delivery men approached. One with papers in his hand: “to deliver twin beds.”  

Shock. I refuse the order. They call the store. I just say, “This has been ordered without my knowledge.” I refuse to accept them. They go back.  

I have no recollection of any discussion we might have had. But it did come up in therapy. The husband, in turn, was shocked that I had turned them back; more at my audacity at confronting his authority. Dr. W. said that was part of our problem: not talking over the decisions to be made.  

What it was: he really wanted to be getting farther and farther away. I was too unknowing of the changes being generated in society to recognize them for what they were. I kept hanging on; wanting to pull together. My father had said to me the morning he left for the summer, “Keep your family together, Mary”—a paternal edict!  

So we ordered a king-sized bed. We met on a lunch hour, one Saturday and bounced on the beds in the store. But that playground of a bed didn’t help either. More and more, I felt less and less together. There was a broken trust like shattered eggshells. There was anger. On one hand my simmering anger and his simmering anger locked together saying, “ Go!” 

His won out. He abandoned me in December at Black Lake, our forest retreat, deep in cold snow drifts. Without a car, 18 miles from town. 

So I bought the new bed for a new house, a new life: a queen-sized bed to hold new dreams and future lovers. ?