She has had the same one since she was twelve, when we moved from one house to another in Connecticut and she graduated from bunk beds to a queen. The new room was big enough and she wanted to have the same kind of sleepovers she had been having at her closest friend’s houses, sleeping in the same bed together, whispering in the dark in a way that is impossible when one person is three feet hovered above the other. It came with her when we moved to Los Angeles when she was fifteen. It has since seen hundreds of sleepovers (including a few with her college boyfriend), and once she was away at school it was our go-to guestroom bed. I won’t disgust you with the stuff they tell you at mattress stores about sweat and skin cells and dust mites and why you supposedly need to change mattresses every eight years because every time I hear it I want to change out my mattress every eight DAYS.
Holly was moving for the sixth time in as many years, and her last two, out of college moves included the bed. Her last apartment she had a roommate who had a boyfriend who not only stayed over night several times a week but would also do charming things like take showers at two in the morning right outside Holly’s bedroom. For that and many other reasons, she was never really comfortable there. We are both hoping this move lasts for more than a year, that this new apartment will be one in which she can really make a home. Along those lines, my husband and I have offered to buy her a new mattress and box spring.
Has anyone noticed that this generation HATES shopping? I don’t mean they don’t want to buy things, they definitely want to buy things. But they want to do it all online. There apparently is some kind of adrenaline rush that is lost on me, of pressing that purchase button on your laptop or more likely your phone and then a few days later seeing that brown package outside the door. They eschew dressing rooms in stores, they basically eschew stores, their idea of browsing means hours in front of a screen. Having reluctantly followed my young teenagers around malls, I NEVER would have thought that one day I would miss that experience. Because, at least it was communal, social, a bit of exercise? Now shopping is a completely private experience, in front of a screen, like so much of our lives these days. (Ok, don’t get me started on this, please.) But, being someone who has a sensitive tactile sense, (I so remember her asking me to not only remove tags off the back of shirts when she was little but even the tags off her stuffed animals) someone for whom sleep never came easily and couldn’t drift off if the room was too hot or too cold, or if the new pillow was too stiff, or too soft, she agreed that she needed to go and lie on a mattress in order to know if she wanted to commit to it.
We walk into the store, which, while it may have changed owners, has been a place that has been selling mattresses since I was a teenager. In fact, I bought my first mattress here when I was twenty-three. And it looks, unusual for these days, much like it did then. In other words, a lot of naked beds with confusing signs on them. But now there seem to be so many more kinds, pillow tops, tempur-pedics, hybrids (who knew?). I tell her to just start lying on beds without looking too much at prices, just to see what kind she likes. Besides, those prices (and this also hasn’t changed) are completely meaningless because as we all know every mattress store every day of the year seems to have this AMAZING fifty percent off today! sale. A reasonably unpushy young man comes up to us and answers a few questions before leaving us to our own devices while he helps out another customer. Not knowing what to do with myself, I start lying on different beds, just to see. The salesman teases me, “why are you lying on these beds, she’s the one who will be sleeping on it.” (He says it in a way that isn’t as rude as it sounds.) I tell him I am just curious.
“Mom, come try this one.” So I walk over and lie down next to her. After ten seconds she pops up and goes to another one, and indicates I should follow her and lie down on the beds next to her. She says in a quiet, conspiratorial voice, “This is the most awkward thing ever.” Something about this experience brings out her inner fifteen year old. (In my experience, not that hard to access for this age group. Or mine either, come to think of it.) She likes some, some she knows immediately aren’t right and she pops up from them as quickly as she has laid down. Goldilocks in the mattress store. She goes back and forth between several, me dutifully following her around. At one point she stays on a particular mattress. “I don’t know…maybe, what do you think?” I repeat what the salesman said, that it doesn’t matter what I like.
Holly is right around my height, 5’3”. But she is small boned, much more petite than me, even more petite than my younger, slimmer self. And there are moments like this, when she just seems so small, it isn’t at all difficult to imagine her as a child, because she pretty much wears the same size she did when she was twelve. And on this large empty mattress, she looks childlike. I also realize, as I lay next to her, that we haven’t laid out like this in a very, very long time. But there were years and years when it was a nightly ritual, one that my husband Mitchell and I alternated with both of our girls, of reading a book aloud and lying down for a while, chatting in a completely random way. Great, amazing stuff would come out in those conversations, something about it being dark and both of us tired with our defenses down. As they got older they might prefer to do their own reading but still wanted that lying down ritual. It seemed to settle them even though it was, truth be told, often draining for us at the end of a long day. But then, suddenly, the ritual was over. I hadn’t thought about it in ages, but as she turned away from me, seeing how the mattress felt when she laid on that side, I had to stop myself from reaching out and stroking her hair, something else I used to do to soothe her, to ready her for sleep. And when she turned back to me, it was like this weird, Benjamin Button moment where she seemed, just for a nano-second, to morph into her nine year old self. From some deep, reptilian part of my brain came this sense “memory” that was so real, her child’s body next to mine, the smell of her at nine, those huge blue eyes looking at me quizzically, that it didn’t feel like a memory. It wasn’t a cerebral, nostalgic remembering of the feeling, it was a woo woo kind of time travel thing. It was gone as quickly as it had come.
She sighed quietly and said, “Oh, god, I don’t know, Mom. Can you decide?” I couldn’t help but smile at the absurdity of it. There are so many times, even now, when I sometimes wish she WOULD let me decide, when I feel that I know best. About college, about friends, about jobs. I am not proud of this, but there it is. But she rarely asked me, and I often went through the painful experience of witnessing her making the wrong choice. Or, more accurately, the more painful choice for me to witness., what I THOUGHT was the wrong one. But I now see some if not all of those “wrong” choices were what made her the remarkable and no question unique and quirky person she is today. So how “wrong” could they have been?
We lie there quietly, looking up at the dull, not quite dirty, white acoustic tiles on the ceiling, me thinking of all the beds, or at least many of the beds, I have slept in during my life. The twin bed of my girlhood, the full size mattress that took up most of the floor space of my college dorm room, the weird water beds of a couple of my friends in the late seventies, the King size bed that Mitchell and I bought when we first got married. Both of our daughters were conceived on it. It seemed so vast, and it could fit all of us when the girls were small.
I remember the game he had with them when they were little, which basically consisted of them successfully working to roll him off the bed. There was a lot of giggling involved. I think of our long departed dog Zoe, how we allowed her to romp on it with us as a puppy until she became too big.
I think of my father and mother who five years ago, after fifty-six years of marriage, decided that they would get more rest if they were to sleep separately, of how my wheelchair bound father is in a hospital bed at home now, how they both need adult diapers at night, and how my mom will still occasionally have “sleep overs” in my dad’s bed because she misses his familiar smell, even if his sleep apnea mask/machine scares her a bit. How both of them have these rails you use on beds with toddlers to stop them from rolling off in the middle of the night.
I remember twenty two years ago, how nervous I was about Holly transitioning from a crib to a “big girl bed” in order to make room for her little sister Lily, how displaced she might feel. Since then, come to think of it, she has always had trouble with transitions, moves, throwing old things out. Did I create this, or was I just sensitive to it? In an effort to shut off all the little home videos running in my head, I turn to Holly, wondering what her thoughts have been, but realizing that asking her directly won’t yield any answers and, unlike the dark, rambling conversations we had all those years ago, not much is likely to come out in the florescent light of a mattress store.
“This really has to be your decision, but I can help you narrow it down.” Which I do, because she is still a girl who can occasionally get overwhelmed making decisions. And she’s had to make a few big ones lately, where to live next not even being the biggest. She decides on a mattress that is basically a new model of her old one, but I have to say, it feels pretty wonderful. Within ten minutes we are sitting at the desk in the back of the store and I am giving my credit card to the salesman. He says, “you are such a nice mother,” and he means that I am generous to be buying her the mattress and all I can think, as I try to control an involuntary welling up, is that this is likely the last, the very last, major purchase my husband and I will make for her. There is relief in that, and an undeniable wistfulness, too.
She gives me a hug and thanks me, we part and go our separate ways. On the drive home I think of how many, if not most, of us live in families through most of our lives, (and family can be a romantic partner, a friend, a group of singles sharing a house) but there is this time for many of us, for me it was about five years but for others it can be much longer, when we live alone. When we don’t hear the comforting sounds of family around us, and how lonely it can be. I am so glad Holly adopted a funny little white fluffy shelter dog of indeterminate age, who amuses and comforts her to no end. Mitchell and I were against this adoption a few years ago, felt she was too young for the responsibility and now of course realize it was one of her wisest decisions. Most of us need company on our mattress.
It is only four o’clock, but the afternoon light is starting to change, soon it will be dusk which, incidentally, is not only my favorite time of day but one of my favorite words. Dusk. I am already looking forward to not that many hours ahead, when, perhaps on the early side, with my pile of books to choose from on my night table, my husband reading or watching TV next to me, I will be getting into bed.