She curls into a hot parenthesis against me, tiny hands and feet twitching in ballet dreams. I gather the bedclothes over a wisp of porcelain shoulder: flanneled sheets, down comforter with a sueded duvet; February, and the weight of bedding has not been altered since the winter prior. “Mama’s bed,” she’d whispered before squirreling in, “always warm,” the billowing linen nest our practiced sanctum from the perennial chill of the City.
What was the first thing you bought when you had real money? Post-college, following that initial dues-paying, subsistence-level position — your first proper job that, after rent and utilities and laundry and coffee and take-out and foreign films and pints, left you with just enough to splurge on something meaningful, something ineffably… adult?
In my case, I rode Metro to DC’s then-venerable, now-departed Hecht’s department store, and bought the highest thread-count sheets I could afford. Subsequent paychecks brought a silk-blend duvet and quality pillows. Comparing down comforters involved months of research measuring fill weight against year-round value; like erecting an ice-fishing hut or mixing the perfect hot toddy, there are skills for which a Florida childhood invariably fails a person.
A third of one’s life in bed, and that third merely in sleep. In the 20-some years since that first set of fine linens, I have read in bed, and written, and made love, planned and meditated and dreamt, I have made promises and betrayed them, I have lain, and lied.
The mattress of today is vast and exceptional, the very room itself a neutral, minimalist, electronics-shunning devotional to The Bed: where I have conceived at least one child, dream and meditate and read, have planned my wedding, laugh and cry, forgive and am forgiven, and spend enough time writing that my husband insists I change my letterhead from “From the Desk of:” to “From the Bed of:”. Within these sheets, I have abandoned people and circumstances that will never change, and reached out to those who nourish. I have nursed and weaned two infant girls who, years on, now snug between a pillow and breast, small fingers curling rings in my hair, and ask, again and again, how mama used to hold and feed them when they were just a wee baby. I have endured medical, financial and legal crises in this bed, and I have wept at my unseemly happiness and good fortune.
There are even nights — naked, aswirl in warmth and breathy stillness — that it occurs: This is the bed I’ve made, and I wouldn’t change a stitch. And but a moment later, the vast hand of my drowsing husband comes to rest on the small of my back, hot and blanketing, a slow pulse in the heel, transcendant. The bed I’ve made has shifted. Shifts me.
This perfect Sunday afternoon: grey and keening, one hand about a novel, one upon her fluttering bird’s breast. A finger of ague has pulled at her through the weekend, and honeyed whorls lay slick against her fevered nape, and I welcome the malaise, the exhaustion, whatever rare spell these days overtakes the children in my sheets and nudges them to slumber. How few childhood naps have we left together in this isle of whites? How many more iron-sky afternoons snugged four abreast, the wind thrumming a clock’s-pace of drizzle against the northern panes?
I draw the comforter tighter against myself, over my child, enfold the wings within this bed, this nest, I have made… and give benediction for a lifetime’s sufferings, missteps and cock-ups, that it has led to this extravagant grace.
Published in HouseOfClams