I talked before I walked. My mother says I did this in order to boss around anyone willing to listen. No one was, really, except my older brother. We shared a bedroom then, and I’d sit in my crib, asking, “Bring me? Bring me?” He’d drop in a book, or my blanket, or a handful of Duplo blocks, or all of the nickels from his toy cash register.
I’ve nannied for an intrepid eleven-month-old who taught himself to climb out of his crib and a three-year-old who screamed in rage for the duration of a mandatory forty-five minute nap. I wasn’t that kind of baby. There was no reason to get out.
When I was six, I coveted my brother’s bed. He had Return of the Jedi sheets. I had Disney character sheets, but my chronic childhood nosebleeds left stains that made it look like Mickey had been shived. His bed had drawers underneath with handles that made perfectly aggravating sounds when jerked up and down. Under my bed, there was only floor.
Worst of all: he had bunk beds. I did not.
I wanted bunk beds of my own because they were the key element of my favorite childhood game: mini-blind factory. Mini-blind factory began with one player in each bunk. The one on top wrote down the color and type of blinds they wanted, dropped the slip in a bucket, and lowered it down to the bottom. The player on the bottom either wrote the day they’d fill the order or wrote an order of their own (the corporate-client border was always fuzzy), and then sent the bucket back up.
On paper, it comes across as highly ritualized clerical work. But a six-year-old finds perfection underneath as many security blankets as possible, writing secret messages.
I don’t have hard statistics, but I’d estimate I went to the nurse’s office at least three times a week in middle school. I was never lying or trying to get attention. I got headaches; I never felt well.
I’d take my two ibuprofen, curl up on a bed, and hold still until I fell asleep or the nurse kicked me out once she’d tired of the sound of my boots skidding back and forth on the cot’s paper cover.
When I went to the nurse at my new high school for the first time, she pulled out my file, skimmed it, and then closed it. “Well, hon, there’s a note here from the nurse at your old school, and she says you used to come see her a lot. Do you think maybe you don’t feel sick, and maybe you’d just rather sleep than go to class?”
No, that’s not what I thought at all.
I don’t usually sleep well in beds that aren’t my own. This is probably because I spend most of my time coming up with new things to worry about. A brain that constantly generates disaster is well equipped to take a single, ill-timed spider bite and translate it into a pervasive fear of bedbugs.
Last fall, my friend Emmy and I took a trip to Disneyland. I was in charge of booking our hotel and I vetted choices ruthlessly, cross-checking multiple online recommendations against multiple bed bug registries.
I finally found a discounted room at a resort hotel so beloved its sole negative review cited how the guests had seen a rat outside (I’m not sure how the hotel was supposed to prevent that from happening in the future). I booked it, and when we were a few miles away, I mentioned that maybe just to be on the safe side I’d sleep in the rental car.
“You’re sleeping inside.”
“Here’s the thing — I sleep inside, I’m going to wrap all of my luggage in Hefty bags, and I’m going to throw away my pajamas when we leave. And I have to go in first, with all of our stuff still in the car, take off all the bedding, check for stains, turn off the lights, turn them on suddenly to see if bugs creep out, and then check the baseboards for stains too.”
“Oh. Okay…we’ll do that then. No big deal.”
I imagine it is tiresome to be my friend.
All of the eloquent ways to describe acute depression are already taken. What’s left to work with is repetitive cliché. Maybe the best I can say is this: the pharmaceutical commercials where the girl with the unwashed hair murmurs that some days, she just can’t get out of bed — there’s no hyperbole there.
When one isn’t a petulant queen or tubercular Victorian, taking to one’s bed loses its glamour. It wasn’t all crisp linens and languid sighs and delicate swoons. It was torpor, and balled-up jersey knit sheets, and the inability to do anything more complex than stare at hour after hour of television with a blanket mashed against my face. Above all, it was the certainty that this — call it a bout, call it an episode, call it turmoil, call it despair — would not pass, not ever. But I thought that if I maybe held perfectly still and closed my eyes, there was the slightest of chances it wouldn’t get worse.
I’d take Tylenol PM in the middle of the afternoon, re-upping on a second dose when I’d wake up at midnight.I was constantly, deliciously sleepy, wrapped in the haze of being just barely awake all the time, sleeping a minimum of sixteen hours every day.I would wake up with a sleep hangover:edges blurred and I stayed groggy and disconnected for hours, parched and headachey, thirsty for more.
The summer when things were at their worst, I took to falling asleep in a good friend’s palatial bed — a rare breach of my one-bed-girl stance. I made constant references to Bed as an entity of Bed’s own. “Does Bed miss me?” “But what does Bed want to watch?”
It’s an affectation I adopted to seem cute and glib, in an effort to disguise the fact that Bed was one of the last safe places left on Earth.
I spin it as a quirk now. I write Twitter posts about my pillow forts, deliver “I stayed in bed all weekend” in my pitch-perfect I’m-kidding-or-am-I tone. And there are many days when I wake up, make toast, put my hair in a ponytail, and go — days where I don’t live through each vertical moment for the sake of the next horizontal one.
But I cannot shake the feeling that bed is my craft.Bed is what I am better at than anyone else in the world.I am the master of blissful disconnect, of curling up and locking the door and sleeping ‘till tomorrow, knees to chest, still.