Where You Lay Your Head

Last week, I asked some online friends to tell me what they thought of when they heard the word home. I was curious what the answers might be, and wondered if there would be a wide variety of ways that people interpreted the concept. I was pretty surprised when multiple people said that the word home made them think of their bed, their pillow, or just rest, in general.

Maybe because I don’t really understand home, I don’t naturally link the ideas of home and bed together. Upon further reflection, that’s kind of odd. I wonder why I don’t? After all, for so much of my life, my bed was my primary piece of furniture, and absolutely intrinsic to my way of life. Maybe it’s because I have so much trouble sleeping, and always have? Maybe it’s a nighttime thing, or an alone thing?

I can’t remember my crib, but I can remember the night my dad set up my very first “big girl” bed, when I was three years old. It was a four-poster bed, and he built it by hand. I fell out of it almost nightly, and got so used to falling out of bed that my mom said she heard the tell-tale thump of me falling out of bed one night and hurried to my bedroom to comfort me, only to see me, eyes still closed, on the floor, reaching up to grab my blanket and pillow and go back to sleep on the floor.

I eventually stopped falling out of bed, and slept in the same bed until early high school, when found out my dad had designed it based off of his (dead) sister’s bed. It weirded me out so much that I took it apart, stacked it in the hallway, and slept on my mattress and boxspring on the floor from that point on. Sleeping on the floor was much better for me, anyway, because I’ve always been afraid of things under the bed, whether they be human, creatures, or spirit.

I don’t remember if there was an under-the-bed space under my college dorm room bed, but I do remember that the mattress was thin. More than anything, I remember the music. My roommate listened to the same two albums every night to fall asleep — Maxinquaye by Tricky, and Mezzanine by Massive Attack. I have a hard time falling asleep to music, but somehow those two albums never bothered me.

I ended up going to sleep to Tricky and Massive Attack for two years straight, because my roommate and I decided to live together again, in a house off-campus, with three other girls. She and I were both strapped for cash, so we shared a room. I stayed in town and worked all summer long, waiting tables, to set myself up to live like a proper off-campus adult. Eventually, I had enough money saved up to go to this fancy futon store on Magazine Street and purchase a brand-new, hand-sewn futon. It was thick and cushy, and I remember thinking that it was absolutely decadent, like something out of an opium den. The best part was that both my roommate and I had queen-sized beds, set at 90 degree angles from each other along adjoining walls, so when we opened them up, the beds touched at one corner. Thinking back, that feels like home. Not the house, not the room, not even the bed. Just the closeness to one of the dearest people on earth.

That same bed (and the same roommate) traveled with me for years after that, to the house where I got my first cat (Matthew), then to a house where the bed took up an entire room and finally got to live out those opium den vibes to the max. After college, it moved with me to my first solo living situation, a tiny apartment where the bed sat upstairs in the super-sophisticated loft space, artfully dressed with a purple faux raw silk comforter and matching embroidered throw pillows. After that, it moved to the shotgun house I was living in when Hurricane Katrina hit. I lost almost everything I owned, including my bed. As I wrote that last sentence, I could feel the futon mattress’s tufting in the small of my back. How odd.

When I evacuated, I made my home on a friend’s couch in Chicago for nearly two months. Eventually I moved into my own apartment, and scraped up enough money to buy a brand new futon, once again. The new futon was absolutely gorgeous, with innersprings, an armless wood frame, and a custom tweed cover. I sold it a couple of months later to fund my return trip to New Orleans.

The next bed came with my studio apartment. It wasn’t a bed, really. It was the futon mattress portion of a worn out futon couch that the old tenant had left behind. I slept on it, on the floor, for two years. Once I saw a spider, and bade my boyfriend at the time — a tough, macho guy — to help me pick the futon up so we could check underneath to see where it had come from. I will never forget how he shrieked like a little girl when we picked the futon up and saw a colony of spiders scurry out from underneath. Granted, I was dismayed at the spider situation, but it took me a while to stop laughing.

The next bed was a gently used mattress on a boring metal frame, purchased at a furniture liquidation store. I sold it a year later on my way back to Chicago. And this is where my life goes blank. I know I slept on an air mattress while I sublet a dirty little studio apartment in Lakeview. I have a vague memory of going mattress shopping with my ex, but no memory of what was purchased. I remember not having enough money to buy something decent. I remember that my back hurt for years. I remember that I loved living in Rogers Park, virtually alone except for select weekends, able to just barely see the glimmer of Lake Michigan from my bedroom window on a good day.

Eventually we moved back to New Orleans. We went furniture shopping, and I picked the bed frame out at the store, but he bought it. It was heavy, imposing, and dark. Not at all my style. It never was. What was I thinking?

When we broke up and I moved out and into my own place, the bed was the first piece of furniture I bought. It was a low platform bed with a gold metal frame, and a honeycomb-patterned headboard. The mattress came with the apartment, but I outfitted it with a thick memory foam topper and so many blankets and pillows that every person who came to my apartment managed to find a way to climb into bed at some point during their visit. I lived in a studio, so the bed was the focal point, and also was where I did my writing, reading, and crafting for six years, until I moved to my current house.

This is the house my partner, a transplant from New York, rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina. It has history before him, and before me, but I have lived here almost two years now, so now I’m part of its history, too. When I moved in, he was sleeping in the same captain’s bed — on the same mattress — that he and his ex-wife had slept in for years. Aside from the obvious bad divorce juju, the mattress had to go for practical reasons. It was ancient, and actually creaked. It was far, far worse than the spider bed.

Together, we repainted the bed and dreamed up a new headboard component. I told him I wanted the headboard to have reading lights, so we looked for sconces we both liked, and he wired everything up. We bought a new mattress together, 50/50, with all input and considerations taken into account. It’s a king-sized bed, which should have theoretically given us more room to not get pushed around by two bed-hogging dogs. We have two separate duvets, so we can both have all the covers we want. Both dogs prefer to sleep under my duvet, so it’s only a half win on my part. But still, it’s decadent. Not really opium den chic, or city girl sophisticated, just ridiculously comfortable. It’s a good bed.

Even so, though, the bed is not home. The closest I can get to connecting this big, beautiful bed to the concept of home is knowing that when I go to bed tonight, there will be a pattern to things. There will be a little brown dog who waits for me to lift up the covers so he can burrow down to my left knee and flip over on his back. A big gray galoot of a pittie will sit patiently beside the bed and wait for me to get comfy, then nose his way under the covers to hermetically seal himself to my right hip and grumble any time I move. And then there’s the wonderful man who will obsessively read the last few news stories on his phone in the dark, before plugging his phone in and flipping over to squeeze me tight and lace his fingers through mine. Are these things home? I don’t know. But they’re solid, and they’re good, and my bed wouldn’t be bed without them.

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