To Bed

I’m pretty sure that the inventor of the bed intended it to fit two people at all times.

I’ve thought about it: isn’t it interesting that the smallest size bed—a single—has also been dubbed a twin? After that comes a double bed, and only then is the bed called full. At their largest dimensions, beds even become gendered—a Queen, followed by a King—as if beds were meant to serve couples.

Obviously, Mr. or Ms. Bed Inventor had more than just sleep on his or her mind. I’m realizing that, when I’m in bed, whether I share it or not, I have the same thoughts too.

Last night, as I began my nightly five-hour nap (alone), I rolled onto my left side and wrapped my arms around one of my four pillows. I know: it sounds a bit crowded, but, as far as my memory can reach, I’ve slept with two or more pillows. It’s my routine; it’s comfort.

I began my multi-pillow habits when I was four: for my head, I had a pillow encased in Teddy Ruxpin covers; as an extra companion, I kept another checkered in baby blue penguins. Yes, I had stuffed animals to boot, but I opted to embrace my largest, roundest bed partner of all: pillow #2. Although the soft fur of Brownie (my favorite) had its appeal as a plaything to be tossed about, I needed something that mirrored the size of my own human form, a closer match for my growing kindergartner figure. Did I, with my childish wants, express an inherent urge to share my bed with someone more like me? Sheltered by my parents and unexposed to any idea of sensuality or sexuality, how could I have created such a craving on my own?

I couldn’t have. Until I turned 18 years old, I lived with my parents. Our established sleep norms included wearing a shirt and shorts to bed—not boxers or pajama pants as one might expect from movie depictions of sleepovers, but actual shorts with pockets and Nike or Reebok emblems embroidered on the bottom of the right leg. (It’s as if I had jogged from a workout, into my bedroom, and then hopped directly into bed—minus the perspiration.) The notion that the world clothed itself to sleep sucked all sexuality out of my childhood bedroom. If the bed wasn’t made for sleeping, it only, at most, accommodated the occasional reading or journaling session. It was no longer a crib, but it may as well have been a teenage equivalent.

It wasn’t until college that I remember shedding those ideas about bed and replacing them with a more adult skin. After growing up attired in bed, it came as a surprise that many of the guys on my first-year dormitory hall slept in their underwear. How homoerotic, I thought: straight men stripping to their skivvies and then bidding each other good night across a 12 x 14 room. Not what I expected from a single-sex residence hall at a college steeped in split-sex tradition. It seemed to me that being almost-naked, a notch below being totally-naked, was within an arm’s length of doing things naked. I wonder if there is a correlation between kids who grow up sleeping almost- or totally-naked and their sexual activity as adults.

The first time I slept with anyone (for purposes other than to share a bed) was during my sophomore year—in a tiny twin bed. After a night of partying with his friends, Ken and I made a 4:30am decision to stumble into his off-campus house. We rehydrated on his couch, made small talk on some chairs in his room, and then, after cautious move after cautious move, went for it. It was the first time either of us did anything homosexual. Furniture that seemed fit for one caved into the warmth of a heavy make-out session. That night, I completely bought into chemistry; we forewent the discomfort of his cramped space and came to understand that heat really does expand space. Twin bed or not, there was going to be room for two.

I never understood the allure of cuddling until that point. I thought that the experience would be a lie: romantic and sweet in intention, uncomfortable and intrusive in truth. Before that night, I pictured an arm pinched beneath someone’s heavy body, stuck in its place until a fortunate choice by the other’s subconscious to shift ever so slightly. I had visions of sweat smearing from arm to arm, bringing to mind overwhelming heat waves rather than the welcome embers of a tryst.

I gladly discovered that the reality of sharing a bed produced a sensation quite the opposite—that of inconceivable, thrilling independence. It’s freeing to choose to face consequences so extreme and intense. The electric spark of touch is perhaps the largest contribution to confusion in the world; once contact occurs between two hormonal humans, passages at once pleasurable and vulnerable zip wide open, leading to outcomes either amazing or regrettable. I learned that there’s something about skin resting against skin that sends charges into the body, to the nook where I would imagine my soul to live. Who would’ve thought that the simple act of taking up space with another person, physically filling voids in an attempt to metaphorically fill voids, would result in that? In its irrationality, I found the unexpected combustion of relief and excitement.

It began to make sense to me why I had been hugging pillows all my life. I needed a substitute for that adult skin, even as a kid. Perhaps, then, adult skin is a misnomer; perhaps human is more like it. I’ve begun getting used to my new skin by experience: shedding my shirt and shorts for boxers or less, adapting to all types of sleeping spaces—twin-size, foldable mattresses to fully-outfitted luxury king-size beds—not all of them my own.

And yet, some things have not changed. Despite my willingness to assimilate into the world of the sexualized bed, I hang onto certain innocent habits of old: cuddling with pillow #2—and now, in my mid-twenties, rendezvousing with pillows #3 and #4… because, of course, I’m a little bigger than I was when I was four, and the void in my bed is getting larger by the day. I have a double to fill and only a single me to do the job.

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