When I moved to Long Island in 2009, I left my (now) former bed behind upstate. For a few years, I lived in furnished apartments. Then for a few years, I lived with a girlfriend who had a bed. One day, nearly two years ago, my mother upstate called asking about some of my old things she wanted to get rid of to clear up room in her basement. She asked if I still needed my bed. My girlfriend and I agreed I should let my mom toss it, since we were cool sharing her bed. So I told my mother to go on and throw it out. A week later, my girlfriend broke up with me. I was a man without a woman. Even worse, I was a man without a bed.
Over the next 600+ nights, I’ve lived in five places. The only two nights since I slept in a bed was one night in a hotel because my dick landlord hired dick workers who left ceiling dust and plaster all over my apartment and didn’t feel like cleaning it, and the January day I had to cut my upstate-to-downstate trip short and stay at a hotel because of a snowstorm. But I come not to bury all the non-beds I slept in, but to praise them. In those 600+ nights, I slept:
– 60 nights on a daybed at my mom’s
After the breakup my whole life was in upheaval. I didn’t know where my next job would be, or if I’d return to LI or stay upstate or head somewhere else entirely. I needed some constancy while the turmoil had me spinning. So I spent the summer with my mother, sisters, and nieces.
My mother would always apologize for the day bed. She worried it was too small and uncomfortable. It wasn’t the dream, that’s true.
But it was, for a summer, “my” bed, and “my” was the prescription for what was ailing me. The relationship I’d just come out of was not the best-balanced: my ex was too much of a taker and I was too much of a giver. There’s ego and defense mechanisms wrapped up in each of those excesses. So to be sleeping in a bed where I didn’t have to worry about giving up space to anyone else, where I never found myself clinging for space on the edge, was what I needed. I was still pissed about being encouraged to dump my bed a week before I’d end up needing it. But the temporality of the day bed was a better Rx anyway. Because it wasn’t mine. I’d have to work and grow before I was ready for a bed again. If I’d still had my old bed, that may have felt like regression. The day bed felt like “This, too, shall pass.”
– 120 nights on a sofa bed at a friend’s house
I found work at two colleges on LI. The problem: by the time the jobs arrived, in early August, it was too late for me to land an apartment. The work would start before there’d be any chance to sign a lease somewhere. So I was facing the same problem I’d faced in my brief disastrous time in North Carolina: I had a job, but nowhere to live.
A friend offered to let me stay in her house. Her husband had passed away and both of her daughters were married and moved out, so she had people crashing with her for a while. The first night I stayed there, two of the other houseguests – J.D. Foster, a professional musician and professor who’s worked with a million people and is cool as hell, plus a young Italian singer/songwriter named Federico – caught blue-tip crabs from the river behind the house and cooked them up on a grill. The sun was out past nine and the sky took a long languid turn from sea blue to dark blue, to magic purple, then navy, then that perfect summer black. We ate fresh-grilled crabs. Drank good red wine. Half the conversation was in English, half in Italian — which, given my partial Spanish, meant I could follow 75% of the conversation — the ideal ration. I felt a bit more settled than I had for a while with two strangers, reminding me how big the world is. The bigger the world feels, the better I feel.
I also made friends with the basement houseguest, a 6’8″ banker who played basketball in college and overseas before moving into finance. He loved Batman and the Knicks and was the kind of guy who’s super cool because the more you get to know him, the more wide-ranging his boundaries become. I guess people work the same as the world does for me: the bigger they seem, the more I like them. For a few weeks the banker’s girlfriend and her young daughter came from Denmark to stay in the house too. I had recently lost contact with my stepdaughter, and the little Danish girl and I hit it off pretty much from the start, despite me speaking no Danish. She taught me a few words — stoolen is chair; one of her favorite games was ordering me to sit, sternly pointing to a chair and saying “Stoolen!” — and loved to play the piano with me, look through my comic books, and color and draw all over my work papers.
When I moved into my friend’s house, I’d just suffered my second serious groin injury in a year. I couldn’t lift anything over 10 pounds. My sister helped load up my luggage when I left upstate and a friend downstate helped unpack my car when I arrived on LI. The first night I stayed at my friend’s house, after the euphoria of the strangers and the blue-tip crabs had faded, I was faced with a difficult moment. I couldn’t open the sofa bed. It took a ton of effort to pull it out of the couch. It was super late at night and I didn’t want to bother anyone to help me; I was already tired of needing people’s help. It took 15 minutes of painstakingly slow pulling to get the bed open. It had a lumpy ridge near the middle. It seemed designed for someone 5’9″ or shorter. There was a window right behind where my head rested and the window didn’t close perfectly, so when the weather cooled there was always cold air blowing in. Jack Frost nipping at your toes = charming. Jack Frost running his cool tongue along the back of your neck for weeks on end = decidedly less so.
By the time I moved out of my friend’s house, I’d come a long way in healing, physically and otherwise. I wanted to be alone. I wanted to live somewhere where I could support myself, rather than depending on the kindness of others. I wanted a warmer, more comfortable night’s sleep.
– 420 nights on a couch
Shortly before my breakup, my thesis advisor gave me her couch. It is the most comfortable couch I have ever known.
When I moved out of my friend’s house into a new apartment, I hired another friend to help me load & unload the moving truck. The new place was the top floor of a house that sat atop a high hill. You had to walk up three long flights of irregular wooden stairs to get to the apartment, then go up another flight of stairs to actually reach it. The friend I hired to help me unload flaked. So I packed up the truck by myself and drove to the new place.
When I got there it was dark and it was freezing. I was already tired. While not looking forward to moving all my stuff by myself, I knew it was doable. It’d take hours and hours and hours, but it was doable. The problem was there was no way to move the couch by myself. Not up all those stairs. By now the couch had taken on tremendous significance to me – it wasn’t a bed, but it was mine. It wasn’t someone else’s, it wasn’t a favor that’d trip up my aversion to anything that feels like a debt. It wasn’t lumpy or uncomfortable. It was a super-soft night’s sleep. It was soooo close to being inside my apartment, soooo close to me sleeping on it. And yet, it was so far.
The same friend who’d helped me unpack my car after my injury showed up like an angel in the middle of the night and helped me unload the truck and move the couch. Even with his help, by the time we finished four hours later, my legs were total noodles. That night, on my couch, I slept as soundly as any night of my life.
For nearly a year, the couch has been my bed. As far as couch-sleep rates, it’s a 10. Soft, roomy, amazing. But after a few months, my back clued me in to the fact that the best couch in the universe remains not a bed. It was soft, but too soft. Just like the relationship that had led me to the couch, the give and take was off.
My paychecks got screwed up this semester. My first few were too big, so now the rest’ll be smaller than expected. The universe unfolds as it must: thanks to the errors early, I had enough money to do something I’ve been wanting to do for over 600 nights:
I’ve been sleeping unbelievably well for 14 nights. And counting. Sleeping more deeply, dreaming more often, back feeling better. It took a long time to get here. I saw how fortunate I am to have known and met so many people along the way. The world is bigger. Where I sleep is, too. Sometimes bigger is better.