making, and breaking, the marriage bed

It seems like a lifetime ago. Do you remember, Mark? There is so much in our life now that feels so settled, so concrete and inelastic, but there was a time early in our marriage when we were explorers. We tried things. We moved. We moved a lot, actually. We moved every year for the first five years of our life together. Maybe it was no different than most kids in their early 20s but something about being married, about having boxes full of gifts from a registry and sharing the same last name made us seem less young, more certain. And we were certain, about one thing at least – we were certain about each other. But I didn’t like being tied down in other ways, still don’t, and we wandered when we could.

When we bought this house, the house that we still live in eight years later, we both knew our days of wandering were, if not over, at the very least scaling way back. Maybe we didn’t say it out loud, we probably didn’t, but there was a sense of promise in this house, and glimpse into a future that including babies and bills. There was a time when this house didn’t seem so small.

We became good at packing, precise in our sorting and generous with our belongings. There was no room for excess, and every year there was a ritual purge. We moved around on the backs of our friends, quite literally. Promised a pizza and a beer, they would show up to move boxes and lift heavy furniture, helping in the Tetris-like puzzle of packing trucks and station wagons with the stuff that fills our life.

We decided that the upstairs of this cape cod was just right for our “master bedroom.” Moving day came, and shuffled along with predictability. I am good at nothing if not telling people what to do, and I kept a post in the dining room pointing friends towards the bathroom or family room as needed. A couple of guys came lofting towards the stairs with our mattress in the hands. It was a tight squeeze to get it up through the narrow stair well, and then up and over the banister onto the floor of the upstairs room, but they did it. The guys headed back out to grab the box spring and I propped the mattress up against the wall to make room. The box spring made it halfway up the stairs before it came to a harsh stop. It would not fit. It could not fit. No amount of turning would make it work. We couldn’t Tetris our way out of this jam. Our simple queen sized bed could not make it into our bedroom. They pulled the box spring back down and flopped it on the dining room floor. As they headed out to get the next load of stuff, Mark and I were left to figure out what to do next.

We had options. We could use one of the two rooms downstairs as our bedroom. Or we could forgo the box spring. This wasn’t a dire situation, merely a glitch in the plan. It took some creative thinking, some problem solving and a lot of second guessing. But here’s what we did: we took that box spring, that foundation made of wood and springs and a thin veil of fabric, and we sawed it straight down the middle. Halved in this way, it now easily folded in on itself, and cleared the narrow stairs, the low ceiling and the banister without a problem. Putting it back down on the floor, the springs naturally want to piece it back together, and with the added weight of the mattress on top, you would never know the difference.

You still can’t tell the difference. Mark and I still sleep on this very same bed, even these years later. I had almost forgotten entirely this story, except we swapped bedrooms a little more than four years ago with Grant, when we were getting ready for Renee. It came time to move our bed down. The mattress went first, revealing the fractured box spring underneath.

We celebrate 12 years of marriage this weekend, Mark and I do. Some of these stories of our younger years seem a life time ago. And they were – not just one, but three of them. My breath catches a little at this mark in time, my throat lumps a bit. It’s a good time to look back and tell our stories again. If 11 years left me feeling confident and strong with more than a decade under our belt, somehow 12 has me feeling shaky – not because of us, but because of the world around us. There has been crumbling all around us, pieces of relationships breaking off and falling like debris. I’m feeling the weight of it all pressing in on us.

We’ve been a little off balance, lately. I’ve heard that the saguaro cacti that grow out west shoot out their arms, growing them in response to any unbalance within and without, in an effort to stay standing. Maybe that’s what we’re working on now, growing out to grow up, finding a way to keep reaching up and stay erect.

Yes, there is weight pressing in on us. And I could be that cactus, stretching out another limb to keep myself from falling down. But I think we’re different from those cacti – because the weight I’m feeling presses me to you, Mark. Instead of growing my own limbs in counter balance, I’m leaning into you. We are buttressing each other, resisting those outward forces. This weight won’t knock us down. It only makes us stand stronger, together. That cactus, he’s one lonely guy.

Sometimes I think we are not unlike this bed of ours. Broken in half, compromised in unseen ways, but made stronger, more perfect for each other because of it. Without that rigidity, we can fold in to each other, our edges lining up. How did we know what to sever, what to leave alone? Is it all a lucky guess?

We had to show the kids the bed. After hearing the story, they didn’t believe us, couldn’t imagine how we could just cut the bed in half. I peeled layers of sheets and blankets off, tilted the mattress up and out of the way, to reveal the broken box spring. Their eyes were big in surprise, and then the laughter came. Mommy and Daddy cut the bed apart!

Turns out this is just the thing the pros teach. One lazy Saturday afternoon all five of us squeezed in on the couch watching “This Old House,” or more precisely, “Ask This Old House,” the second half of the show where the pros tackle viewer questions. Someone had written in with a situation nearly exactly the same as our predicament from years earlier. And you know what they did? They cut the box spring straight down the middle. Turns out it was the exact right thing to do. It was not a lucky guess.

bed 3

You and me, Mark, we’re making this marriage bed. This one, here, with the cut straight down the middle. And that headboard? Yep, you built that for us. This bed is the plae of family dance parties and marathon jumping sessions. This bed is nothing if not part of the daily mystery of our marriage and our family.

Last night, we both paused above the bed, enamored of the two bodies already sleeping there. One quick blast of thunder was all it took, and Grant and Renee needed some place to feel safe. We tucked them in, one next to the other, and left them to find their own peace. Later, we scooped them up, carried them back to their beds, to make room for us. I carried Renee high on my body, her legs still curled into a tuck, and her moist breath of sleep on my neck. I then took her place in our bed, and pulling the covers in close, I stretched my legs down. Somehow, our feet still find each other in the warmth of those covers, in the bed we’ve made even by cutting it apart.

Happy anniversary, Mark. Here’s to another 12.


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