Christmas Eve saw the arrival of the last returning child, my daughter from Thunder Bay. She and I were waiting for luggage at the turnstile, chatting happily, when I felt two hands on my shoulders. There stood Anna's fiance whom I immediately wrapped in a warm hug. A wonderful surprise but not entirely unexpected. I have learned to listen to what is not said by my children over the years and have thus solved and predicted all kinds of things about their lives. Something about being a mother, I suppose.
With the house and three beds already full with the other three adult children who had drifted in the night before, leaving only the smallest bed in the smallest room for the fourth, I quickly had to rethink the sleeping arrangements. My bed is queen-sized compared to the slightly-larger-than-a-twin bed in the room next door. I would vacate my bed for them and move into the small guest room.
This bed is a little gem and has been with us all our married lives. It dates back, in fact, long before Michael even met me. He shared a life with a woman for six years before that relationship disintegrated a year or so before meeting me. Their first bed had been a slab of foam on the floor. In an effort to improve their lot, Michael built a frame for this irregularly sized slab which happened to be smaller than a double but bigger than a twin, what I call a three-quarter-sized bed.
This frame is cleverly constructed and can be completely dismantled for easy moving. It consists of four two-inch thick planks of darkly stained pine, shaped and dovetailed to fit snugly together to form the outer frame. To form the infrastructure, Michael used three much thinner planks of pine, one going the length of the bed down the centre and two shorter ones spanning the width, all three dovetailing together to form the interior framework of six compartments that provide useful storage space. Then over top of these compartments there are three sheets of plywood, with finger holes bored into each for easy removal, providing the support for the mattress. Not a single piece of metal was used; it is all wooden dowel and dovetail construction.
When I first met Michael he was living as a bachelor in a cute little one-bedroom apartment, almost all the furniture therein he had constructed himself. The living room was furnished with simple but effective deep chairs, two of which were lashed together to form a couch, simple, attractive furniture that we kept for many years. In his very tiny kitchen he had built a tall table out of a butcher block to increase his counter space. It still graces our kitchen to this day. Then, of course, in the bedroom was this bed, but by then Michael had replaced the old slab of foam with a new, custom-made mattress when he resumed his bachelor life. His style was decidedly masculine but warm and I remember being so impressed with the calm, clean order of his home. It was a powerful aphrodisiac added to all his other charms, of course.
This bed became our bed. For two thin people who slept wrapped around each other, it was plenty large enough. Two children were conceived in that bed. But as the babies came and were tucked in between us to be nursed through infancy, our needs changed and we replaced the bed with a full double futon that, for the first few months until my dad could construct us a frame, lay on the floor. The Bed was moved down the hall for the now three-year-old first born who had made room for her newborn sister by vacating the nursery and moving into the other bedroom with this, in her eyes, huge bed.
Over the years that bed was inhabited by every one of our four children. It had a life in every single bedroom of this house and of our previous home. It was used by guests and even my mother who, deeply affected by dementia, needed to spend a few weeks with us when my dad was so ill in hospital just months before he died. It was the moveable bed, easily dismantled and reassembled by one person. When our third child Laura left for university in Montreal, it was the bed that got easily packed into the van with her meagre possessions and moved down the highway to another city.
When Laura graduated and was moving her things back home before setting off overseas, the bed returned with her but by now the over thirty-year-old foam mattress had to be abandoned. It did not make the trip, just the frame which got moved into our basement to collect dust, patiently awaiting its next call to duty.
Finally, as Laura prepared to leave home again, this time permanently for Montreal, she had a choice of beds to take with her. The Bed was rejected for a newer, characterless double, but it was happy to find its way up the stairs from the basement into the guest bedroom vacated by the favoured one.
And there it remained, now with a brand new custom-made mattress, retired to guest duty. So on Saturday afternoon with the arrival of not one but two more visitors, I decided I would offer them my big bed and I would move into the guest room.
This was the first time I had slept in that bed for a very long time, not including the many times I had nursed a sick kid through sleepless nights in it. And I had a revelation. Since Michael had come home from the hospital two years ago and could no longer sleep in the big queen-sized bed upstairs, he has been sleeping in the specially-made room on the ground floor in a hospital bed. Having had to sleep separately from him for a few years before this event (sleeping next to Michael at that time of severe and unmedicated sleep problems was like being next to a restless, troubled dragon who would lash out at me violently in his sleep), I decided to reclaim the master bedroom as my own. My son repainted it for me and I created an uncluttered sanctuary for myself. I was delighted to take over the large memory foam bed, believing it would solve my sleeping problems. And it did, somewhat, but lately, whether it's because the aging memory foam is losing its integrity or that my arthritis and menopausal symptoms are acting up, I have been less than comfortable in this bed. But when I climbed into The Bed for that first night on Christmas Eve, I slept better than I have in months.
Except for a sleepless night of worry over my son on an overnight drive back to Toronto - a night of anxious phone calls from him as he dealt with a minor accident, a troubled night that saw Anna and me huddled together in The Comforting Bed (almost everyone else slept through it) - the trend of good sleep continued and has improved significantly. I had also recently started a herbal supplement for the hot-flash invasion, which could also be credited with the sleep improvement, but The Bed seemed to allow me to lie on my side comfortably for the first time in many months.
When the house started to empty out, I didn't want to give up The Bed so I had the remaining visitors help me with a move yesterday and now The Bed is in my room. My sleep has been transformed.
It occurred to me as I lay awake this morning, feeling more refreshed than I have in months, that The Bed is Michael's history and our shared history. It was his bed with his first partner, it was our bed, it was our children's bed, it even left home and returned with a child, a well-travelled bed. It was our marriage bed, the bed that comforted my mother through an anguished time, the bed in which each child was nursed and nurtured, a bed for many well-loved guests. It is now my bed.
I feel as though I have come full circle back to The Bed, that something new has begun. Other beds have come and gone through our life together but none so full of rich, happy memories. Perhaps it is those memories of the shared history that are responsible for the improved sleep. I don't know. It could just be a well-constructed new mattress that has nothing to do with The Bed at all. But a dear old friend said to me the other day, his last words to me as we came to the end of our visit, that I would soon be facing transformation in my life. I think the transformation is beginning, at least in my soul, but it is deeply rooted in the history of The Bed. Wherever life and Parkinson's Disease take us now, I will have The Bed as my anchor and my eternal attachment to the memory of Michael, his gift to me.