By Mallory McDuff
First, make your bed every morning, so you can anticipate the ritual of pulling down the quilt and sheets at night, just as you look forward to opening a beer while cooking dinner after work. If possible, sleep under a bright-colored quilt that has sentimental value, surrounding you with memories that tilt your dreams toward love.
To be more precise, sleep under a quilt hand sewn by your mother in the classic pattern “Grandmother’s Flower Garden” with hexagonal patterns repeated in bright pastels and primary colors. The quilt defies you to slump into depression and has graced your bed for the past 10 years.
Before she died at the age of 59 years old, your mother sewed those hexagons – her first quilt ever – while you were busy having a baby, going to grad school, and sleeping with a man on a futon, under a tapestry from Goodwill.
But now you sleep alone under her quilt, and you cherish every hexagon, even the ones that are frayed around the edges, torn cotton from where your two daughters have jumped onto the bed, revealing white bunting underneath, like rabbit tails poking out where they shouldn’t be.
When you make the bed each morning, you think about finding someone to repair the quilt, maybe Lupe, the talented tailor and photographer who goes to your church. But you never call him. There’s always a more pressing task, like getting kids to school, grading papers, cooking dinner, and then it’s time to go to bed again.
When the sun sets over the valley, pray that bedtime will be easy for your teenager. Then tell her that it’s time to unplug all electronics at 8:30 p.m. Look at the clock and realize that soon, you can crawl under that quilt, all by yourself, under those clean sheets you managed to wash this morning. Try not to act impatient as your daughter listens to music on the iPod, since impatience is one of your cardinal sins, according to both your daughters.
Brush and floss your teeth, realizing that you haven’t flossed in four days. But one saving grace is that no one is kissing you, so the bar for dental hygiene is low. Wash your face with witch hazel and wonder if the alcohol is drying out your wrinkles. Is that possible? Pluck a hair from your chin. Remember that you keep an extra pair of tweezers in the car, since the light is always better outside.
Turn out the lights in the living room and kitchen. Breathe in the same way you breathe when you are getting a yearly massage. Walk into your bedroom, a mere two feet from the one bathroom you share with your two daughters. Undress in front of the antique full-length mirror with a wooden frame, which you bought at the Tobacco Barn Antique Shop years ago.
Since you have limited mechanical abilities, you just propped it against the wall, rather than mounting it to the wall. So you have to bend down a few inches if you want to see your face, which you usually don’t need to. But the mirror does provide a perfect view of your torso, belly, and booty. Realize the goddamn truth of it all: you look great for 50 years old! Wink at yourself and your good fortune to have your health, so far, with the knowledge that cancer or a car crash could come any day. But not today.
Turn on the side lamp and recall that you are standing butt naked in front of your bedroom window, in front of a cow pasture, with the curtains wide open. Remember that you only installed curtains (okay, he installed curtains) for the man who used to sleep in this bed, whenever he visited from his home 3,000 miles away, which was fairly often for seven years, until he tired of the commute.
Pull down your mother’s quilt and the sheets (from Target but high thread-count) and feel the rush of anticipation, again akin to opening a bottle of Prosecco. (Wonder why all your feelings of eagerness involve alcohol.)
Slide under the covers with your naked body, because that’s how you’ve loved to sleep your entire adult life, since you discovered in college the all-consuming pleasure of sleeping next to a boy you loved, all night long, wearing nothing.
Move your toes toward the bottom of the sheets, exploring like you are hiking on a familiar trail in a new season, and push against the sheet’s tight corners, snug under the mattress. Remember when your father taught you to make a bed “military style” from his years in the Navy.
Turn around and situate your landscape of four pillows: place the firm one on the headboard first, then the soft down one, then the firm one. It’s the perfect combination to support bedtime reading. Leave one pillow on the right side of the bed, just because you can.
Pull the quilt right above your breasts and say a silent prayer of gratitude for the women on the Fairhope Quilters Club, who stitched together the hexagons to make this quilt after your mother’s death, so your father could sleep under it for two years, before his own untimely death. Think about the Fairhope Courier that published the photograph of the quilt and the story of how your father slept under the quilt, when he was learning to sleep alone.
Hold onto the quilt, a gift you didn’t want to receive, along with the four-poster double bed, small by today’s queen and king-sized standards. When your father died a sudden death, killed while biking, just like your mother two years earlier, you were the only adult child who didn’t have a grown-up bed. You were a professor still sleeping on a futon.
So you drove a U-Haul by yourself with a newborn baby, your second child, from Alabama to North Carolina, and put together this bed, which is the perfect size for you. (Your second child was born when you were separated from her father, so you were separated most of the time).
Exhale deeply and wonder if this is the only time when you are truly relaxed, when no one needs you, when you are all alone. Resolve to be better about meditating in the mornings.
Open the pages to the pithy articles in O Magazine and Real Simple, passed down to you from a neighbor like contraband between pirate ships. You never cook the recipes or try the decorating ideas, but reading and looking at the photos feels so relaxing. Sometimes you re-read the same magazine and don’t realize it until the end.
Think about hearing the latest news from your duplex neighbor who just met someone special on Match.com. Wonder if they are next door under her sheets, since your bedrooms in this duplex are only separated by a wall.
While you desperately miss the feel of skin besides you, the last man who slept here thought the bed was too small. Somehow you don’t have the energy to seek a new mate on Match.com, when you barely have time to cook a new recipe from Martha Stewart Living. Recognize that the bed couldn’t be more perfect for you right now. Turn out the light and pray for a good night’s sleep and a new day.