Op/Ed

Faith Gong: A story of marriage in three beds

“You spend 1/3 of your life in bed,” my husband, Erick, tells me.

Our beds are where we sleep, of course, and we need to sleep: Sleep is when our bodies repair and recharge. Bed also tends to be where we lie awake, tossing and turning during difficult times through the watches of the night. We take to our beds when we’re sick. And the most intimate and vulnerable moments of a marriage happen in bed; moments that can lead to the creation of new life.

Our beds, then, are pretty important.

When Erick and I got married, we had almost no furniture. I spent the three years before our marriage in a studio apartment on East 91st Street in Manhattan. It was the size of a large walk-in closet, and my furniture consisted of a futon, a bookcase, a steamer trunk that served as a coffee table, and a large and uncomfortable wicker chair (which, for some reason, we still have.)

Erick spent those same three years sharing a rental house in Cos Cob, Connecticut with three colleagues from the hedge fund where he worked. His belongings consisted of several large plastic bins and a mattress.

So we were in trouble when, just prior to our wedding, we purchased an apartment in Manhattan complete with a large living/dining space and two bedrooms. (Granted, the second “bedroom” could fit nothing larger than a crib, but still, it was a huge step up.) 

Thankfully, gifts are a part of getting married — and thankfully, cash is the gift of choice if you’re marrying into a Chinese-American family. Clutching our wad of wedding cash, Erick and I quickly bought what we needed to furnish our first apartment. “Quickly” is the operative word: Neither one of us particularly enjoyed furniture shopping, I just wanted to get our home decorated as soon as possible, and Erick didn’t have strong opinions. Except when it came to beds.

“I’ve heard that it’s important for married couples to get a king-sized bed,” Erick said, with authority. “That way, they each have their own space.”

What did we know? Never mind that we were both bantam-sized, we went to The Bombay Company ten blocks away and purchased the emperor of all king-sized beds: a massive, heavy, mahogany-stained behemoth with four carved pillars supporting a canopy. I can’t recall whether delivery wasn’t an option or whether we just wanted to avoid additional fees, but Erick and his brother (who didn’t realize that his best-man duties would involve toting a bed through Manhattan in July) lugged that thing back to our building and somehow got it installed in our 28th floor apartment, where it dominated the master bedroom.

It was a good bed, aside from the running leap I had to take to get into it each night. We each certainly had more than enough space. That was the last bed I ever slept late in, or napped in, or lounged in reading the Sunday Times.

Four years later, we moved across the country to Berkeley, California. We moved three times during the five years we lived in Berkeley, from a charming ground-floor apartment to two bungalows, and our Manhattan bed wouldn’t fit in any of them. We ordered a more diminutive full-sized bed and gave the mammoth to my in-laws. 

The Berkeley bed always felt temporary. It followed us during five nomadic years of graduate school, which were also years when I gave birth to our first three children, all of whom were nursed in it. 

We moved cross-country again after our Berkeley sojourn, this time to Vermont. The move to Vermont, with three children and a job, held the promise of permanence. We landed in a house with the luxury of a guest room. I’d never been terribly attached to our Berkeley bed, with its nondescript boxy wooden headboards. (Although I was grateful that it was low to the ground when I fell asleep nursing a newborn and the baby rolled off the bed.) So the Berkeley bed became our guest bed, and we bought a queen-sized bed with a curved metal frame that seemed fitting for a classic Vermont farmhouse.

This has remained our bed for over a decade. But as we rounded the corner into our 40s, Erick started giving thought to something we’d never paid much attention to before: our mattress. It occurred to him that the increasing aches and pains of middle age might be a little less ache-y and pain-y with the proper mattress. 

We began with a sleep-number mattress, which enabled us to adjust each side of the bed to our desired firmness. At some point thereafter, my husband decided that we’d benefit from a softer surface, so he added a memory foam pad atop the mattress. 

That’s when I started to love our bed: It felt like falling asleep cradled by a cloud.

Then temperature became an issue. I prefer to sleep warm, covered with a heavy quilt. Erick liked the weight of the quilt but began to suspect that the warmth was disrupting his sleep. He found the temperature equivalent of a sleep-number mattress: a mattress pad that allowed one to adjust the temperature on each side of the bed. It also tracked our sleep cycles and sent the information to an app on our phones and could be programmed to wake us up each morning with a gentle vibration.

The problem? I didn’t need the temperature on my side of the bed adjusted, and the new mattress pad made the bed too hard for my comfort: I began having pain in my lower back and shoulders. I was also spooked by the idea of the mattress pad tracking my sleep; it was a lot of pressure. I’d wake up in the pre-dawn hours, unable to fall back asleep as I pictured my plummeting sleep rating. 

After a couple weeks of this, Erick landed on a solution: He ordered yet another piece of memory foam, cut it in half, and put it on my side of the bed. Now I feel like “The Princess and the Pea,” with all those layers under me. We can’t add any more, or our fitted sheet will no longer fit. Our bed looks ridiculously lopsided, with a two-inch drop from my side of the bed to Erick’s. But we both sleep well.

I wanted to write about love for Valentine’s Day. When I thought about love, I thought about my marriage beds. Our first, like early love, was big, ambitious, a little ridiculous — and ultimately unsustainable. Our second, like the busy middle year of career-building and moves and babies, was portable and functional, if a little boring. Now we have a bed that we adore, one that holds us both but also allows for our differences. It took effort to figure out. It’s a little wonky to look at, but it works. Because love, as it turns out, is never just one thing. 

Faith Gong has worked as an elementary school teacher, a freelance photographer, and a nonprofit director. She lives in Middlebury with her husband, five children, assorted chickens and ducks, one feisty cat, and one anxiety-prone labradoodle. In her “free time,” she writes for her blog, The Pickle Patch.

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