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Sleeping Alone
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Waking up in bed with a lover was a lifelong dream for Christine. She had been a late bloomer and a virgin, technically, until age 25. No sharing a bunk in the dorm room for her. No sneaking into her childhood single bed with a flirty date when her parents were out of town. Her girlfriends nicknamed her “Pristine Christine,” and liked to shock her with stories of their trysts.

I had been one of those girlfriends from college days. Not a roommate but a steady pal in collegiate life. We’d sometimes study together and often ended up whispering in the library carrels about extracurricular plans. “Chris, the SDS is driving a bus up to small-town Wisconsin to protest. Want to come along?” I’d asked. Even though an anti-war activist, I had an ulterior motive for getting away that weekend.

Together we signed out of the women’s dorm Friday morning. Christine had boarded the bus and covered for me while I had boarded the plane to DC at ORD to visit my boyfriend, a Marine on leave staying with his sister and brother-in-law. We spooned and snuggled in the guest room trying not to be too lusty in the tight confines of their full bed. I doubt we fooled our hosts, whose ardor had cooled down since their baby arrived.

I was so foolish back in those days. Sneaking around, sleeping around so I wouldn’t wake up alone the next morning. The Marine made breakfast Sunday morning, put me on a plane back to Chicago that evening, smashed his lips against mine in a hearty good-bye, and disappeared.

Christine overlooked my indiscretions, kept my secrets. We stayed friends after college and she stood by my side at my wedding five years later. “You seem to be making better decisions, now,” she had observed, not trying to be offensive, as I cycled through careers and romances. When Gordon and I showed up together, she had signaled “thumbs up” and embraced him as my best-yet bedmate.

Like I said, Chris was a slow starter. Most of her dates had been one offs. She wasn’t looking for hookups. She and I were similar in a way: both wanting a marriage bed in which falling asleep with a partner was intentionally intimate. Putting yourself in a very vulnerable position requires a certain amount of trust.

When Chris confided, “I’ve moved in with Andy,” I was flabbergasted. They’d met only three weeks ago at an author’s reading at the neighborhood book store. A book about the promise of sleep. How a shared bed leads to good health and happiness. Coincidence or fate? Who can say?

Anyways, Chris and Andy didn’t mess around. They unfolded the futon in his apartment every night and intertwined. A few months later, they upped the ante and went with the full package: full-sized bed with headboard, springs, mattress and new sheets. That bed became too small when their own baby arrived, and the apartment was cramped with all of the baby’s stuff.

So they upsized again: “first” house, bigger bedroom and a queen to accommodate the little one who woke up at 11:00 p.m. every night and wouldn’t fall asleep again until snuggled between them. Quick enough, their family expanded and they replaced the queen with a king. They would have bought a California king but their bedroom was too small.

Sleep deprived for years, Chris and Andy reminisced about sleeping alone without the children’s soured milk breath in their faces, without little pointy elbows and legs poking them in their backs. My own children were now independent teenagers. I reminded her, “Children are small only once. Sleep with them while you can. Soon enough, they will grow up and find their own spaces.”

From there to here, so quickly. Christine and I are now at Mattress World to buy a new mattress for the master bedroom. Ten years of use by the two of them, shared with two slobbering, peeing and sometimes vomiting kids, have taken the life out of the warranty.

“I’m not getting good sleep. I wake up exhausted,” Chris complains to the salesperson. “I prefer soft comfort; my husband wants firm,” she adds. He ticks through more annoying sleep patterns: Snoring, sleep apnea, Restless Leg Syndrome. Check. Check. Check!

By now, Chris has confided intimate details about her sleeping habits with the salesperson, whose name we’ve learned is Guy. He points out the most expensive Tempur-Pedic model: a vertical split king with adjustable power base. “The vertically split mattress is a great option if you and your husband have different preferences,” he recites automatically, causing me to question his sleeping expertise.

Always at the ready with advice, I chime in. “Gordon and I are now sleeping separately. We’re still fucking but sleeping, really sleeping, alone is so much better. You should try it.”

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