Matters of Consequence

Jesse Donaldson

I don’t know when we decided to put the bed frame against the wall. I’m assuming it was sometime during the heat wave that lasted from June to August, when the cool of painted drywall was the closest thing to air-conditioning we could afford. And I don’t know when I began to tire of scooting off the front of the bed in the middle of the night or flopping over the snoring dog at my feet so as to not bother Becca whenever I wanted to use the bathroom or get a drink of water or otherwise fret about matters of consequence.

But I do know this: the placement of a bed holds an importance I had failed to recognize. I say this being fully aware of Feng Shui and the dogma of Marie Kondo, as well the countless design magazines and websites that serve a population desperately seeking greater harmony between the things they possess and the spaces they fill. I’ve journeyed through the Ikea maze and left wowed at the amount of particleboard that can fit in five hundred and ninety square feet. And yet I’ve learned I’m not attentive to the spaces I assumed I knew best. Places like the bedroom, where we spend a third of our lives, tend to recede into the everyday—glossed over with repetition, doldrum, and contentedness.

This is an essay about how we construct space, but before we construct we must measure, so let’s get the basics out of the way:

The bedroom: 12’x12’ square with brown walls; a queen bed and a dresser ornamented with one impossible to kill Golden Pothos plant; two pieces of art: a Richard Brautigan broadside (Marcia’s Long, Blonde Beauty: A+!) and a surrealist print of Electra; two windows: one looking safely onto the fenced backyard and the other dangerously near our neighbor, Thelma, who has seen me biblically. Excuse me if I give away too much! When it comes to matters of the bedroom, some tact is called for. The takeaway? Space is at a premium.

The bed: Craigslist special! An ugly teal we talked about painting over but never did because we needed a place to sleep, and once you’ve got the mattress on the bed, who wants to couch it for a weekend of sanding and priming? The seller told us the bed was handmade. One of a kind! Upon questioning, he revealed it to be made by his stepfather, who he wasn’t that close to and no, it didn’t have a lot of sentimental value, and yeah, he’d just bought another bed, so this one was taking up space. We bought it for seventy-five dollars. Cash. I suppose the stepson’s ambivalence towards the bed has carried over to our ownership; the bed is neither so onerous as to be replaced nor so nice as to be cherished. I never think about the man who made it unless to gripe about some design flaw he overlooked.

The sleepers: Me, Becca, and Max, the dog.

The predicament: To my north a headboard, to my west a wall, to my east a slumbering wife, and to my south a snoring mongrel.

My frustration with the bed’s station against the wall was a slow burn, something that developed over the fall and into the winter until one day in February I became fixated by the claustrophobia that had been keeping me up at night, and I pushed the bed nine inches from the wall to form a gap.

I would prefer to tell a little white lie about how I did this out of chivalry. Sometimes I imagine intruders entering the house, and since Becca sleeps closest to the door, she’s the most vulnerable to violence. I would prefer to tell you I shifted the bed so I could jump out of bed like some vaunted protector and raise the lead pipe we keep on the shelf of the bed for protecting purposes (we call it “the brainer”) as if it were a sword pulled from stone. But that would not be true.

I moved the bed nine inches because I felt trapped between the wall and my wife and that made me anxious and that anxiety kept me up at night—meaning I was awake and trapped which is worse than being asleep and trapped—and then, at some point, Becca became pregnant and I had more to worry about and damned if I didn’t just need a nine-inch gap to slink down at four A.M. so I could go get a drink from the tap and sit at the dining table and think about how our lives were changing and try to make plans for the next day so that I could proceed through it efficiently and help us plan for a future that is suddenly so uncertain and so fated at the same time.

Our baby is the size of a baseball. The size of a bell pepper. Red, orange, yellow, or green? I wondered the other day in the grocery. Left or right handed?

Nine inches is not a substantial shift but it’s what we can manage. Or afford. On Becca’s side of the bed, we will soon need room for the Arm’s Reach Mini Co-Sleeper (34 inches x 20 inches), and so there is little point in taking more than the allotted nine and rearranging the room again four months from now. Preparations are generally afoot. My mother-in-law sent a couple outfits (ducks and turtles) and a stuffed giraffe. The baby becomes more of a daily presence in the house even as s/he whiles away in the womb.

And the news is out. The other day I received my first offer for term life insurance (how are corporations so prescient?), which has the effect of reminding a man he’s going to die, just as a baby has the effect of reminding a man that if he dies, it shouldn’t be for nothing. But I’ve never really thought about putting a valuation on my existence, and I can’t really wrap my head around that or come up with a number, and now that I’ve shifted the bed, it seems less pressing because if someone sneaks in at night to do us harm, I can jump up and brain them. My life insurance weighs three pounds and is made of lead.

Practitioners of Feng Shui might point out the new gap between the bed and wall allows energy to flow evenly around the bed, creating greater harmony so that sleeping bodies feel less vulnerable. And I’m a believer, truly I am. For two, maybe three days after moving the bed I slept more soundly than I had in months. But soon the restless small hours returned.

One night the dog barked and I jumped out of bed, forgetting both the lead pipe and my glasses, and frantically turned on and off house lights to scare away the bogeymen. It must have looked like Morse code from across the street. A few nights later, the winds off Mount Hood slammed sheets of rain against the window in an uneven rhythm—pounding like a trio of drunken men. Twice I stood up from bed and glanced out the window expecting to see their rain-smeared faces on the other side.

Sometimes when Becca sleeps, she dreams about the baby. She dreams that the midwife tells her the sex, which she doesn’t want to know, and in the dream it is a girl. I dream about shadows. And I wake up worrying about finances and the size of our home and passing time. Sometimes I forget to feed the dog or forget I’ve put him in the backyard. I look up and say, “Where’s Max?”

Becca feels the baby fluttering inside her like a goldfish, but no matter how I place my palm against her belly, I can’t feel it move.

How do you measure the distance between yourself and your child? In inches? In months?

I’ve been thinking about that nine inch gap between bed and wall as an alley—the sort of place where you don’t want to end up—a dead end—but perhaps I should think of it instead as a path—a thin avenue to tiptoe down, not because I seek an escape, but because I want to fret away the blue hours without waking those who need sleep most.

The other night I stayed awake long after Becca had nodded off, stayed there in bed and tried not to think of the next day and the day after that, and in the quiet that blanketed the house, the room came to life—the on and off whir of the baseboard heat, the flickering light of the wireless router, the steady patter of a soft rain outside. The house groaned and turned and rearranged itself for sleep, and I thought about how my child can hear me now and that this must be what it feels like for him or her—a world that is all shadow and strange sound, amorphous and indistinct, with only the occasional hint of light, a place that is still unformed and waiting and full of possibilities—and I placed my mouth near Becca’s stomach and whispered goodnight and sweet dreams.