I don’t say this to evoke pity. Please don’t read it in a melodramatic tone in your head, or season it with melancholy. Think matter-of-fact. It is what it is.
I was a bit of an accident.
I asked my mother about it, once, and she paused for an uncomfortable moment before responding. “Honey, by the time you showed up, we were so happy to see you.”
Even as a child, I knew what that meant. That explained the six years between my sister and me. It explained why nine years separated me from one brother, and twelve from the other. It explained why I often felt like a child in a roomful of adults, and why, for many years, the taller people in the house took some precedence. It wasn’t all bad, though. In general, they also took the heat and the blame.
When we were all at home in our little red house, we piled atop each other, and tensions tended to rise. My parents hastily carved out the attic to make two bedrooms, one for my brothers, and one for my sister and me. When my brothers began to chafe at those close quarters, the eldest retreated into the basement with a black light bulb and day-glo Easy Rider posters. Once my sister hit her teens, though, when it became increasingly awkward for us to share a room, there seemed nowhere else to expand.
After much debate, it was finally decided that I should move into what was essentially a throughway, a roomy passage between the kitchen and the bathroom. As one might imagine, I had extremely limited space for luxuries such as clothing or books. There was a shelf put in, and a small dresser crammed under the stairs. There was a window which peered at the garage, and I hung a few things on the wall, but because everyone trooped through this space during waking hours, I couldn’t have my bed down there. Instead, I was allowed use of “the daybed.” Never mine; just the. This was a couch-like thing which served as a cot-sized bed at night. I didn’t really mind. Mostly. It beat witnessing my sister’s eighth grade make-out sessions.
The daybed was very simply designed. Very nordic. Imagine a cheap door, taken off its hinges and laid flat on skinny, pointed legs. An egg-colored foam pad, about four inches thick, lay on top, covered with an upholstery apparently conceived in the seventies. It was a magenta paisley, crossed with a parade of stripes and shapes which have never been seen together since. It was poorly made, too, so the rough metal zipper was entirely visible along the side, and I often grazed the backs of my legs against its voracious teeth. More inviting were the two long, wedge-shaped pillows which served as the back of the couch during the day. These were covered with corduroy of a very specific blue hue, one I still associate with all things quiet and comfortable. I loved to run my fingers along the nap endlessly, with it or against being equally zen-like.
From the daybed, I would doze to the sound of the dishwasher, and wake to the sound and smell of the eternal percolator, a seemingly indestructible wedding gift from the fifties.
It was there that I lay through the German measles and the mumps; there that I listened to my mother read Watership Down.
One evening, my mother found the nuts I had stolen from the roasting pan full of Chex party mix in the basement. They were in an old bread bag, tied in a knot and tucked under the daybed. They might have escaped notice, too, had my mother not helped me put the sheets on that night. “What are you, some sort of squirrel?” she asked, but not too sharply. I was glad when she let it go, perhaps understanding how hard it was to get the good bits when your siblings are so much older and faster.
I remember lying on that daybed the night after the girl scout picnic in second grade, the one where I ate a hot dog stuffed with Velveeta and wrapped in bacon before grilling. I threw up six or seven times–a little daybed volcano–and have never eaten a hotdog since.
I remember lying there sniffling, lamenting my lack of space and privacy, when my medium brother heard me and tiptoed in. We were not a terribly affectionate family, nor emotionally adept, but he explained with such kindness and enthusiasm how he would make it feel big enough. I still feel deep gratitude for that night. He began to schlepp all kinds of things from his room, my sister’s, the kitchen, wherever. He filled that tiny place from floor to ceiling so I could be pleasantly surprised when he it emptied out again, and there would be room to roll over and even to stand with my hands outstretched.
But by far, my favorite memory of the daybed was a secret I neglected to tell anyone, lest I would have to share that, too. Ours was a frugal household, where finances dictated a thermostat set at a bone-chilling 58 degrees through even the worst of the South Dakota winter nights. But when temperatures outside settled well below zero, maintaining 58 degrees still necessitated occasional blasts of delicious heat. A major duct ran through the wall, all along the length of the back of the daybed. Who would know, with the blue corduroy pillows in place all day, what heavenly heat emanated from the wall behind me? I pressed my socked feet against it, snuggling like a cat to a sunny patch, and dreaming dreams.
These days, we set the thermostat at a balmy 62 at night, and I have a heating pad, which spares my spouse from my icy toes. But I think the comfort it offers is not simply a physical one. It is also a remembrance of those long, cold nights, pressed against the wall in my make-shift little roomlet. It is a reminder that there is always enough room for me, and more than enough of what I really need.