Sleeping Diagonally

Tonight is the first night celebrating my freedom. Outside my beach house on Long Lake, I lie in my new queen-size bed supported by four white posts. The stars pop out. One here, another there. My head rests against plush pillows propped against a Victorian-style headboard. A white sheet and blanket cover me. In case it gets cooler as the night deepens, a pale blue comforter is folded at my feet. If any of my neighbors saw me now, they’d think I was posing for the cover of a bed-and-linen catalog.

The men who delivered my bed today, complete with box springs and mattress (extra firm, how I like it), looked puzzled when I told them to set it up on the beach. The skinny one scratched the back of his neck, looking down at the toe of his shoe, shifting sand back and forth. “Are you sure, lady?”

I didn’t want him to think I was totally mad, so I said “just for a while,” which really meant whenever I tired of sleeping outdoors or it got too cold or rainy—whichever came first. Sleeping outside in a real bed was beyond my usual conforming ways, but to the men, I pretended to be a flibbertigibbet. For once.

The man’s round-bellied partner shrugged. “Whatever.”

Even with this decision to sleep outdoors in a bona fide bed, I’ll never completely shake my propensity to conform. My dentist had carried on about how quickly my gums wrapped around the new bridge he’d installed in my lower left a few months ago. He clucked his tongue and shook his head, staring in awe. Said he’d never seen gums grip a new bridge so quickly. I was proud, and now, at the youthful age of forty-five, I’ve decided I’m never going to wear purple with a red hat.

Whatever my freedom brings, every dream, every hint of a wish, I shall fulfill—so long as it doesn’t hurt anyone, of course. I drove my youngest to college yesterday: now there’s no one here to embarrass. No one to say “aw, Mom!” like my son, or “what will your friends say when they see you?” like my daughter.

After the delivery truck trundled away, I made my bed out here under the afternoon sun, the sheets so blindingly white they took on a bluish cast. The mere act of holding on to their edges and tossing them away from me launched my newfound whimsy on the wind. On the initial air-filled billow, they whipped uncontrollably in the stiff breeze coming off the lake. After a few failed tries, I had to flop my body onto it to keep it from knotting up, giggling like I used to when I was with my friends in college.

As I lie here under the blanket of night, I say aloud, “My, the stars are beautiful!” I’d wish on one, but I have no wishes now. My eyes sink more deeply into the sky and I imagine a velvet cloth with threadbare spots where heaven shines through. The longer I stare, the more I feel enveloped in the womb of the universe, feeling not only small, but also full—full of possibilities.

I listen to the waves swishing up the shore and receding, but I don’t listen too closely for fear their rhythm may lull me to sleep before I finish my conscious dream. The breeze is fresh and dry. Reminds me of how alive I am.

I don’t worry about getting up in time for work. Surely the dawn will tickle me awake. I imagine the morning, stepping out of bed into sand. Cool and slipper-soft.

Funny how, in different phases of your life, you share a bed and other times you don’t. My mother told me she and Dad shared their bed with me when I was first born.

We lived with my grandparents and the extra bedroom was too small for a crib.

Later, when we moved into our own house, I shared a bed with my little sister. She was a toss-and-turner, and probably still is, God bless (and have mercy on) her dear husband.

Then came the college dorm and it wasn’t as exciting as I thought it’d be to have my own bed. A twin, too small for freedom.

Marriage came next, and it was back to sharing. Cold nights were comforting next to his body, hot as a furnace. He slept like a dog though, running in its sleep. His legs pedaled back and forth like a marathoner. His habit so repetitive he wore a hole in the bottom sheet every few months.

In time, he ran away. Perhaps all those nights he’d been preparing for the race of his life—to get as far away from me and the kids as his strong legs could carry him. I missed him for a while—a few hours, I think it was. But that very night, at bedtime, I realized I could sleep diagonally for the first time in my life. Not that it’s bad to share a bed, it’s just that there are trade-offs.

I’ve spent many a night counting my blessings and although it’s tempting to count the stars right now, it makes me sleepy wondering where to start. Instead, I’ll make a list of all the dreamy things I plan to do.

I shift my body diagonally, my head at one corner and my legs crisscrossed like scissors, stretched to the other corner. So much space! I nestle under the covers, content that tomorrow, the womb of the night will deliver me into another glorious day of freedom.