A week into our marriage, I insisted to my new husband that we buy a new bed, immediately. Two older couples we both highly respected, Happily Married 20 Years and Happily Married 38 1/2 Years, advised us that there wasn’t just one secret in keeping a marriage happy, but rather two: a good refrigerator and a good bed.
“So, how much does ‘good’ cost?” I asked Happily Married 38 1/2 Years.
And as so many happily married couples do, they answered in unison. “About eighteen hundred.”
“For both the bed and the fridge, right?” my husband asked, hopefully.
“No,” they laughed, again simultaneously. “Each. But if you have to choose, a good bed is most important.”
As a newly married couple with individual credit card debt, there was no way my husband and I were going to shell out four digits for a so- called good mattress. Eighteen hundred dollars was the amount my husband had paid for his car—a Honda Civic CRX which we actually often slept in. That is, after having sex which, of course, was during the early days of courtship when car sex was a given—front seat sex because, after all, it was a CRX.
But with the imposed suggestion of high cost slumber now apparent, my husband and I decided that our current sleeping arrangement wasn’t that bad. Before we had married, we had simply pushed our childhood beds together: his solid oak bunk bed against my canopied twin made of white, gold trimmed wood. Apparently neither one of us wanted to sacrifice our individual comfort experienced as former single snoozers and while our Frankenbed resembled a makeshift play gym you’d find in the front yard of a home offering low-end, unlicensed daycare, the set-up seemed to work. However, deep in the angst of my newlywed psyche, I knew we still hadn’t made the full commitment as a married couple. We needed to choose and charge something. Together.
Then one morning as I listened to my favorite radio show, a promotional offer caught my attention that I couldn’t refuse. The possibility of buying a new bed, a good one, suddenly seemed within our financial reach. The following weekend I convinced my husband that we go to Sit ’n Sleep.
It was there, amidst the promotional balloons and flaccid streamers, that we met Javi, our salesclerk. Javi exuded both an obnoxious amount of Drakkar cologne and knowledge of his trade. He spent nearly two hours pointing out that the more money we spent on a good mattress, the happier we’d be in life.
“Good? Happy?” I nudged my husband under the Finance Table. “We definitely want that.”
But even with Javi’s Ph.D in Posturepedics, my husband and I finally decided on a modest full-sized box set. At two hundred dollars, it was the second cheapest bed set in the entire store. My husband, however, still questioned its hefty price tag.
“Don’t worry,” I lowered my voice as soon as Javi left us to retrieve a Sit ’n Sleep credit card application. “We’ll get a discount. I heard it on the radio.”
“Don’t you need to tell him that?” my husband asked.
“I will, but not now,” I looked after Javi, who took his sweet ol’ time as if we were paying for the bed on lay-a-way with WIC stamps. “You know how these guys are. They’re not going to give you good service if you come in all wanting a discuenta and everything.”
After Javi returned, he was just about to ring us up when I stopped him.
“Oh, wait,” I started awkwardly. “Um, Howard Stern.”
Javi tilted his head and glared at me. “You know,” he pounded a slew of additional keys in annoyance. “This really works against my commission.”
My husband looked at me, confused. “Howard Stern?”
“The discount,” I explained. “All you have to do is mention his name. You never hear the ads? On his show?”
“Nuh, uh,” he shook his head. “You know that I don’t listen to him.”
I was excited when the Sit ’n Sleep delivery truck arrived the next afternoon. We had definitely made the right choice. A refrigerator? Please. The bed was our first major credit card commitment that we now shared as a married couple. We were on the path to both Happy and Good. Who knows, somewhere down the road we might be held in high esteem as Happily Married Gazillion Years.
We asked the delivery men to set the box spring and mattress into the bed frame that once belonged to my Great Aunt Lydia. The bed frame was handcrafted of solid wood, just like they made in the old days. The old days, that is, being the early seventies and the wood comprised of pressed particle board. Great Aunt Lydia had been married three times, but the frame, which she owned until her death, had only entered her life during her third marriage, a marriage, she claimed, that made her the most happy.
“She didn’t die in this bed, did she?” my husband asked.
“It’s not her bed,” I reminded him. “It’s her bed frame.”
“I know, but she didn’t die in it, right?”
“Of course not.”
Wait, had she? I really didn’t know the circumstances surrounding Great Aunt Lydia’s death. But I did remember that she had worked for Hughes Aircraft for nearly seventeen years, which means she had benefits that I’m sure granted her hospital care right up until her dying days. Only uninsured peasants and new age hippy types died in their own beds, right?
The mattress looked beautiful in Great Aunt Lydia’s bed frame until one morning as I changed the bed sheets, I made a horrific discovery. I knelt down and leveled my gaze across the padded, white, satiny horizon. Sure enough, in the smack center of the mattress a sizable sag was apparent, evidence of how my husband and I, as newlyweds, slept tightly in each other’s embrace every night. I didn’t understand it. We had owned the bed for only six months, and it had seemed like such a good bed.
I called Sit ’n Sleep to complain.
“Well, that sometimes happens with the lower-end bed sets,” the salesclerk informed me.
“Lower end?” I balked. “We paid two hundred dollars for it!”
“You paid two hundred?” the salesclerk actually sniffed. “That’s what people save on a bed set.”
“What difference does it make?” I fumed. “The mattress sucks! You know, is Javi working? I wanna talk to him.”
“Uh, yeah, he is,” the salesclerk answered dryly. “But he’s on break and he’s taking a nap right now.”
When I returned home, my husband and I immediately called Happily Married 20 Years. They suggested that we flip and rotate the mattress routinely.
“We rotate ours every solstice,” they claimed. “We actually make a celebration out of it. If it’s the summer solstice, we make something cool to drink and then we roll the bed outside and sleep under the stars.”
So, for the next solstice, the winter solstice, my husband and I decided to take Happily Married 20 Years advice, but our flipping and rotating wasn’t as romantic or ceremonious as Happily Married 20 Years had implied it would be. The mattress was heavy, felt awkward, and didn’t have those little cloth hooks on the side to hold onto. Oddly enough, all we did was argue.
“No,” he complained the moment I took my side. “You’re supposed to go clockwise.”
“I am,” I struggled to keep my end up.
“No,” he’d insist. “You’re going counter-clockwise.”
“No, I’m not!”
“Wait, remind me,” my husband exhaled and glanced up towards the ceiling. “Did you grow up telling time from a microwave?”
Six months later, during the summer solstice rotation, the arguing continued.
“Why do you always give me the heavier side?” I complained.
“The heavier side?” my husband smirked. “There isn’t no heavier side. It’s a mattress. It’s the same all around.”
“You’re not even holding up your end!” I accused him.
“I am totally carrying my side. You’re the one letting it drop. God, you’re so antagonistic!”
We woke up with sore backs and in lousy moods. “I’m tired,” he rubbed his side. “You snored all night.”
“Well, you grind your teeth,” I snapped back.
“Yeah, I wonder why.”
My husband and I slowly discovered that even between each solstice we had many non-mattress rotation issues to argue over. The valley dividing our bed widened—evidence how we, now as a bickering seemingly old married couple, slept apart, away from each other’s embrace.
With our marriage now in jeopardy, I went to Sit ’n Sleep in person. This time I demanded to talk to Javi.
“I’m afraid your warranty has already expired,” he explained after pulling up my account on the store’s computer screen. “That’s what happens with the cheaper sets.”
Did I sense a tone of satisfaction in his voice?
“But you could,” he suddenly sounded encouraging, “upgrade with a new mattress.”
“Like a trade-in?” I asked.
“No,” he curtly answered. “This isn’t a car dealership.”
“Look, Javi, I don’t wanna beg, but please, is there any way you could help me out?”
“Well . . .” he eased up a bit. “Have you tried putting a sheet of wood under the mattress? I’ve done that.”
“What do you mean, you’ve ‘done that’? You work at Sit ’n Sleep. I would think you’d get a new mattress every month.”
“Actually no,” he confessed. “My employee discount isn’t that great.”
“You could mention Howard Stern,” I suggested. “That would help.”
“Uh, no?” Javi exhaled in disgust. “I hate that guy. I would never mention him. Well, maybe, if he helped me get a bed with, like, two hot naked chicks in it.”
The next weekend, my husband and I went to my father’s house. I explained to him that we needed a sheet of plywood and could we take one of the many he had lying around in his backyard? At first my father protested—claiming that he needed all his wood for a big chicken coop he planned to build. But I knew the truth. He was never going to build such a coop. Ever since his divorce from my mother nearly twenty years earlier many of his plans and home improvements had fallen to the wayside. But, after some convincing my father gave in and allowed us to take one sheet of wood.
Once we were back home, my husband and I slid the plywood between the mattress and the box spring and, just like Javi said, it helped. The mattress, at least, looked better. We were now married a full year and a half and decided to celebrate with a winter solstice dinner. We invited Happily Married 21 1/2 Years (formerly Happily Married 20 Years) and Happily Married 40 Years (formerly Happily Married 38 1/2 Years) to join us. After our meal, my husband and I showed them our bed.
“Oh, yes,” both couples took a seat on edge of the mattress and nervously bounced. “This is a really good bed. Looks like things are going good for the two of you. You must be very happy!”
But we knew that the Happily Marrieds were faking it, and no one should ever fake it in the bedroom. My husband and I had to face the truth. The bed, as well as our marriage, was not good. I don’t know what had gone wrong. Maybe we should have bought the fridge.
And so, after barely two years of marriage, my husband and I made the painful decision to go our separate ways. He generously offered to take over the balance owed to our Sit ’n Sleep credit card and insisted that I keep the bed. But I didn’t want it. Not only did the bed remind me how I couldn’t maintain a commitment to a credit card or a marriage, but it symbolized that I had lost my way on the path to Good and Happy.
My father ended up placing the mattress, now riddled with tears, sags and lumps, on the floor of one of his sheds and I never really thought about it until one morning in early June, at the start of summer solstice, my father called. His oldest goat, Rosie, had taken ill on it.
“Oh, I can’t lose Rosie,” my father admitted on the phone slowly. “I’ve had her for so long, if I lose her … well, I don’t know what.”
I immediately felt guilty. Why had I given my father a mattress stained with such a cursed history? Rosie was his favorite goat and well, I didn’t “know what” either if he did lose her. I drove to his house as soon as I could and it’s a good thing I did. By the time I arrived to his home and made my way to the backyard, I found him in the shed with Rosie—who had just given birth to six kids.
“Six!” my father exclaimed. “I didn’t think she still had it in her for any, but six?”
The kids grew up strong, playful, and very productive. They kept my father and me quite busy. I never really had time to worry about him or think of a marriage lost. Every summer and winter solstice my father and I spruced up his house and his yard and invited the entire neighborhood to his home to celebrate with chocolate donuts and creamy goat’s milk.
“Hey, this is pretty good!” my father beamed as he poured cups of milk for everyone. “Everyone looks so, so happy, don’t you think?”
“Yes,” I agreed, dipping my third donut into my mug of milk. “It is good.”
I was back on the path.