When my decade-long, unofficial marriage ended, I spent a year sorting through shared belongings. At last in the bedroom, I parted with the Hawaiian quilt stitched with dolphins; I recycled our comforter -- now worn with the happiness of desire, our winter coziness, the startling confession of an affair. But it never occurred to me to let go of the spacious mattress.
Every morning when I awoke with a lower back ache, I still denied the truth: This mattress, like my relationship, no longer supported me. So why stay in a bed that sagged under my spine like sorrow? Every night I was sinking deeper into a foam-filled valley, next to an empty gulley. Could this mattress really be saved? I took a first step: check out what's possible.
"Let me introduce you to some splendid beds," the elderly department store salesman swept me into his huge boudoir. He seemed like a favorite uncle dressed for a wedding, dark suit with bright bowtie and his silver hair shorn in a respectable crew cut. He waltzed me through a bonanza of beds until my mind was numb from too many -- King, Queen, Super Lumbar Support, Firm to Pillow Top to Plush.
"So, will there be two of you?" he asked discretely, noting that I still wore a black pearl on my ring finger.
"No," I said softly. "We're....well, separated."
"Oh," the salesman nodded, then asked with a detached gentleness. "Are you having trouble sleeping?"
I nodded, turning away quickly to hide my sudden sadness. I tried to recover my composure by plopping down with what I hoped looked like consumer cheerfulness to test yet another bed. It had a surprising suppleness and bounce to it.
As it happens, I had landed on a twin bed. It was a modest, firm, no-nonsense single bed, the kind I hadn't slept on since childhood when I graduated from sleeping with siblings to my own room.
"This is so comfy," I said, bouncing a little more. "But then, I'm sure it's too small for...." I fell silent.
"Did you know that for every ten years, four of them are spent on a mattress?" The salesman waited patiently.
A radical idea took hold of me. It was as if the bed reached up through its individual coiled springs zinging a new synapse into my brain. A single bed for a single woman! After all, I was sleeping alone and unexpectedly enjoying it. I did not have the slightest intention, for now, of starting another relationship until I'd thoroughly sorted out and understood what went wrong. I knew I needed to learn to trust again after such an intimate betrayal. And until I healed, I would not be a good mate.
"Can I just buy just one twin... like a closed set?"
"Certainly you can," he said sensibly. "A twin is always good for kids, guests, you....whatever."
Here was my second epiphany. I could afford a much more expensive and supportive bed if I bought a single version of the Queen Size posturepedic I'd been eyeing. I jumped up and turned to lay both of my hands, palms flat, against the strong twin bed. It felt so sturdy and somehow self-possessed.
"Sold!" I said and smiled giddily.
I was quiet as he neatly wrote out the order and delivery date. When he handed the paperwork to me with a warm smile, my eyes met his. I had not noticed how dark and kind his expression until this moment. He concluded the deal by saying almost tenderly, "You'd be surprised how many of these twin...er, single beds I sell these days. It will last you...when other things don't."
As I walked away from the bed department I noted a young couple testing a King size, already arguing over plush or firm. I imagined their bodies adjusting to a young marriage and another body. Surprisingly, I did not envy them. All I wanted was to be home in a new, slim and stable bed -- dreaming alone. I saw myself on this bed for the next four out of ten years sleeping contentedly in monastic poise. If and when I ever do take another mate -- well, there is always the matching twin.
Brenda Peterson is the author of 16 books, including the recent memoir, I Want To Be Left Behind: Finding Rapture Here on Earth, which The Christian Science Monitor named among "Top Ten Best Non-Fiction Books of 2010."
For more: www.IWantToBeLeftBehind.com