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Jennifer Ball Headshot

My Side of the Bed

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Teo Lannie via Getty Images


Ah, the advice you get when going through a divorce. It's plentiful. Some of it's useful.

"Start dating, NOW. The longer you wait, the harder it will be to find another husband!"

"Say goodbye to your in-laws. Even the ones you thought were friends. Blood is thicker than water."

"If you don't already have one, get a vibrator. NOW."

"Go through all of your pictures and get rid of every single one of him! No reminders!"

If you know me even a little bit, you can guess which pieces of the above advice I took to heart. I'll give you a clue: only one of them. A couple more clues? I love my in-laws, to this day. I have pictures of my ex -- not on the walls, but in books and in boxes. Because he's the father of my children and they will want them. And we all know how it's going for me on the dating front, 7.5 years later (I have a pretend boyfriend who may or may not be named Louis CK).

But there was one nugget of wisdom that surprised me. It made me think, and to this day it still whizzes through my mind almost every time I reach over and smack the snooze button on my alarm clock at 4:45 a.m.

"Start sleeping in the middle of the bed."

It was handed to me during a long phone conversation with another mom at my kid's school. We weren't particularly close then, or now, but for some reason she reached out and wanted to talk. We chatted about marriage and affairs and fractured families and our children. We giggled about dating and sex, and about being tired mothers. And then she asked:

"Which side of the bed was yours?"

I remember the irony of that moment, as I had been clutching my cordless phone while perched on the end of said bed. I had looked up, and over at the head of the bed, at the four pillows neatly arranged there. Two on the left, two on the right. The lone nightstand was as it had always been, before and during the marriage: on the right.

Back in the Time Before Lawyers, my husband had the right side. He was the one who had to be up and out of the house, before my day as a stay-at-home-mom began. Our tiny master bedroom, in the old house we used to live in, barely had room for the queen bed and the tipsy nightstand and a big dresser. There was a long closet, with sliding wooden doors that became swollen and nearly impossible to move in the summer humidity. The alarm would go off, he'd silence it and then I remember, he'd sit on the side of the bed for a few moments. The right side of the bed, nearest the closet.

In the dark, I'd sometimes reach out and touch his back, a wordless good morning. Sometimes there would be a child between us... sometimes more than one. As the end of our marriage neared, I stopped reaching out, and instead would pull the covers tighter over me and turn to face to cool wall on the left side of the bed -- a different kind of wordless good morning.

When he first left, I had trouble sleeping. I was scared and certain that at any given moment during the night, bands of thieves, sexual predators and serial killers were convening outside, playing rock-paper-scissors to see who'd get first dibs on the single woman and her babies. I spent most nights on the couch, with an aluminum baseball bat.

On those nights when I did use the bed, I was rarely alone. Although my children will vehemently deny it, for a while we had a family bed. The five of us would become a human Tetris game, fitting seamlessly together as we dreamed the dreams of a family in flux. The left side was still my territory though, even if it meant traversing a small mountain of long, bony arms and legs and soft, sweet smelling heads to smack the snooze button.

I tried sleeping in the middle, tried taking my friend's advice. And every single morning I'd wake to find that during the night there was a migration to the left. I often say that I enjoy living on the edge; apparently I like to sleep there, too.

Time has passed, and the unfamiliar has become the norm. Oh, a kid will still sneak in now and then, sometimes just to talk, sometimes falling asleep like they did when they were little. Most nights I butt up against Walter, my dog. He snores, and when he dreams of chasing squirrels and bunnies, his paws twitch. I don't mind it at all.

On rare occasions, someone else will join me. Note the word "rare". Some of these bedfellows (I love when a word can be used super literally) my regular readers know by their monikers, some will never be written about. A girl has to play a few cards close to her vest, you know.

But for the most part, my bed is mine. The sheets are cool and clean and soft, and the four pillows are almost always arranged neatly at the head of the bed. Two on the left, two on the right. The master bedroom in this house is large, there is plenty of room for the queen bed, a nightstand and a big dresser.

Only now, the nightstand is on the left. My side of the bed.