A bed is more than a place to rest our weary bodies or have sex with a loved one, casual friend or ourselves. A bed is where we encounter our most intimate relationship– the one with ourselves.
We retreat to our bed in times of illnesses and stress for solace and comfort. We entertain our deepest thoughts in daydreams or during sleep. We hide from the world, make big decisions, and sometimes we surrender to stillness and experience nothingness or a life-changing epiphany. There is no other place in our lives that allows for so many possibilities in such concentration and depth. Our bed is a cauldron of self-discovery in which we encounter our darkest terrors and our greatest joys. In bed, we lose ourselves and find ourselves all at the same time.
Scenes from a Bed
I was 14 years old. My parents decided to break tradition and vacation in the Catskills for an entire month. Moreover — and this is very unusual because we did not have a particularly strong identification with the Jewish world — we stayed at the Brickman, a “borscht belt” hotel and country club. We occupied one of a string of small cottages, though we had the largest one, a symbol of my father’s pride. My mother, sisters and I lived there for the month. My father worked during the week in New York City and came up on weekends.
Within a day or two, I spied a lifeguard at the pool, a very handsome young man as I remember him now, six feet tall, with a lean, well-defined body, dark hair and darkly tanned skin.
As the summer wore on, I developed a crush on the lifeguard and fantasized daily about just being close to him, imagining our sharing some kind of undefined affection.
I behaved accordingly, I suppose, lingering obviously around the pool, in the fashion of a stricken schoolgirl, and spending more time than I should have in the sun and in the water, even on cooler days. I seized every opportunity I could to talk to the lifeguard and tell him about myself. He seemed to take a special interest in me. He was particularly tender and gentle, unlike most of the men I had come across in my life. His tolerance of my infatuation was astoundingly kind and patient.
In the last week of the vacation on a rainy day, I found myself wandering about the hotel. The pool was closed. During my meandering I poked my head here and there, and at one point even into the empty dining room where, to my delight, I saw the lifeguard, working indoors for the afternoon helping set up tables for dinner. He noticed me sticking my head in the doorway and gave me a warm wave. I shyly waved back and then closed the giant door and hung out in the lobby not too far from the dining room. Shortly after, he wandered out to the lobby and sat down next to me. We chatted about the weather and what a boring day it had been. He suggested that we play a game of cards.
“Come on,” he said, “let’s go back to my room.”
Of course, I followed him back to the old part of the hotel, to a tiny employee room, very simple with a bed and desk and very little else. He sat down on the bed and motioned me to join him. He pulled out a pack of cards. We started to play cards, talk and laugh. I felt so wonderfully privileged that he would share his private time with me, especially in this tiny room that felt so exotic and intimate, with such personal belongings as he had around him, and with the door closed.
Soon he reached out and played with my hair, in a teasing, tickling way at first. I responded, first by laughing and then by leaning my head on his shoulder and closing my eyes. Gradually the gestures developed into an affectionately romantic embrace on his part, and my quietly and naturally becoming wrapped in his arms as he stroked my face and hair and tenderly kissed my forehead. He stroked my arms and touched my body with the most palpable tenderness and affection, and although I did not know exactly what was happening, I knew it was exactly what I wanted to happen, what I had hoped and had hopelessly daydreamed would happen.
Our time together on his bed ended gradually, with very little said between us. In my memory, the lifeguard understood who I was and what I seemed to need at that moment. He was giving, not lascivious, but merely generous, and in fact, loving.
I was in bed with a serious flu, curled up in a fetal position. My wife and daughter were visiting her family. Whenever I closed my eyes, I tried not to give too much attention to the drumming inside my head or the pains that rummaged through my body. Instead I strained to imagine the gentle hands of my wife caressing and distracting me with her tenderness. I conjured the feelings of fingers touching my eyelids and cheeks, of soft hands moving down the nape of my neck to my shoulders. But the truth of my daydream was that the hands that most soothed me were attached to a man.
Weary from my sickness, I began to reflect more honestly on my life. With the supporting cast–my wife and daughter–gone, I began to ask again, “Who am I?” — the question I vowed never to ask over the twelve years of my marriage.
September 11, 2001
On the morning of September 11, 2001, Joey, my partner of 14 years, was standing at the window of our 48th floor apartment eating a bowl of cereal as he did each morning. We had taken the apartment because of the sweeping view of downtown that enabled us to see both the East and Hudson Rivers. The Twin Towers, which stood as the centerpiece of our view, were barely five blocks away.
Out of the corner of his eye, Joey saw an airplane traveling in the direction of the towers. Before he could even grasp what was happening, the plane flew into the tower. Flames spread across his view. He dropped his breakfast on the table, ran into the bedroom where I was asleep, and pulled open the shades.
“A plane crashed into the Trade Center!” he cried. I instantly jumped out of bed and stood with him at the bedroom window. We watched helplessly as the second plane hit, tears running down our cheeks as we witnessed dozens of victims choose death by jumping from their office windows.
After the initial shock faded, Joey and I found ourselves experiencing opposite emotional reactions. Already in my early fifties, I became intensely aware that life is short and that I better make the most of it. I deeply cherished all that I had in life and felt especially close to Joey and others whom I loved, working to draw them even nearer. Though our relationship had grown open and spacious over the years, including other sexual partners and an occasional affair, I now clung to Joey, wanting to spend precious time with him. Joey, ten years younger, felt differently. He too recognized that life was short and therefore wanted to live fully in the moment, experiencing everything he could.
In the six months that followed 9/11, each of us expressed our reactions differently. I repeated the story many times to friends, connecting to my emotions by reliving each moment as I remembered it. Joey was more private about his feelings, choosing to keep them to himself. Our attitudes toward life had clearly changed in ways that widened the distance between us. The empty hole outside the window of our bedroom stood as a daily reminder of what was lost between us.
I awake disoriented from a dream. I strain to see the clock — 4 a.m. I turn on my back and force myself to identify the objects in the room, their shapes coming into focus in the dim light bleeding softly through the bedroom curtains.
A year ago, when I would awake like this, my thoughts thick with confusion, I would roll on my side and gently touch Joey’s arm or place my leg over his while he slept, so that for just a moment I could feel tethered to the world through the warmth and solidness of his body. Instead, I turn on my side and pull the blankets around myself, remembering his familiar smell, the books he kept on the nightstand beside a cup of soothing sleep-time tea.
I think about turning on the lights and getting out of bed, or reaching for a sleeping pill that would send me back to sleep; instead, I lay still, filling the emptiness with fragments of memory. Though Joey left a year ago, I still can’t bear to let go of him in my thoughts. I wait in bed until morning when the voices in my head are replaced by the familiar sounds that bring the city to life.