One night when I was ten, I got up to go to the bathroom and heard a strange noise coming from my parents’ bedroom. It sounded as if my mother was upset or in pain. I listened for a moment, then tapped on the door and asked if everything was OK. The noises stopped, but no one answered. Finally, my father said, “Everything’s fine. Someone just told a funny joke.” I could tell he was lying.
The next morning in the kitchen, I secretly examined my mother for bruises. It seemed impossible that my father would hit her — he’d never raised a hand at any of us — but I couldn’t think of any other explanation for the strange noises I’d heard. I saw no bruises, however, and my mother seemed the same as always, packing lunches for the older kids and getting the twins into their highchairs for breakfast. Either whatever had happened the night before hadn’t been as traumatic as it had sounded, or else she was doing a good job of covering it up.
Within a year or two, one of the more precocious girls in the neighborhood clued me in on the facts of life, and from then on, although the details were still sketchy, I knew what the mysterious sounds coming from my parents’ bedroom were. The noises continued, a couple of times a week, for years.
Ten years ago, my parents came to visit my husband and me in New Mexico. They were traveling in a rented motor home, and one day my father suggested we trade beds for the night: he and my mother had always wanted to try sleeping in a waterbed, he said. I knew it wasn’t the sleeping part he was curious about, but I agreed. So my husband and I stayed in the motor home that night, and Mom and Dad got the waterbed.
The next morning, I caught Dad stifling a grin. “Don’t you want to know how we liked the waterbed?” he asked. I hadn’t planned on asking, but I could see he was bursting to tell me. Things had been going along fine, he said, until, at a critical moment, a rogue wave had come along and thrown him and Mom apart! Dad laughed, and Mom smiled, a little embarrassed.
This past June, I called Dad on his seventieth birthday. He and Mom were born within a week of each other, but Dad was older by five days.
“What’d you do today?” I asked.
“You really want to know?”
“Well,” he said with a smile in his voice, “for five days each year, I get to make love to a younger woman.”
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Whenever Frank falls into one of his frequent funks, I know how to bring him out of it. Whether he’s nasty to the kids, silent and unresponsive, or verbally and physically abusive, I can cure him in the marriage bed.
As a result, sex has become perfunctory and pleasureless, just another chore on my to-do list. But to heal Frank, I must act as if I want it, as if I’m “hot for it.” I think whores must be the world’s greatest actresses.
The next morning, Frank’s misplaced anger will have temporarily evaporated, leaving him calm and good-natured for the rest of the day — longer if I smile at his innuendoes or encourage his lascivious remarks. It all depends on how self-sacrificing I feel. Sometimes I don’t want to martyr myself upon the marriage bed, and I let Frank wallow in his self-inflicted misery. I come to bed late, dressed in flannel, and cling to my side of the mattress, sensing his mounting rage.
But however long I might endure, there are the kids to consider. When he is miserable, he makes them miserable, too. So eventually I bathe, perfume and oil my skin, don my whorish cloak, and climb into bed, ready to cure with mouth and hands and body. I move and moan and mask my indifference, pleasuring my children’s father so that he might allow them some small pleasures of their own.
In my early twenties, I had an exciting secretarial job on the trading floor of one of New York City’s finest brokerage houses. Being needed by so many men satisfied my ego and filled a void created years earlier by my aloof and distant father.
When my boss Greg — a married man with two children — pursued me romantically, I was flattered and excited that I could now satisfy his sexual needs as well as his secretarial ones. We carried on an affair for five years, meeting at hotels or at my Hoboken apartment. A few times a year, his wife, Willa, would take the kids to visit her mother, and Greg would invite me to stay at his home, but I always declined, insisting I didn’t want to violate his marriage bed — as if sex with Willa’s husband was OK, so long as it didn’t happen between sheets that she had washed and folded.
I was in love with Greg — or so I thought. Perhaps I was just in love with being needed and desired. In retrospect, I think I would have slept with any and all of my male superiors, had they been interested. I mean, weren’t good secretaries supposed to satisfy all of their bosses’ needs?
Years have passed since I’ve set foot on Wall Street or spoken with Greg. I’ve been married for three years now, and a mother for almost two. I’m ashamed of what I did. I had no idea how precious the marriage bed could be until my husband and I created one of our own.
Phillipsburg, New Jersey
When I was fourteen, my alcoholic stepfather decided to stop drinking, and my mother, my sister, and I began to experience the benefits of having a reliable breadwinner. It felt as if we could allow our hearts to start beating again.
While he was drinking, our stepdad had fancied himself a savvy antique collector and often returned from buying binges with worthless items that someone had convinced him were valuable. Even as a kid, I knew what he’d bought was junk. An added bonus of his new-found sobriety was an end to the embarrassing accumulation of flea-market trash that cluttered our house and yard.
Then one Sunday afternoon, my stepdad pulled into the driveway with two mysterious objects tied to the back of his pickup, wrapped in blankets. We feared that he was up to his old tricks, but as he began to unload the objects, we saw that we were mistaken. He had purchased the ornate headboard and footboard of an antique bed.
“Oh, Bill, it’s beautiful,” my mother said as he assembled the bed in their room. To me, it looked absolutely medieval: dark burgundy in color, with raised panels and fancy scrollwork and a little roof at the top of the headboard. Finally, I thought, he’s come home with something worthwhile. The bed was proof of his clear judgment, his redemption from alcohol; it was an indication that everything was going to be all right.
And for a while, everything was all right. My stepdad had a steady job with decent pay and came home every night for supper, which we ate as a family, around our little kitchen table. Then one summer evening, about a year later, we attended a wedding reception. We were all enjoying the food and merriment, but my stepdad seemed to be enjoying himself a bit too much. I saw him sneak a glass of champagne. By the end of the night, he was drinking unabashedly: toasting, laughing, red-faced.
It took only a few weeks for my stepdad to stop coming home in the evenings. Before long, he was spending occasional nights in jail, had multiple DUIs, and had lost his job. We never knew when we would see him, and when he did show up, he was usually drunk and frightening. By fall, my mother had gone on food stamps.
One evening that winter, while we were eating supper, there was a knock at the back door. Our mother answered it and, to our astonishment, directed a strange man through the kitchen to her bedroom. The man emerged carrying the footboard of the beautiful bed. He walked past us and out the door, then returned for the headboard.
When he was gone and the room was warming up again, my mother, bravely affecting a cheerful manner, said, “Hey, I got fifty bucks for it!”
Even at fourteen, I could see the tragedy behind her attempt at lightheartedness. I stared down at my plate, closed off my heart, and struggled to finish my supper.
My wife, Gail, once made me a beautiful hand-bound journal with an embroidered cover. When I was slow to write in it, she began to add quotations, including this one from D. H. Lawrence: “Sleep is still most perfect, in spite of the hygienists, when it is shared with the beloved. The warmth, the security and peace of soul, the utter comfort from the touch of the other, knits the sleep, so that it takes the body and soul completely in its healing.”
It was many years before I realized that one of my main functions in this marriage is to be the body in my wife’s bed, the warm, comforting presence during the night. We sleep so closely that, even as big, middle-aged people, we can get by with a single bed. We twine and spoon, enjoying a constant, reassuring pressure of skin on skin. The topography of our bodies is a mapless territory both familiar and mysterious. We fall toward each other in that country, leaving the rest of the world at the side of the bed.
Even when we are feeling far apart, when we cannot find a single kindness for each other, still we find a way to reconcile, at least temporarily, in our bed. Gail may not talk to me in the morning, but she will throw her leg over me sometime during the night, or curl her foot under mine, or touch my shoulder blade with her hand. Sometimes I lie awake for a long time, waiting for that touch, that moment of softness, that promise of reconciliation.
Carrboro, North Carolina
Eighty-four, eighty-five, eighty-six, eighty-seven, I count silently to myself as I lie sideways in bed staring at the wall, wondering how many thrusts it will take before my husband is finished. It doesn’t matter what I want or how I feel. He says it’s my fault that he cannot control himself when we get into bed. I “ask for it” all day, even if I won’t admit it. He watches me through the crack in the bathroom door and says the way my breasts jiggle when I brush my teeth proves I am being seductive. I feel betrayed by my own body. When I look for my son’s shoe under the sofa, I am asking for it by the way my butt sticks up in the air. My cologne, the color of my nail polish, and the way I wear my hair are all proof that I want it. So my husband can’t understand why I lie there and don’t enjoy myself.
It wasn’t always like this. There was a time when we couldn’t keep our hands off each other, a time when I would have done anything to please him. That was before we got married, before I discovered that sex was the one thing he would always have time for, the one thing he would never forget to do. Missed appointments, lost jobs, disappointed children — these are all everyone else’s fault, because he is “too busy to do everything.” But he always has time to fuck.
I am so lonely. I cannot make him see that I need comfort and camaraderie, as well as passion, from my lover. I tried to leave once. I met another man, one who would walk in while I was bathing, look at me — in the eyes, even — and say he was going to town; did I need anything? At first, I thought something was wrong, but soon I realized I was being loved free and clear. My passion was unleashed, and I couldn’t get enough of this man. Unfortunately, there wasn’t room in his life for my son and daughter, and I couldn’t walk away from my children. So I returned home to promises of change from my husband. I was a fool.
I am still afraid to be on my own, afraid of not being able to provide for my children. But it won’t be long now — another five or six years — before they leave home. In the meantime, I’ve put up interesting pictures on the wall next to my marriage bed.
My dark-eyed fiancé charmed me into taking off for his Middle Eastern homeland immediately after the wedding. At first, the idea appealed to my sense of adventure. But after several long flights and an unexpected two-day delay in Greece, my adventurous spirit was seriously eroded.
As we neared his family’s compound an hour’s taxi ride north of Amman, Jordan, I looked forward to a hot shower, a real bed, and an end to seventy-two hours of grueling travel. I was not at all prepared for the ululating women and elated gunshots that greeted our arrival.
With no chance to wash or recover from jet lag, we were immediately ushered onto a raised platform, and dozens of clapping, singing relatives gathered around to look the newlyweds over. A wrinkled, gnomelike woman pounded a drum as little girls belly-danced before our exhausted eyes. My ears, barely recovered from being assaulted by jet engines, now rang with cacophonous congratulations shouted in Arabic. “I want to leave,” I told my husband, but he suggested we wait a little longer.
Eventually, his cousin, in full military regalia, ceremoniously helped us down from the platform and led us to a door, which he unlocked with a long key. Inside, I gasped at the sight of a giant bed covered with ruffled pillows and shocking pink sheets embroidered with peacocks. Strings of colored lights winked over the headboard, and a heavy scent of patchouli permeated the air.
The crowd had followed us into the room and now stood there expectantly. I wondered if they intended to witness a consummation of the marriage, followed by a display of bloody sheets. I knew then that I should have done more research before embarking on this adventurous new life. What was it my husband had said happened if the sheets remained unstained?
I began having sex with my boyfriend, Ben, when I was nineteen. I didn’t lose my virginity for love, but because I was embarrassed to be the only virgin I knew. Sex was fun, and Ben and I did it a lot, sometimes in less than respectful ways.
I haven’t seen Ben for several years, and I haven’t had sex with anyone else. I have become a Christian. As I struggle now to live according to my faith, I also struggle to deal with my past experiences. How will I explain to my future husband why I didn’t wait for him? Even worse, what happens if sex with my husband isn’t as good as the sex I had with Ben? I have tasted the forbidden fruit, and now I am suffering the consequences.
I’ve come to agree with C.S. Lewis that sex is a clumsy dance. It is never graceful in its naked actuality — except between actors, or between lovers in a new relationship.
My co-worker Alice is twenty-eight, unmarried, and clearly in love with her boyfriend, Vincent. Alice said that, one night, she put Vincent in a candlelit tub of scented water, fed him brie and wine, then let him “unwrap” her. (She was his Valentine’s Day present.)
After hearing of Alice’s valentine activities, I worried aloud to my husband of ten years that our marriage wasn’t romantic enough. So he bought me some sexy underwear, and I gave him a massage on the living-room floor. The foreplay was fine, but my libido said, “Let’s cut to the chase.”
Maybe this is why popular culture has it that married people don’t have romantic sex. We have quick sex, bored sex, unfulfilling sex, angry sex, sex for procreation, but definitely not the kind of sex single people have. What single people forget, though, is that marrieds have a lot of sex, and when you have that much sex with the same person, all of your emotions, not just your romantic ones, are involved.
In the beginning my husband wooed me with his guitar, his sense of humor, and his tongue. Today he woos me with his guitar, his sense of humor, his tongue, and also the nightly heat of his body. Most nights, whether or not we’ve made love, I attach myself to his back like the shell of a turtle — an awkward position made comfortable only by practice. We rarely conduct elaborate rituals like Alice and Vincent’s, but I like the marriage bed more each year.
You might think I’m saying this because I’m jealous of young Alice and her sexual exploits, but I’ve had sex with the same man long enough to know that, even if I think it a ridiculous, unflattering arrangement of limbs, I genuinely like sex more now that I’m married. And, best of all, when we do it, nobody has to eat brie.
When my husband and I got married and bought a bed, he laid down the rules: no reading in bed, no radio, no pets, no TV — unless, of course, it was something he wanted to watch — and, most important of all, he slept on the right-hand side of the bed. I would obediently take the left. Since it was a king-size bed, this left a large space in the middle, which I privately referred to as the Dead Zone.
Throughout most of our marriage, this space loomed as vast and arid as the Sahara. Crossing the Dead Zone was not allowed, unless it was — oh, joy — sex night. I hated and resented the Dead Zone, but when our marriage started slowly to collapse, it became a blessing, the only way we could face sleeping in the same room together. We would lie there in the dark — rigid, tearful, utterly silent — but at least able to fall asleep, thanks to that merciful expanse between us.
A long time after my husband left me, I realized, to my amusement, that I was still following his rules: sleeping three inches from the edge on the left-hand side of the bed. The ghost of that miserable marriage solidly occupied the right-hand side. I even had a pillow there for it!
As I have healed, I have begun to creep, inch by hard-won inch, toward the center.
My friend called to say he was leaving his wife, and could I come over with my pickup to help him move to his new place? When I arrived, his wife was out, which made things easier. We filled the back of my truck with a dresser, the contents of his closet, a table, and some chairs, planning to come back for the bed. (His wife would keep the futon.)
When we returned, I noticed his wife’s car in the driveway. She met us in the living room, pale, red-eyed, and twisting a tissue in both hands. I mumbled my condolences and proceeded up the staircase behind my friend. She followed.
My friend and I threw the pillows off the bed, tore away the comforter and sheets, and propped the mattress and box spring against a wall. On my back, I wriggled under the frame and began to back the nuts off the bolts with my socket wrench, depositing the hardware in a plastic bag. I worked the ratchet furiously back and forth, as much to drown out his wife’s sobs as to get the job over with.
Moments later, marching past my friend’s wife with their dismantled marriage bed, I wondered if there was any task, however wretched, I wouldn’t perform for the sake of a friend.
My mother was a thirty-three-year-old spinster when she married my father. Prior to meeting him, she had never even dated. I was conceived on their honeymoon, a fact that is still a source of embarrassment to my mother at eighty-four years of age. She fears people will think that she was pregnant before the wedding.
After our father died, my sister and I asked our mother what kind of sexual relationship she and Daddy had had. She told us she had never enjoyed sex, though our father had liked it. She never let him see her naked; the marital act always took place in the dark, and she would raise her nightgown just enough to accommodate him. She would not allow any foreplay.
My sister and I could hardly believe what we were hearing. Neither of us could imagine a woman claiming to love a man but not enjoying sex with him.
Now I wonder if my mother’s dislike of sex was the reason our father was a workaholic. He was a good father and a good husband. I don’t think he ever had anyone outside his marriage. But if he had, I believe I would have understood.
I am a very small woman, but my husband was a big man, a space hog, and a legendary klutz — the only guy I knew who ever fell off a stationary bicycle. So we needed a huge bed, one with room for him to move.
He was lying in that bed two days before Christmas, feeling sick, when he died suddenly at the age of fifty-one. I had loved him fiercely — though with occasional exasperation — for twenty-four years, and now he was gone.
A few weeks after the memorial service, I left the house and didn’t sleep there again for six months. I would visit during the day, avoiding the bedroom. Sometimes, when I was so miserable that I thought nothing could make me feel worse, I would take a sweater with a hint of Joe’s scent on it and lie on the bed and torture myself.
Now my memories of Joe are no longer painful, and sleeping in that big bed can sometimes bring a smile to my face, especially when I see the tiny space I occupy in it. Just one edge is untidy when I rise in the morning, the rest a sea of undisturbed covers, reminding me how big everything had to be to hold my dear husband.
When my husband and I returned home from our honeymoon, we found that our old futon had been replaced by a queen-size bed neatly made up with new linens, pillows, and comforter. On top was a note from my mother, wishing us many blessings on our marriage bed, and many a good night’s sleep.
Colin had started bringing me breakfast in bed when we were dating, and the tradition carried over into our married life. Even after eight years, he still cooks organic oatmeal with bananas and blueberries, pours juice and club soda over ice, grabs a vitamin, and brings it all to me on a tray, every weekday morning. When I finish, he whisks away the dirty dishes and cleans up the kitchen, then brings me coffee, and we chat before he goes to work. On weekends, we switch, and I make him omelets or pancakes. We spend Sunday morning in bed, cuddling and reading the paper. I am the most spoiled and lucky wife in all of wifedom.
During my pregnancy, I became even more spoiled. Colin propped pillows under my feet and belly, rubbed my aching back, gave me rose-lotion foot massages, and consoled me when I felt blue or scared or fat. When we came home from the hospital with our beautiful baby girl, he tucked me lovingly into bed with our daughter beside me and brought me meals and ushered relatives and friends in and out.
Though we had worked hard to prepare the nursery, it now felt too far away, and the barred crib suddenly looked ominous. Even the bassinet next to our bed wasn’t close enough. So, from the very first night, our daughter has slept with us. Colin curls protectively around us both, and together he and I wonder at her tiny hands and feet, her sweet, milk-scented breath, her nursing sounds, her velvet skin, her radiant smile. Every night, as we lie down together, I think of how the wishes in my mother’s note the day we came home from our honeymoon have come true.
When we met, she told me she was five feet eleven and a half inches tall. In reality, she was probably six feet, but she was self-conscious about her height: her first husband had been a good deal shorter than she. After we started sleeping together, I bought a king-size bed. I wasn’t sure I should spend the money, but I knew we could use the space.
That bed was the setting of many dramas in our relationship — moments of incredible sweetness and passion, as well as endless, soul-searching discussions and quarrels. It survived two moves and was still with us when we got married. A few years later, it began sagging and showing its age — more than ten years — and we briefly considered replacing it, but I feared the marriage was unraveling and didn’t think a new bed was a wise investment under the circumstances. (Had we been able to talk about such things, we might still be together today.)
A few days before we went our separate ways, I asked my buddy if he’d come over to help me put the enormous mattress and box spring out by the curb for trash pickup, alongside the other junk my wife and I had accumulated over the years. I felt a peculiar, slightly guilty pleasure in setting out what had been the scene of so much history and misery to be conveniently whisked away by a lumbering garbage truck. For a moment, I worried that the bed was so huge the garbage men wouldn’t take it.
My buddy and I were around back when the garbage truck came. When we returned to the front of the house, the curbside was clean. It was as if all those joys and tears and angry words had never been.
I was a bookish and responsible boy, a little odd for my blue-collar family. My dad and I weren’t particularly close. We lived in two different worlds: I read and studied, while he had woodworking projects and ballgames.
A couple of years after I graduated from college, I gave up a fellowship at Harvard and dropped out of the Jesuit novitiate. My parents were confused. I still remember the night I told them that I had started seeing a psychiatrist, and, oh, by the way, I was gay. Healthy, yes, not to worry, but gay. No, it was not a phase, and it was not their fault.
Once my parents realized I was not going to behave any differently, they seemed to accept my sexuality. When they found out about Steve, however, it threw them a bit — their son, their good boy, in love with a man fifteen years his senior. Not just in love, either, but living with him and planning a life together. This was new territory for everyone.
My dad did what he does best: he built something. Out of leftover stairway parts, he built a bed for me and Steve. For our first Christmas together, Dad gave us a solid oak bed built of newel posts and balusters. It weighed more than two hundred pounds. I finished it with two coats of ebony stain, four coats of varnish, and a coat of paste wax.
Dad has always been proud of this bed. He loves to give friends tours of my home and point out his handiwork, which includes bookshelves, end tables, a dining-room table, and a dog bed. He’ll point to an item, state what the wood would cost retail, and then challenge the listener to pick it up and “feel the weight of it.” My younger brother once remarked, “He shows that bed off to everyone, but he can’t say the word gay.” Well, maybe so. But Dad can express his love through something he does understand — wood.
Steve and I were together for six years. When we split up four years ago, that bed became a refuge for me. After he left, my dogs Lou and Gus jumped in to fill the space, and they haven’t moved since. When Steve came back into my life, and my bed, a few months ago, Lou and Gus wouldn’t budge. It’s a good thing the bed is solid.
Dad and I will always have problems understanding each other. (So will Steve and I, for that matter.) But at least I can design furniture with him and watch him beam over a fifty-pound end table. And when Steve’s not around and it’s just me and the dogs stretching against the silky newel posts of my bed in the morning, I feel as if it’s worth getting up, because at least one man in my life doesn’t have to understand me to love me.
St. Louis, Missouri
Some years ago, I had an affair with a Catholic priest. It was my way of dealing with the failure of a previous marriage and the abusive boyfriends who followed: I hurled myself at the least-available man in sight.
We would lie in bed after making love and talk of an impossible future. How could I expect him to leave the priesthood for me? It was too much to hope for, and I wouldn’t ask. Still, we’d fantasize about a white house with a picket fence, children in the yard, and a minivan in the driveway. When he left in the middle of the night, to return to the rectory where he lived, I’d roll onto his side of the bed and breathe in his scent and yearn to be together with him, out in the open, like a real couple.
Over time, he became frustrated with the politics and bureaucracy of the Church, and his need for female companionship became greater than his faith. He took a leave of absence, found a regular job, and asked me to marry him.
Immediately after the wedding, we began taking care of his elderly mother. Within months, I was pregnant. Every house we’ve lived in since then has been a fixer-upper in need of extensive repairs. At times, he’s worked as many as five jobs at once, and we’ve had months when we were so poor we lived on leftovers from the senior meal program where he worked.
We have our white house now, and a minivan in the garage. Our days are filled with three spirited daughters, nights with his part-time job at the church and my evening classes and the kids’ Brownie meetings and school functions. Life gets busier all the time. We kiss in passing, bring each other coffee in the mornings, chat on the phone from work. But in bed, we mostly just sleep.
Not long ago, as I was getting ready to take the girls to one activity or another, he reached for me from the bed, but there wasn’t time; I had to go.
“I got more sex when I was a priest,” he said.
Julia Park Rodrigues
San Leandro, California
Our marriage bed is narrow, with guardrails of cold metal that go up and down: down when my husband is lifted out of his wheelchair and placed in the bed; up when he lies, unmoving, on the special mattress. Despite being paralyzed, he sometimes has violent spasms, and the guardrails are to keep him from falling out. If that happened, I would have to call the paramedics, or at least two neighbors, to help me lift him back into his bed.
After my husband’s cycling accident, I tried sleeping with him in his hospital bed in the living room, but it was too cramped. I had to squeeze between his inert body and the icy metal railings, and my husband didn’t even know I was beside him, because he couldn’t feel my needy skin against his. So I gave up and moved to the couch.
Later, I migrated upstairs, to our old marriage bed, the one that we had bought together when things were better. Now I sleep there beside the man who helps take care of my husband. His body is warm and smooth, and when I touch him, he responds.
On a cool Mississippi night at the winter solstice, I asked her to marry me. Shortly thereafter, I began secretly building a log bed for us to share. We were in the process of buying a forty-acre farm, and I wanted to make a bed out of a tree from our land.
Searching the farm, I found a tree that had few branches and was tall enough to fit my design, and I set about cutting it down with only an eight-inch folding handsaw. It took more than thirty hours over the course of a week. I worked only in the middle of the night so as not to arouse suspicion. It was winter, and in the cold and pitch-black of that wild country, shivering and sawing deep in the woods, I began to get a sense of the complexities and sacrifices of marriage.
We were to be married on the first day of spring in the same pecan orchard where I had proposed three months earlier. I thought that was plenty of time to build a bed, but trees are tougher than they seem. You might saw for hours with no sign of progress, and then suddenly the tree creaks and sways a little at the top, and the enormity of it scares you. Marriages are like that, too.
It took several days to cut the tree into manageable lengths. My plan was to transport the tree in sections to my house forty miles away, where I could work on shaping the pieces and fitting them together. A young man who had lived most of his life in the city, I soon learned a painful lesson: trees are heavy.
It was a little less than half a mile from where I felled the tree to my car, all uphill. This hadn’t seemed like much of an obstacle when I’d selected the tree, but thanks to the unbelievable weight of those logs (red oak, I would discover, is one of the hardest woods found in this part of the country), that short distance threatened to ruin my wedding-day surprise. In a marriage, too, I’ve found, everything might seem as if it will work out perfectly, but there are many things you don’t foresee. You have to try everything to make it work — just as, somehow, I had to get that tree up that hill and loaded into the trunk of my car.
It took a week to get all the logs to my house and stashed in the spare bedroom. Some days it was all I could do to move the two largest ones five feet. (Now, some days, when my wife comes home from work with tears welling up in her eyes, all I can do is kiss her and sit with her and listen and hold her hand.) For about six weeks, I made measurements and bored holes and ruined my hands with chisels and splinters. It’s not easy to manipulate hundred-pound logs in a tiny house. It’s like having four friends move in with you, but they just sit around all day making a mess and getting in the way.
My plan was for a king-size bed — almost eight feet wide and more than eight feet long. I had selected a particular section of the tree to form my wife’s sideboard: it had a dip in it, like a little step for her to use to climb into bed. (Actually, we both have to climb in on her side, because the bed barely fits in our tiny bedroom.)
The day before the wedding, I paid an antique dealer eighty dollars for a wagon wheel six feet in diameter. I strapped the wheel to the roof of my car and drove it home, where it became the headboard of our log bed. The mattress and box spring were delivered later that day, and I laid them on the frame and made the bed with new sheets and a comforter. It squeaked a bit when I walked near it and wobbled from side to side when I tested its sturdiness. But it didn’t collapse. In less than three months, I had made my wife a bed from a tree using only my hands and my imagination.
I showed my wife the bed that night, and she cried. Right away, she noticed her special step and climbed into the bed. We’ve been sleeping there ever since.