He said it first, cautiously easing into it via his computer messages. Initially, he would end his messages with “I LOVE the way YOU smile,” or “I LOVE spending time with YOU.” Then, one day it was simply, “I LOVE YOU.” We spent as much time as possible in our tiny dorm rooms listening to Dave Matthews and Pearl Jam while we “studied” on those ridiculously uncomfortable twin beds. All that mattered was which one of our roommates was not around, because being together, even if we could barely breathe crammed beside one another, was worth it.
He graduated a year ahead of me and went to graduate school and had his own apartment. It was a dark walk-up apartment on Main Street in a small town with nothing but other similar row homes and one dingy bar with decent chicken wings. Fortunately, with both of us now living out of the dorms, we both had upgraded to full-size beds. Unfortunately, it felt empty Sunday through Thursday when I was away from him.
All week long I counted the days to fill the space between us. Weekends together felt like a peek inside what our lives together could be like. I tried being domestic by making real dinners. I tried to impress him with baked chicken and Campbell’s soup recipes with Stove Top stuffing. It felt like such a step up from takeout or cans of baked beans. He tried to protect my feelings, so he graciously ate my casserole dinners rather than ordering the wings from down the street. It took years before he told me how much he actually hated any type of baked meat.
Leaving one another on Sundays was hard. The insecurities would creep in, and jealousy would seep out. Tearful departures were not uncommon. Loving with distance between us took more effort. It required a different level of trust, sacrifice and compromise to maintain the happy that came so effortlessly when we were on the same campus in our small twin beds. Now, it was a choice to cuddle or to roll over when we were together in our full-size beds.
There was no question in my choice to say yes when Keith proposed to me on the beach in North Carolina the week before I graduated. There was no question that I wanted to officially be a “we” and make decisions that were not only mine but “ours.” We were married in 1999. He was a first-year podiatry student, and I was a first-year teacher. Our college bed stayed with us for four more years until we bought our first house outside of Atlanta, Georgia, when he started his residency. There, we decided to finally purchase a queen-size bed. It was so comfortable to have more space in our bed, and it felt safe to have space between us because we were married.
Being an “us” meant security. It meant shared everything. Together, over the next five years, we picked the colors for the walls and what to hang on them. We set up a joint bank account and negotiated our spending. We debated over white or colored lights for the Christmas tree. We alternated holidays with our families, and celebrated some together, just the two of us, alone. That is until the two of us became three. When I found out I was pregnant, we would lie in our bed and read about the week-by-week changes of our baby growing inside of me. It was my favorite time during those nine months. With his hands on my belly, side by side in our bed, we imagined together who our child would be and what our lives would look like.
We hoped to keep our bed our own, so we tried the co-sleeper attached to our bed. But, without fail, every time, as soon as we put our son down flat he would scream. We realized quickly the sacred ground of our bed was abandoned for more important things, like sleep. We tried the wedge pillow (appropriately named) in our bed and placed it between us so I could keep him propped upright and just roll over to feed him, but that didn’t work either. For the first three months of his life, I didn’t sleep in our queen-size bed; instead, every night, Keith would prop pillows behind me, beside me and underneath me after the last feeding so I could move my milk-intoxicated child from my boob to my shoulder without waking him while I sacked out on the couch.
Our old full-size bed was moved from a guest room into the nursery when we had our second son, because my husband’s patients needed him to have a full night’s sleep more than me. We started our nights together, but I bounced between beds for years. Our youngest didn’t sleep for more than a five-hour stretch until he was 5 years old. It was a long, exhausting time. I woke up most mornings cramped from a child sleeping horizontally across me. I longed for the days of the morning neck cramp from being entwined with my then college boyfriend back in our dorm.
But, the thing is, you never go back to the twin-size bed. In fact, the bed just keeps getting bigger. The space between you physically widens with kids, shared responsibilities, obligations, and different needs and desires. After 10 years of parenthood and over 20 years of being together, we took the plunge and bought a king-size bed. I recall the first night we had it. I seriously thought it was the best purchase we had ever made together. I could stretch out on my belly, curl up on my side, or sprawl out on my back and still not be touched. I could now choose to call for the kids to jump in with us on a stormy night or a lazy Sunday morning because there was more than enough room.
After spending more than half of my life now with my husband, I know every day is a choice to love each other. Being married isn’t security any more than the twin bed is actually comfortable. However, I am secure in knowing that the best part of my day is when we roll together to the center of the king-size bed and kiss each other good morning and good night.