Bedridden

Michael Quinn


I have lived in only a few different places, but I’ve always slept in the same bed. It’s a twin. First it was my sister’s then, somehow, it was mine. My sister and I shared a small bedroom in a small house on a wide, busy street on Long Island. Three years and a long, oak dresser were just two of the things that stood between us. I had an inexplicable habit of gnawing on my corner of the dresser before going to sleep at night while my father banged and crashed overhead; he was finishing the upstairs of the house himself. It was a big project to which he could devote only nights, and it was not work he particularly enjoyed. He did little to hide this. While the storm of my father raged overhead, my sister and I tried to make ourselves as small as possible, curled into corners of our unmatched twins. Meanwhile, my mother was hiding elsewhere; she seemed to recede into herself completely.

The work on the house took nearly a decade. My twin was the first thing hauled upstairs since my room, even at that point, was the only one close to being finished. I spent a lot of nights wiping sawdust off my feet before climbing into bed. My father was fiercely protective of his work and wouldn’t allow me to hang anything on the walls; so that room felt unfinished the entire time I inhabited it. It never felt like mine; nothing in that house felt like it had anything to do with me. When I was a teenager the twin bed collapsed one night while I was sleeping in it. My father heard the crash and came rushing in—not to see if I was all right—but to yell at me. He told me I was “abnormally large,” which was sort of appropriate. Everyone else in my family was very small and to me the whole place felt like a freak show. Eventually the bed was mended and I even took it with me when I left, although not much else from that place seemed worth carrying, and not much of worth had been offered anyway.

After college I moved into a ramshackle apartment in the East Village on Second Avenue. I lived with three girls: a Jewish oboe player and two voluptuous blondes from Florida with a strong sense of what constitutes a good time. We each had our own room. Mine was painted a color called “Poolhouse Blue” and had exactly three pieces of furniture: a chair, an armoire, and the twin. There wasn’t room for much else and what wasn’t there I didn’t miss. For a short time the four of us adopted a family style of eating, and one of the blondes fixed big plates of peppery pasta from a large aluminum bowl her mother had sent up from Delray Beach, along with bottomless pitchers of margaritas. The dinners didn’t stick but the drinking did, which got us into a lot of trouble of varying degrees of seriousness. I had affairs with all three of them. I’m not sure where that ranks on the spectrum, but I did move out some time afterwards into a small studio on Second Street, near Avenue C.

By this time I had a boyfriend who was already living there. I’d never had a boyfriend before, but I liked this one enough to try it. I decided to try living with him, too. In New York, at the age of twenty-two, this seemed like a logical enough next step. No one I knew then ever had a plan about anything. My boyfriend had a gold tooth and a ring of fire tattooed around his wrist and vague ideas about being an artist. I thought he was the greatest.

This apartment overlooked Houston Street, and my boyfriend liked to take his coffee and his toast out on the fire escape and have his breakfast there with his long legs and the belt of his bathrobe dangling down over the traffic. I have always been afraid of heights. Nearby but nervous, I would sit perched on the edge of the bed near the open window; we were both sleeping in the twin now.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the bed did collapse again one night while we were both sleeping in it, although there was no yelling this time. There wasn’t any kind of fuss, really. We just resettled ourselves and our two Siamese on the floor amongst the blankets and went back to sleep. I don’t think we even thought to turn on a light. In the morning we waited for our downstairs neighbor, a carpenter, to come up and fix the frame. The displaced mattress and box spring seemed to fill the room. I thought to take a picture of the way our shoes looked lined up underneath the bed, which is only one of the reasons I remember them so well: red python loafers; black combat boots with painted-on silver toes; wooden flip flops; duck boots from L.L. Bean. It was an unusual mix. I had never stored anything under the bed before living here and never have since.

Our apartment was so small there shouldn’t have been room for anything else, but we spent all our time working on art projects and going to thrift stores, so the place was packed. There wasn’t an inch of wall left bare, and when we ran out of space there, we hung things from the ceiling. A reporter from The Village Voice got word of it and came over to interview us, and sent a photographer to take a picture of us sitting together on the twin. The article ran under the title, “Sleeping Double in a Single Bed.” I don’t know that I’ve ever looked more wooden.

Our collections and our ambitions outgrew our space, and we put all our hopes in a parlor floor apartment on Henry Street in Brooklyn. The bed made the move there, too, although there wasn’t really a bedroom per se; the few rooms of this apartment were all interconnected with high, lofty ceilings piped with ornate bits of crumbling plaster molding. The decay of the place was part of its charm, although it was hard to feel so romantic when chunks of the black and white kitchen floor came up every time I cleaned it, or when the toilet started to sag through a worrisome crack—it looked seismic—in the hexagon shaped tiles of the bathroom floor. We pushed the twin along one wall, covered it with throw pillows, and used it as a couch, something we had never had before and didn’t really have now, either. Still, it felt like progress of a kind, not a kind I was particularly interested in, but the kind for the type of couple we were turning out to be, which was more or less conventional. It was a sort of aspirational mediocrity, although I didn’t realize it at the time.

To this end, we stopped sleeping in the twin and spent our nights in a Murphy bed that was already installed there. I’m still not sure if this was a mistake or not. We continued to sleep together but we moved further and farther apart. I spent a lot of time staring sullenly into an empty, blackened fireplace that filled the whole room with smoke whenever we used it, which wasn’t often, although we imagined we would when we first moved in there. Eventually I went back to the twin but I took someone else with me. I had surprised both my boyfriend and myself by falling in love with someone else. I took him to my bed because I thought I finally knew what forever felt like, but it didn’t last. Forever barely had a chance to get started.

It scarcely registered that my boyfriend left me during this time until this next great love followed suit. Only then did I feel the impact of loss completely. I seemed to feel nothing else. The only thing that seemed to last then was the feeling that came next, a drop into despair so dark and deep it felt unfathomable. I felt like the leftover half of something, although I’m still not sure of what. I spent my days propped up at a job somewhere and my nights in the twin feeling blank as the walls of my childhood bedroom. The apartment started to go to seed. Huge chunks of the ceiling came crashing down around me. The toilet sank into the floor completely. I could see what was happening, but I couldn’t seem to care enough to stop it.

My friends got me a cat and the cat actually helped; I was more or less living like a stray myself before I had to take care of anything other than my own uncertain needs. The cat was a sickly little thing although she was very cheerful about it; she would often pop up on the orange vinyl loveseat next to me when I was working at home just to make a friendly little meep that sounded like hello. Unfortunately she had chronic diarrhea throughout her early kitten hood and would accidentally leave shit stains on the pages of the movie manuscripts I was reviewing for extra money now that I had to cover the rent on my own. I had no choice but to crumple up those soiled pages and try not to let their absence interfere with my understanding of what was about to happen next in the plot.

Living in the same place I had to learn to reinhabit it completely. Odd things my boyfriend had left behind wore out their old associations or became attached to new ones; in this way they became mine. Gradually I got the place cleaned up again. In fact, on the recommendation of a friend in publishing, photos of my apartment were included in a book about vintage home décor, but there were no pictures of me or my twin bed.

Save for my cat, I sleep most nights alone, sometimes dreaming about the impressions people leave with me, which are often quite different from the shapes of their actions. I’ve recently started seeing someone new who makes me feel like I might be scootching over soon, but I’m wary. An indentation on the pillow next to me shows the next morning that someone was there, but it doesn’t tell me much else. Certainly it doesn’t tell me the thing I want to know most, which is whether he’ll be back.


Michael Quinn has a fondness for ribbons and bows, and a reluctance to embrace new technology. He lives in Brooklyn, New York, where he is writing a book about parties. He is currently sleeping alone.