My bed is huge. It's an island, covered in a white comforter like snow. My weird cozy snowy island. And my bed is unique because, if you can lift what feels like five hundred pounds by one end, you can fold the whole thing into a closet and bolt it in for safekeeping.
Every time I lift it, though, I have to leverage it on my thighs halfway up, giving me pancake-sized bruises that are tender to the touch and linger on my legs for a week or more. I have always bruised easily. So most of the time I leave the bed down, dominating the main room of my studio apartment, crowding my piano and guitars toward the opposite wall, but at least making up for the unfortunate reality that I'm 25 and live alone and still don't own a couch. I think in the three or so months since it was built for me I've put it away about as many times.
Today when cancelled plans gave me leeway to do stuff around my apartment, rather than sit around reading my new Amy Poehler book, I decided to finally paint the groady inside of the closet my bed folds into. Since the bed is almost always down, I want this to look nice. I'm making a wall hanging with chains of this beautiful Nepalese paper that I'm going to put up over the bed, along with Christmas lights (for cheap but foolproof ambiance). A Millennial's Pinterest board come true.
But first! Paint.
I dig up rollers and trays and brushes, and the nearly empty can of paint we used on the rest of the room, and I start getting ready to work.
Most people see creation, remodeling, sprucing-up as a forward movement. When all your tools still belong to someone you loved and who left, though, it feels a little closer to going backwards. But everything reminds me of him, including my bed-island, which he built for me. So out of necessity I'm getting used to it.
I dump the paint into the tray and attach an extension and start rolling. Instantly, memories. "You don't have to push hard at all," he always would tell me. "It should just roll on." I remembered how he could paint a whole room in under an hour while I just slowly followed along, carefully doing the edging and the detailing, which were more my forte. I felt like such a dipshit sometimes because I wasn't handy and he was so good at everything. But sometimes I'd catch him pausing to watch me carefully brush paint down a thin strip of wall, and I'd giggle, and he'd softly say "you're just so pretty all the time," and in that moment as he looked at me so lovingly I would feel like a bodacious powerful Amazon woman. Special, because I was capable.
I peeled ivory flakes off of my fingers as I went along, remembering how we stood together in the Home Depot picking out paint colors. Me, completely overwhelmed yet excited, in the way I imagine a Martian child feels during her first time in an earthling candy store. Him, at-home among all the tools and knick-knacks and thingamawhatsits, not understanding my confusion, used to building me things.
He was always building and fixing things for me. Painting walls, hanging curtains, probing down into underexamined cavities of my mind and trying to scrape out the old insecurities still molding down there, or kicking in the carefully constructed walls that guard my heart, and replacing them with glass, so he would always be able to look inside.
He was the first person who ever cared enough to really, truly insist on knowing all of who I was. In a world where women are expected to be timid and modest, he was the first person who would get upset with my knee-jerk diplomacy and the way I rarely say my opinions out loud. I always admired the accuracy with which he could survey me and tell me where I should reinforce the floors and where there was just outdated window-dressing to be done away with. I have always been too comfortable with imperfection and frailty to have the same ability. I am too accepting of people as they are. Only recently have I started to see this as a bad thing.
I cannot describe in words how much I always loved watching him work. The way the muscles in his arms moved, his broad shoulders and strong forearms, the look of complete and uninterruptable focus on his face. The way his magic hands could make anything appear. The palpable sense of purpose that reminded me of how I was as a child, always coming up with new projects, exploring, making things up on the fly -- how I was before I learned to hide. His dark eyes as he constantly checked, and rechecked, and stepped back to look, and then kept working, always kept working, without rest, insatiable, until it was done.
He loved his work, and I loved to see the way he lost himself in it. I loved my layers and the way he insisted on tearing through them, because as long as I could be his project, I knew he would be lost in me.
I loved being his mystery, and his muse; he, my coach and protector. If he were the brain, with its brilliance, then I was the heart, quiet and wild. It worked great for awhile... until suddenly it didn’t anymore. Being for someone else what they should be for themselves is exhausting.
But no one can say we didn’t try. In fact, trying can be addicting. Being wronged and righted and wronged again is how I imagine heroin feels -- you know how bad it is for you, but you forget how to live without the rush. You romanticize the tempests, pretend you’re Diego and Frida. A real couple. Not one of those boring suburbanite ones. Everything is heightened -- the bad, but also the good. It’s not always easy, but it’s not settling. You have your person. Someone who so completely enchanted you from day one that even your skeptic’s mind was finally forced to admit for the first time since birth that love at first sight does exist.
In the end, you are the lucky ones. You have real passion. When you have passion, you can go months in a cycle of trying. You can pick up again so easily:
I love you.
(You sit on the floor of your new, still-empty apartment and weep together in each other’s arms.)
(Crying turns to kissing. The bare floorboards bruise your knees and hips and back.)
I want us to work. We can get through this. I love you. I’m sorry.
(Suddenly you’re running drunk through Welles Park, barefoot, holding hands.)
Let’s go to Vegas. Tonight. I have to marry you. I love you.
(Now you’re falling asleep together, holding hands. He tells you this is the first time he could fall asleep like that.)
Maybe we’ll go tomorrow. I’m sorry.
(The bruises fade. He builds you the bed, but stops reaching for your hand.)
I’m busy this weekend.
I think I’m depressed.
I don’t know what’s wrong with me.
(Then you wait, until...)
I think it’s you.
(Stomach and heart trade places.)
I think I can’t do this anymore.
I think I hate you.
(Then, after the cruel name-calling ends,
You cry and you rage, but you know it’ll be okay again in a few weeks, or months. You could do this over and over again. You both know this isn’t normal, but neither of you has ever really had to work at a relationship before, so you’re not sure what is. And really, this gets much easier each time.
I looked down at the nearly empty paint tray and realized I had been so lost in my thoughts that the wall was done. It hadn't even been 15 minutes. I guess I did learn a thing or two after all. If only he could see me working alone like this. He'd be proud.
I washed the paint off the roller and tray in my bathtub. My leaky old faucet ran the water faster than it could drain out of the tub, leaving me with a bath full of water like milk. It looked oddly alluring, reminiscent of the goats' milk that mythical maidens bathed in to stay youthful. I wondered for a moment if bathing in this particular mix would similarly make me stronger. If only it were so easy to be stronger. Perhaps then I could have kept him.
Some people, though, have a unique ability to bring out our weakness. Mine, for example, built me a bed I can barely lift, but I'm the one who feels weak as a result. It's a pretty apt metaphor, actually.
It's widely accepted that if you make yourself a bed, you have to lie in it. They're a little shorter on details for when one has been made for you. There have been many times in my life when I could simply forget everything and wipe the slate clean and just start over, fresh-faced, feeling strong, feeling invincible, when in hindsight really I just hadn't cared that much in the first place. This, on the other hand, is new territory for me.
Moving forward when everything reminds you of someone it killed you to lose is a lot like trying to wade through chest-deep water: every step you can manage washes you a little cleaner, but it doesn't make the process any less torturous.
When you're struggling upstream so much that even your greatest effort only keeps you in the same spot, it's hard to see that as strength, but really, it is the strongest most bodacious powerful Amazon woman thing you could ever do for yourself.
You can get used to being left. But I don’t think you ever get used to being alone.
I'm learning to find my strength in the reminders, huge and heavy as they are. Fresh coats of paint make this island more mine.