Mattress as metaphor

I had had my mattress for more than ten years. I was still sleeping fine, and there was nothing grievously wrong with it, but it could not be denied that there was a gully. A smallish me-shaped gully that became particularly pronounced during occasions of duet sleeping, which can be complicated enough without spending the whole of the night scrabbling toward the high ground.

As my body betrays me in ever new and more interesting ways, I wondered too if the gully was doing my back--still holding a grudge after a bad fall years ago-- any favors. Probably not. 

It was fine. But was it good?

Last year, I did some preliminary mattress research, trying to decide whether I ought to try one of the new foam mattresses-in-a-box that are all the rage. At the time, there were really only two main competitors in the field and one of them was rated firmer (for me, better) than the other, so: simple. However, there was the European escapade on the horizon and I was squirreling away my money Scroogeishly.  I vowed that when I came back from my trip and assessed my finances, I would, savings permitting, buy:

  1. Tires
  2. A mattress

I held to half my bargain. Within a month after my return, I had all four tires replaced. Not a sexy purchase, but one that may stave off actual death. I'm all for staving off death wherever possible. But every night (still, happily, alive) I would lay me down to sleep in the gully and wonder if replacing it was a good or foolish investment. What if I got something else and didn't like it as well? Should I keep it until I was in actual pain? Until I was in a relationship of some actual duration?  Until I was certain I would not be moving for at least a decade?

They bothered me, these constant questions of whether fine was good enough and of whether making a decision only to save money was frugal or miserly. Ultimately, though, it was having made the promise that nagged at me. At some point, I reasoned, I must have already made this decision. If not, I would not have vowed to make the purchase when I got home. And here I was. Home.

And that's the other thing. The bigger thing. The harder thing. Home. I'm not sure if home feels like home to me these days. San Francisco feels crowded and entitled and interested in things that don't interest me, for instance: apps, pour-over coffee, skateboards. midcentury modern anything. And yet, it is also achingly beautiful and never snows. It's where my family lives and where I have friendships that span thirty years or more.

I want to go. I want to stay. I change my mind sometimes hourly.  Last night, I had a dream that I met Lin Manuel Miranda and he thought it was bizarre that I lived in San Francisco. He said it didn't suit me at all.

It's fine, but is it good?

In the less than a year since I last looked into it, mattress purveyors have proliferated. The mattress I had already decided to buy was no longer rated as high as the year before and in the intervening months, it seemed the world had become one massive padded cell, lined from top to bottom with foam mattresses I'd never seen, much less touched, and among these I was to choose one to lie on for a decade.

This seemed like a particularly foolhardy undertaking, like buying a car you'd never driven or a house you'd never walked though or marrying someone you'd never met.  But then, people did all those things, didn't they?  And, unlike those, this purchase came with a money-back guarantee. This was not the time to be mired by indecision. For once, I would not worry myself into stasis. I would read reviews. I  would compare. I would purchase. What good practice it would be. This will be the year I become brave--a decision-maker instead of a waffler.

And so I did. I chose a mattress that was glowingly reviewed by a man who has made it his life's work to review mattresses. It was also the darling of many mattress amateurs or "sleepers" as I like to think of them. The only people who seemed displeased were those who found it too firm. As with shoes that others have claimed are too narrow, for me, this only increased its allure.

I ordered the mattress and arranged for the bulk recycling pick-up of my old one the morning after the delivery date. On Mattress Day, my absurdly fit neighbor helped me get the new one onto the bed and the old one out to the curb. Orderly, reasoned, decisive, grown up.  I was proud of myself.

Until I lay down. 

To begin with, lying down on the mattress inevitably put my nose in much closer proximity to it, the better to inhale its poison gasses. Actually these gasses are described as "harmless' by the manufacturer and the odors as "inoffensive" by several reviewers. To me the odors were aggressive, pervasive, and allergy-triggering. Whether or not they are poison, it's too soon to say. One hopes not, of course, but they certainly smell like poison.

The greater problem is that to lie upon this mattress is more to be subsumed into it. This sinking sensation appears to be the one most fervently desired by consumers. Personally. I prefer that my mattress not be overfamiliar and that it keep, as it were, its hands to itself. I will be in charge of the sleeping positions and when to shift them, thank you very much. And if I require a full body grope, I will invite another person to provide it. Ironically, the new mattress's entire nature was that of the gully I had purchased it to escape.

As I lay there in a poison cloud, sinking back-breakingly into the mattress' marshmallowy clutches, I pictured my old mattress on the street right below my bedroom window. Abandoned. And for what?  A gamble that there may be something better than fine. But what's wrong with fine?  What kind of a person was I?  I grieved for my faithful mattress. I would have gone to retrieve it if A) I were as strong as my neighbor, B) it had not already been dragged a considerable distance across an urban sidewalk and C) it hadn't likely already been peed on. I embodied regret. In the early morning, i listened when truck come to haul my old mattress away and felt like a murderer.  When I clamored out of bed gingerly, aching, a few hours later, my pajamas smelled like poison.

Mattress companies give you about three months to opt for a return, but would like you to keep a mattress for at least a month before you decide, to make sure you've given it a fair chance.  I contacted the company as soon as I got up and begged them to take it back. "I see you've had your mattress for one night..." said the customer service rep.  "Yes," I confirmed. "And it was such a terrible night."  I was told it would get firmer. I was told box springs shouldn't be used with it. I was told I should try it on the floor. I was asked to keep it for a week. 

I opened the bedroom windows as wide as they would go and I closed the bedroom door. I quarantined the bare mattress so that it could get on with becoming more firm and less poisonous without me around to judge it. For two nights I slept on the sofa. For the next two nights I decamped to my parents house. In between, I sneaked off to a mattress store. "Before we get started," I told Jackie, the sales rep, "you should know that I think memory foam is the devil's tool."  I unburdened my soul to Jackie as she led me around the store, ultimately narrowing it down to two old-fashioned spring mattresses, firmer than almost any other available, and made by the same company as my old one. Everything would be okay. "This feels like going out with someone new before you've actually broken up with your boyfriend," I told her, imagining the quarantined mattress, trying its best, unaware of its fate.

I was prepared to try to reconcile with the squishy mattress. On the eve of our one-week anniversary, I tried again. It was still smelly, but not as smelly.  It was still squishy, but not as squishy. It had clearly made its best effort. Nevertheless, while I'm sure it is the perfect mattress for somebody, it would never be the perfect mattress for me. Irreconcilable differences. Seriously, who are these people who find this odor neither offensive nor lingering?  And, furthermore, who could possibly find this mattress too firm?  What sort of puppy-fur angel-cloud ball of fluff are those people accustomed to?  And what are their skeletons made of?

I called the company. They scheduled a Salvation Army pick-up. I called Jackie. I bought the slightly less firm of the two mattresses. She scheduled delivery for later that day. I was ebullient. I did a little jig around the kitchen. The poison reign of terror was coming to an end. I could stop surviving on four hours of broken sleep and ibuprofen.  The mattress is dead!  Long live the mattress!

The delivery men came and in less than five minutes had the foam mattress leaning on the wall and the spring mattress on the bed. It was a happy ending. Plus, I'd come out $200 ahead, even after the tip.  I flung myself down for a celebratory mid-mattress snowless snow angel and...ouch.  The mattress yielded not at all.

I had somehow managed to replace the marshmallow with a plank. 

On the bright side, the plank was odorless. 

I spent one achey night on the plank, and the next night returned to the sofa, from which vantage point I could now see TWO mattresses looking at me reproachfully from the bedroom while I berated myself on auto-repeat for needlessly spending hundreds of dollars only to make myself tired and sore, and for generally being a risibly inadequate judge of mattresses.

Presumably as penance, the Salvation Army canceled their pickup yesterday, leaving me with the (still malodorous) beacon of my shame leaning against my bedroom wall like a considerably bulkier Scarlet Letter. Meanwhile, the plank and I are undergoing a sort of rapprochement, with a yoga mat serving as mediator. I think we might pull through. There is a latex foam topper available that allegedly will solve all our problems.  However, at this point, I can only assume it will be far too soft and smell like sulphur.

The real question though is what to do when the life lesson you try to teach yourself backfires entirely?  When your experiment in decisive action results in the very regret that is your biggest fear? Do you say sure, this was a total disaster with a money-back return policy, but I'm sure that was a fluke. Why not double down and gamble with something irrevocable? 

Or, instead, do you ignore your subconscious Lin Manuel Miranda and count your blessings--innumerable as they are--and be overcome with gratitude that your life is fine as it is.  

That indeed you have a fine life.

And stay.