creative nonfiction by Em Rowene
You’ve never been mattress shopping. You bought your last mattress just two years ago, and you bought it online, easy as getting a shipment of soap and toilet paper or searching for flash sales. Your parents helped pay, then because you’re their life, and what else can they do for you, now that you’ve moved away? It was a cheap mattress to begin with, cheaper with their help, and in just two years, the mattress sagged and slumped and now you can’t spend five minutes on it without walking around in pain for hours after. After weeks of laying sideways, arranging your pillows to provide a mockery of support, and sleeping on the couch, it’s time for something new.
You don’t need to buy the cheapest option this time, which is good, because your parents won’t be helping. But you won’t be all on your own, either.
The mattress beneath you now is soft. You feel yourself sinking into it, white cushion rising up around you, and you fear you’ll never be able to get up, even as the employee helping you chats up the next mattress to try to get you moving. You barely hear him; you’re staring at the person beside you on the bed. Their eyes are shut, their lips pursed in quiet contemplation, and how could you think about mattresses when a sight like that is before you? Instead, you think about how lucky you are to be here, to be doing something like this with someone so perfect—not perfect, perhaps. In those two years since you bought a mattress alone, you’ve learned all about them. You’ve learned their flaws just as they’ve learned yours. So not perfect, but perfect for you.
They look at you and shake their head, dark hair falling across their face and something light in their expression. This one’s not right, but we’re getting closer, and you agree. They climb lightly out of bed and help pull you up as well, and as you move on to the next option, their hand stays in yours, warm and strong. You’re not paying as much attention to this as you should, because you know you’d happily spend a thousand nights on a soft, lumpy mattress if it meant spending those nights beside them. But you continue shopping anyway, because this is what happiness feels like, and you never want it to end.
Your mother cried when you told her. She told you how much she loved you, and that she wanted you to be happy, but that your happiness was breaking her heart.
“Don’t tell your grandmother,” she begged. “She can’t know that her granddaughter is…”
She still hasn’t been able to say the word. If she can’t even take that, how can you tell her that you’re not sure about being a daughter, as well? You kept that to yourself. To yourself, to your love, to your friends, but not your family.
Your father took it better. He told you that he accepts you, and that he accepts them. That he wants them to always feel loved and welcome, just as he wants you to feel. And then he told you that he disapproves, and that he’ll never approve, but that’s just the way it is.
They don’t know that you’re here, now, picking out a mattress with your love, and maybe they never will. Maybe you’ll tell them tonight, rip it off like a bandage, or maybe you’ll give in to the coil of fear in your stomach and wait months, put it off until you can’t hide it anymore. But it’s a problem for later. This can be happy, and this can be sad, and it can be both at once, but for now, you focus on your happiness. You don’t think about your family as you walk past mattress after crisp white mattress, explaining to your love all the orthopedic research you did before coming here, them smiling fondly at you the whole time. You don’t think about it as you lay with them on the perfect bed, the employee still talking, talking, talking, the sound nothing to the weight of their hand in yours. You don’t think about it as you spend the night with them in your new room, in your new home, the place where you can finally be comfortable, be yourself, be happy.