How to Share A Bed

Photo credit: Anya Brewley Schultheiss

When my little sister invited me to be her Maid of Honor, she sent me a pretty tin container filled with heart-shaped cookies and a note that said: I’ve found my mister, but I can’t do this without my sisters. She’d made the cookies herself, and since she’s never been much of a baker, went through several burnt-bottom drafts before getting to the good ones. As a newly engaged woman, I suppose this was her expertise; whereas I, on the other hand, have never made it past the burnt-bottom drafts of men in my life.

The cookies were decorated in purple and gold, her wedding colors, and I received mine in the mail before my big sis did. I struggled to keep the secret. My big sis and I aren’t as close as I would like us to be, and I was as excited to be sharing this occasion with her as I was excited to be in the wedding. I don’t care too much about weddings, truth be told, and at this point in my life, I am no longer sure if I even want to be married myself. Sure, I want a life partner, but I’m really only interested in an actual marriage for the gifts and the tax benefits (which I hear aren’t all that great anyhow). My little sister’s wedding was a whole thing: bridal shower, bachelorette party, all matching purple bridesmaids dresses that I had to fly home to Wisconsin to try on with all the girls, even though I probably flew over plenty of David’s Bridals to get there. Her wedding, as my big sis and I began to say, was All The Things.

I didn’t bring a date to the wedding. I was single at the time. Really I was rebounding from a recent breakup. Which is to say, I was having one of those months where sometime around the 28th I turned down a Tinder “date” because I didn’t think I should hook up with four different dudes in a 4-week time span. Colloquially, we call this “rebounding,” right?

. . .

The guy I was rebounding off of was never The One. On first dates, my body often tells me something when we first see the guy. I can’t provide many examples of past messages because I usually ignore them, but I distinctly remember seeing this guy and my body saying, “Oh, we’re in trouble.” Conventionally attractive he was not: he smoked cigarettes, went commando under his jeans, and drove an old, American-made pick-up truck. He called me “Toots,” and he frequently referred to women as “broads” with zero irony. He’s a chef, and he basically never ate vegetables. He was 39 and living with his parents, so we always hung out at my place. In the nine months that we dated, he never slept over. I mean NEVER. Not once. Not even a dozed off, it’s getting late, maybe I should just crash here. My bed was like vegetables for him, and we were both mostly just there for the meat.

I went to his house only once. His parents were out of town, and I found myself disoriented suddenly being in this home, his space, his bed. I spent the night dissociating to nights from my past, nights in beds with other men, nights when those men were lying to me about which beds they usually laid in and who usually laid beside them.

You know that fairy tale where the girl can’t sleep because there’s a pea under her mattress… so she layers up mattress after mattress in hopes of cushioning herself, but no matter what she does, she can still feel it? There are just so many peas in my past, it doesn’t matter how many mattresses of men I lay on to cover them up: I can still feel it.

I was like that. A vegetable in bed.

I found myself on my back in his pea-laden, foreign mattress. Forcing effort to regulate my breath, trying to stay in the moment. My eyes wide open, my throat held a lump, I was holding back tears. Outside of my body, I was watching myself, not sleeping. I felt my tears fall into my throat since I was refusing to let them out through my eyes. I swallowed them and the lump the peas there were creating. He asked if I was okay, if something was wrong, and I said I was fine. My tears weren’t about him anyhow, so there was no sense in sharing them.

I had invited him to my little sister’s wedding, although I cannot say it was a genuine invitation. He had accepted, too, although I cannot say it was a genuine acceptance.

We broke up in the summer a few weeks before the wedding, just before anyone had to commit to actual, genuine plane tickets to fly him there. He drove his pick-up truck to my house, pulled up and cut the engine whose sound was rivaled only by the clamor of thrash guitars from his stereo. He gave me his cheek when I greeted him at the door, came inside to my bedroom for our weekly meeting, and broke up with me. It was unexpected, but I was genuinely okay with it. I had already told my sister to tell the wedding photographer not to invite him into any family photos – so our relationship being over and him not being there just allowed all of us to avoid the awkwardness of photographically documenting by omission that he was Never The One.

. . .

The night before the wedding, my little sister had all the bridesmaids stay in a hotel suite with her. My little sister, her five closest girlfriends, my big sister, and me: all crammed into a hotel suite together. It was another demonstration of “All The Things” she wanted to do for the wedding, and all the things I was only doing because I love her. There were not enough beds for everyone, and I was worried about being tired in the morning as I faced a brigade of Aunties asking when I was going to finally get married. But that night wasn’t about me, so I padded my comfort with as many imaginary mattresses as I could gather, and crawled in to share a bed with my big sister.

I’ve always been the kind of little sister who constantly seeks her big sister’s approval. I want her to want to be near me, I want her to be proud of me. I’ve always lived for her to think I’m as cool as I think she is. I have also always been bad at sharing a bed. That night swallowing tears in my burnt-bottom-boyfriend’s bed was not unusual. Sharing a bed requires a level of trust that I have never developed, it is an art form that I just do not have mastery over. I sleep on my belly, I make a million shifts to get there. I like too many blankets, and too few pillows. I snore (or so I am told).

It was August and our temperatures didn’t match. She was too hot, I was too cold, I was moving around too much. She said something about it. And then – I’m not sure where I went in my head. I caught myself laying on my back, eyes wide open, regulating my breath to try to stay in the moment. I noticed what I was doing, outside of my body again, I watched myself. I was trying not to move too much. Trying not to breathe too hard. Trying not to bother too much. Trying not to be too much. She asked if I was okay, if something was wrong. I held back tears and said I was fine.

The tears weren’t about her, anyhow.

. . .

I was done rebounding and off Tinder by the New Year. I promised myself, as always, that I was done with online dating, but by the spring I was back on OkCupid. I met a few guys, but I slept almost every night in my own bed by myself and never wanted it to be any other way.

On a first date in May, my body said, “Oh, that’s my husband.”

I listened.

I slept in his bed once. After a few dates, he invited me to stay the night and I gladly accepted. He stays up late working, and I fell asleep on his living room floor waiting for him. He woke me, took me to his bed, told me he would be there in a bit. He is quick, neat, and tidy; regimented and routined. I am none of those things, and I am always worried that I am messing things up, always worried that I am too much for him. It worked out well for me to go to bed first. I was able to get a feel for his home, his space, his bed: to find out for myself that there were no peas strewn about underneath this mattress.

But: I never told him what my body told me the first time we saw him.



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Theresa Okokon

Theresa Okokon is a yoga teacher, a storyteller, a nonprofit professional, and host of a nationally televised storytelling TV show. She is a student in the GrubStreet Memoir Incubator program, and this is her first publication. She Instagrams selfies, gorgeous cocktails, food porn, and pics about blackness and fatness at @ohh.jeezzz.