- The Bed of Metamorphosis
He says it's all one big bed anyway,
The whole fucking world. Sooner or later
All the lines of communication cross.—Stanley Plumly, "Sonnet"
Before I met Richard, my husband, I slept in many beds but belonged to none. Most often I slept in single beds, many of them unbearable. Here and there along the way I shared a bed, but the experience did not alter my transient life or essential solitude.
The only notable bed of my adulthood was the bed of metamorphosis.
It belonged first to my husband's oldest and best friend, Joel. Richard and Joel grew up together in Los Angeles in the fifties and sixties, went to the same schools, walked the same orange-tree streets, talking of girls, then of women, of Bergman, then of Buñuel movies. In the early seventies Joel and his girlfriend Gale bought the bed at a big indoor flea market on Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks, just a few blocks from where Richard lived. It was a waterbed, and on one of the pieces of plywood that formed the foundation for the mattress was written in red marker Natural enviornments only, a sign of the passion in its manufacture, and confusion in spelling. The plywood was supported by four lengths of pressboard, each notched in the middle so that two pieces, laid on edge, slid into one another to form an X. Four longer pieces of pressboard, painted black, made the outer base, and then on top was set a heavy frame of thick, rough-hewn pine, darkly stained, with a Spanish tile inlaid on the headboard and footboard. It all came apart and went back together again.
Joel and Gale hauled the bed up to Santa Barbara, where they were first students at the university and then joint dropouts. It was their bed, and they [End Page 61] lay down in it together in the small house they moved into. "We've finally got our waterbed inflated and slept-upon," Joel wrote to Richard, with a tone of domestic pleasure. But the residence in the house was short-lived: the relationship drained away, and Gale left the bed behind. They had bought it jointly, but she was not involved in its disposition. Stained with dark loss, it became anathema to Joel. He did not want to be reminded of the aborted love embodied in the bed, and he pushed it out the door and onto another sea. The bed passed to Richard and traveled back to Sherman Oaks. Joel, for the rest of his days, slept on a fold-up couch in the main chamber of his two-room apartment, tending the small garden in the backyard, loving no one, roses his only companions in living.
In the following years many women slept on the bed of metamorphosis. The bodies piled up. It moved to San Francisco, then from one apartment to another within the city. There the blue plastic mattress, with its unearthly sheen, was cold even in summer, and in the late seventies Richard switched to a foam mattress—the mattress I would later sleep on. Bricks were now needed at the corners to raise the frame off the ground. Over time the red ink on the plywood stained the foam, misspelling preserved.
By then Richard and the bed had moved to Seattle, where we—Richard, the bed, and I—all met. When I visited him in his studio apartment for the first time, our relationship was conducted across the bed's broad expanse. You couldn't ignore it: when you walked through the front door, there it was, two feet to your right, with a narrow passage between frame and wall. On the opposite side ran another narrow passage between bed and the bank of windows looking out to the street. On my first visit, I perched on a radiator by the window, sipping a cup of tea while Richard reclined on the bed. The next time I visited, he was folding laundry from a basket on the bed. We sprawled our bodies across the clean-smelling towels, socks, and folded white undershirts.
When Richard moved...