My wife and I disagree on the fundamental nature of our bed. I think of it as a comfortable place to sleep, or have sex, or maybe read a book when more than two cats have evicted me from the couch. She thinks of it as a glorious retreat for nourishing the spirit in a harsh and callous world. If we each described our bed as a kitchen appliance, she would say it’s a variable-speed immersion blender trimmed in ermine, while I’d say it’s a spatula. I don’t mean a colorful, heat-resistant plastic spatula. I mean a steel spatula with a black handle that your granny might use to cook potato pancakes that taste like paste.
Our house has a big linen closet. If I lived alone, that closet would contain one set of white sheets and 72 cubic feet of unused computer components dating back to 1996. The other set of white sheets would be on the bed, along with a mattress pad and a green woolen blanket that some Marine slept under during the Korean War.
Instead, I live with my wife, which is a good thing for me. But it means that my linen closet contains 27 fitted sheets and 36 flat sheets in colors ranging from periwinkle to russet. They come in solid, striped, and flower patterns, plus flannel sheets with jumping sheep on them. Not one of those sheets is white. We also have over 40 pillow cases, some of which aren’t the same color as any of the sheets, so we can have contrast. The linen closet population is rounded out by three mattress pads, nine blankets, four spare pillows, and a duvet that makes a wonderful nest for cats.
This staggering mass of linen is arranged so that you can locate any item within five seconds. That’s because the linen closet was organized by my wife.
When we change the sheets, after the mattress-flipping ritual, my wife generally spends a minute or two picking out the two different colored sheets (top and bottom) that will form the foundation of our bed environment for the next week or two. A bright, cheery color combination will make her happy to be in bed, so I’m glad she takes her time. Sometimes she asks me to pick out sheets, which can be a problem. By reflex I look in the linen closet for white sheets. When I don’t find them, I peer into the closet as if considering which video card to buy for my computer, while I wonder whether brown and purple go together. I’ve never admitted it to her, but I often just pick the colors of a professional football team. The Cleveland Browns’ team colors—brown and orange—might not be the most popular combination at my house, but they work.
My wife likes to sleep, and maybe that’s what this boils down to. She wants to adorn the bed so she’ll be happy spending time there. Eight hours of sleep makes her optimistic and productive. Seven hours of sleep makes her stoic and determined. Six hours of sleep makes her grumpy, and five hours of sleep makes her act like me. I hate sleep. I resent having to give up so much of my life to sleep, and if I could get away with 30 seconds of sleep a night I would. Sleeping is like being sent to the corner of your mom’s kitchen and then waiting to be released back to your life. When you’re sitting in the kitchen corner, between the refrigerator and a dusty sack of potatoes, you don’t care if the place is dressed up like Disneyland.
In the end, I understand why our bed is decorated like a sultan’s bathrobe. I don’t grasp it on an emotional level, but I understand that it makes my wife happy. That’s worth a lot, especially when I’m searching for a place to stash two dozen worthless motherboards and audio cards, and the pantry is looking pretty good.