Orienteering

Emily Stoddard

My husband wants a king-sized mattress. Our friends try to convince us to buy the biggest Sleep Number that we can. “Best money we’ve spent. The last mattress you’ll have to own!” they promise.

I’m cautious to admit that I don’t want to be so far from my husband every night. My sentimentality is one of my favorite secrets. A king-sized mattress is nothing but two twin mattresses hitched together. Two countries with a friendly border, but enough space on their own sides that they never have to test it.

The truth is that our current queen-sized mattress has history. No borders of its own to care for, it has held us as we test others. We bought it on our first day living in San Francisco, when we arrived with four suitcases between us. We took the bus to a mattress store on Geary Boulevard. It was raining, which felt inconvenient at the time. The drought had yet to train me to be sentimental for the rain as much as everything else.

It was on our San Francisco mattress that I declared: a good marriage is a lifelong slumber party. The ratio of lovemaking to tears is better on this mattress than any of my others. This is where I discovered that my husband laughs in his sleep. Some people say a drunk mind reveals a sober heart. I believe a sleeping mind reveals a waking heart. I snapped up, smiling in the dark next to him, when I learned that his waking heart is laughter.

This mattress has seen an earthquake. It’s where I first noticed a sliver of the Pacific Ocean nested between buildings outside our bedroom. It’s where, five weeks into our move, I sat to call my grandmother and say happy birthday and that the city is beautiful and that this might be where we belong. It’s where, early the next morning, the phone buzzed until I woke up. It was my mother, frantic with, your grandma died in her sleep, and, please come home.

This mattress is where dreams began to fog me in. They grew dense with symbols and gestures and loops around sugar maple trees, as baffling as my sixth grade orienteering class. My infant niece appeared in one, perched on my lap and wearing heavy goggles. I discovered I was wearing goggles too, and we laughed at our orbed eyes, until she removed her goggles abruptly. Like an exchange, she stared: Now you. Now let’s really see each other. The spin of love wound me, but I refused to take off my goggles. Her eyes assessed me. She knew something that I was not yet ready to know. I shocked myself awake with a sob as deep as the miles between California and Michigan.

What does it mean that I’ve never laughed in my sleep, but I cried under the gaze of a niece two thousand miles away? I sat up in the dark and considered my waking heart. As urgent and untethered as an early morning phone call. A satellite repositioning itself toward closeness.

Last night my husband and I fell asleep with our knees touching, on our San Francisco mattress in our new Michigan home. I thought about distances traveled, how miles on a map are measured in inches and how that’s always been disorienting to me—the scale of what’s true. I rubbed my toes against his, to collapse the space once more.

Author Portrait

Emily Stoddard writes poetry, essays, and the occasional short story. Her writing has appeared in Menacing Hedge, Cactus Heart, An Alphabet of Embers, Big Scream, and elsewhere. As a certified leader of the Amherst Writers & Artists Method, she founded the writing studio Voice & Vessel. She leads writing workshops and offers creative support in Michigan and online.

View the website of Emily Stoddard