Through part of my childhood when I was a kid, I slept on a mattress that was made of 100% foam. It wasn’t like the mattresses we see today. The ones that have seven layers of heaven – springs, padding, memory material, air pockets, water and gel. The ones that are now over a foot and a half thick. Mattresses today are really something else – something wonderful – and something very different than the mattress I slept on for a few seasons during my younger years.
I’m not sure why I remember that mattress so well. I’m also not sure where it came from. I think my parents had a good idea one day while browsing the aisles of a bedding store. They most likely tried the foam square for themselves and after quickly realizing they had made a horrid mistake, they pawned it off on their poor, unsuspecting son.
It was no bother to me. I actually happened to like that mattress. It wasn’t until after sleeping on it for a few months did it begin sinking in the middle, creating sort of a “valley” or “trough” of sorts. But really, I was a kid and kids took what was handed to them. Who was I to complain about being the recipient of an almost brand new mattress? One that was given to me simply because it didn’t meet the tastes of someone or someone(s) else?
It isn’t all too difficult to remember – lying face down in my bed trying to sleep while hearing the squeak of my bedroom door being pushed slowly open. I was only nine years old – quite a long time ago. I honestly don’t know how I remember these things so clearly, but I do. The door was squeaking and on the other side of it stood my mother. She had her hand resting softly on the brass doorknob and was pushing the door forward little by little in an attempt to sneak her head through the small space she was creating.
The mattress I happened to be lying on was terribly uncomfortable. It was queen sized and, like I mentioned above, it was fabricated of pure unadulterated foam. And as I also mentioned above, there were no pocketed coils on the inside and it hadn’t any of the firm edges we see on the more luxurious mattresses of today. If you weren’t careful or if you were an excessive roller, by morning you could find yourself crumpled on the cold hardwood floor below. It wasn’t very old at all, but it had quickly proved inadequate for my parents. After they had quite enough of it for themselves, they replaced it and handed it down to me.
There I lay, on a sunken mattress at only nine years old, being forced to listen to the noisy result of a hinge no one had ever bothered to oil. My mother was pushing the door open for a reason none other than to follow through with a belief she held – a belief that said; if she was up for the day, I should be up for the day too. In fact, once the sun began its daily rise, according to my mother, everyone on the planet should follow. Unfortunately, I was the only one my mother had control over. If I had been a factory hand who had worked the third shift, I should be awake. If my head had hit the pillow just a few moments earlier, I should be awake. If I hadn’t slept in three long days, I should be awake.
It was seven in the morning and while I was used to being woken up at this ungodly hour, I’ll tell you this – I certainly didn’t like it. Why was I being woken up? For what reason? I’m sure those are good questions – ones my mother would’ve been all too happy to answer for me. Because if I didn’t get out of bed – well, that would just be a sin.
Now wouldn’t it?
It’s a good thing I was only nine years old and I didn’t have that job at the factory working the third shift. I simply liked to stay up late, so I know it was my own fault for being so tired in the morning. I knew I was expected to hop out of bed at seven, and if I didn’t, I would hear that god awful squeak of my bedroom door being pushed slowly open, the door with those odd wooden slats towards the bottom which allegedly let the heat in during the night.
“Honey, time to get up.”
“Can you please go away?”
“Honey, rise and shine.”
“Mom, I’m serious. Please go away.”
“Honey, your father needs your help outside. It’s time to get up.”
“Mom, I’m going to say this once more. Go away.”
“Get up now.”
I eventually and grudgingly rolled off that miserable foam mattress. I moaned to myself and thought of everyone else. My friends slept in late most of the time. In fact, they slept so late that they rarely meandered from their bedrooms before noon. And they woke to the smell of bacon and eggs. Why, I repeatedly asked myself – why was I expected to rise and shine at seven in the morning while the rest of my friends had their parents sitting at their bedsides, running their fingers through their hair, quietly whispering that they should enjoy their beauty sleep. Enjoy it because they had a busy day ahead of them relaxing by the pool or riding motorcycles or going to the mall with their friends.
Why should I enjoy getting up that early and actually cooperate with the whole thing? Why should I willingly agree to something so absurd? And why was it that my mother constantly led me to believe that the whole thing had to do with some sort of a moral obligation? – a moral obligation that I would never understand. And seriously, I was nine years old. What could my father possibly need my help doing?
So I got up and walked around a bit, wandering about in my pajamas. A few minutes went by and I was heading for the kitchen to get myself something to eat when my father walked inside. He came in through the garage door like he always did and I heard those distinctive, slow paced steps across the hard playroom floor, like I always did. It made me cringe. It made me cringe because every single time, without a doubt, that my father saw me between the day I was born and the day I moved out, he would ask me to do something.
And he really would ask too. He would say something like, “Hey, since you aren’t doing anything, why don’t you go outside and stack some wood?” But then he would follow the asking with telling. He would say something like, “Hey, go stack some wood.”
You may have guessed – my father liked firewood.
As I got older, I would answer my father when he asked me to do things. He would ask why I wasn’t stacking wood and I would give him a clever response that made only too much sense – to me. I would tell him that I was finishing up my dissertation on the language barriers of Latin American immigrant households living in northern New York. I would give him reasons like that followed by a big lazy grin that, looking back, probably should have earned me a punch in the jaw.
But he wouldn’t do that. He wouldn’t punch me in the jaw. He would simply look at me with those dark eyes and that black curly hair of his and tell me to get the hell outside and stack the damn wood.
I usually complied, but I’ll tell you right now that it got tougher and tougher as I got older. I got taller and taller and stronger and stronger. My interests grew and my mind changed. I found that as time progressed, the art of stacking wood become less and less interesting. I began finding ways of avoiding my father every time he came roaming around looking for someone to bark an order at. I hid in my room, pretended I was in the bathroom or, at times, simply scrambled out the back door the minute I heard those familiar footsteps hitting that playroom floor.