07 September, 2009

The Miracle Mattress

It was like Christmas: I returned from a particularly interminable workday to discover that, in my absence from the cell, someone had not only remade my bed, they'd actually replaced it. A new mattress! What I'd left was an amorphous wafer of aging foam, covered in tan tarpaulin, but what I came back to was a spongy new slab, twice as thick as its predecessor. This sort of miracle ranks right up there with discovering an image of Jesus burnt into your French toast, or that elves have cobbled you a lovely new pair of shoes as you slept.

Mind you, in the twenty-two years before I was abducted by the state, I slept in a fair number of uncomfortable spots. Among them were train station platforms, classrooms, strangers' floors, and even — once — a parking garage. None of these, though, were long-term arrangements. None wreaked the chiropractic havoc I've known from my prison mattresses. Waking with a headache or pinched nerve from daring to sleep on your side is common, as is flopping around in the deep hours to find the sweet spot — a position that won't put your kneecaps to sleep.

My bed — my bed: the one I owned for three and a half years of serendipitous somnolence — was a king-size Serta. About it, one uncompensated reviewer declared, "The most comfortable bed I've ever slept on." "Soooo comfy!" exclaimed another. And certainly there was room aplenty. I'm no big sleeper; I don't sprawl, as a rule. The freedom to loll, or lie crossways sometimes, on a whim, and occupy different space is nevertheless a pleasurable thing. Plus, reclining with a good book, with my cats occupying their own regions of that pillow-topped plane — independent but proximal, like a pride in the African wilderness — was nice.

The downgrade to a heinously uncomfortable single was shocking. Compared to the other assorted travesties of my imprisonment, my sleeping accommodations are far from topping the list of the worst. This hasn't stopped me cursing with deep sincerity each of my 3,011 restless nights.

Of the 1,500 beds at Crossroads Correctional Center, my cellmate and I won the mattress lottery. Only fifty were delivered. I spied the difference immediately, and not just for my cellmate's valiant failure at putting my bedding back to the military crispness I fold and tuck into it. The new mattresses we few were issued dwarf the old ones. They're actually square-edged (no more shapeless lumpenness for me!) and lack those rips, holes, and burrs that sometimes worked their way through the sheet to poke me awake.

I wanted to jump up and down on it. Lacking that kind of headroom, however, I contented myself with hopping atop it. I did that stupid open-handed rub-and-push motion that people do in mattress showrooms the world over, and in those late-night mattress commercials. You know the ones. As if a good indicator of how well I'd sleep on it was how quickly it reformed after a gentle press! Under my weight, the sheets stretched loose of their tucks and receded, exposing the mattress's soft gray cover. To contend with the unexpected thickness, I realized I'd have to make my bed differently now. A trade-off, then, but an eminently fair one.

The rest of the day, I walked around thinking of bedtime. I was like a kid who couldn't wait to get home from school and play with his new remote-controlled car. Maybe it wasn't exactly like Christmas. Close enough, though. Really close. And around here, I'll take what I can get.