Virtue & Mischief: Hearts and Bones


A couple of months ago, Krista and I took a brief vacation in Arizona. We considered leaving the children on their own while we were gone (not really), but the prospect of having to address the chaos and destruction we would return to was enough for us to enlist the assistance of Granny Amigo. Thus, our octogenarian wonder woman spent a few days at our house with her three grandchildren (a.k.a. “the miscreantal trio”), ensuring they made it to school on time, completed their homework, engaged in a handful of activities that did not involve pixels, ate at least one healthy meal a day, and refrained from burning the house down. It is no small miracle that she succeeded on all counts.

While staying at our home, she apparently took note of the fact that all of our beds were old, bowed, floppy, broken, dilapidated. A few nights on Krista’s and inverted U-shaped mattress (no amount of mattress flipping could turn that frown upside down) was surely the impetus for her unusually persistent and firm message: New beds for everyone. I’ll pay. You’re welcome.

And so this past Saturday morning Krista and I stripped each bed as we awaited the arrival of the good gentlemen with strong backs from the furniture store. They knocked on our front door a few minutes after 10:00 a.m. and begin the considerable work of hauling our mattresses and box springs down the staircase and out of the house, ultimately compiling an altar of old beds on our front lawn next to their box truck.

I looked out the living room window and considered the menagerie of steel springs, cotton, and polyurethane foam. My goodness, what life had those beds witnessed! The agony and the ecstasy. The triumph and the tragedy. The fear, the loathing, the dread. How many times had I nestled with the boys in those beds late at night when they pleaded with me to protect them from the terrifying explosions of nearby lightning during a summer storm, wrapping their trembling bones in my arms as they finally succumbed to utter exhaustion? Once, as I tucked him in his bed at the end of a particularly trying day, sweet, mildly autistic Daniel asked me with pain in his voice, “Why is my brain like this?” We spent an hour talking, perhaps longer. I held him and clumsily expressed my love and assurance that he was special and precious and wonderful. I have done the same with Luke on his bed, after waging caustic and ugly battles of wills between us, skirmishes that have resulted in heavy casualties and much collateral damage, but which have seen victory in those late night embraces when apologies were issued, lessons learned/forgotten/relearned, and forgiveness given.

How many heart-to-hearts had Abby and I engaged in while lounging face-to-face on her bed? How many discourses on the vagaries of friendship, the intense frustrations that come with having brothers, and the mysteries of Algebra and her mother (not necessarily in that order)? My mother slept on that bed when visiting us in Missouri when Samuel, our first-born, arrived violently and months too early. Mom was with Krista and me on that early morning in the hospital when Samuel expired in my hands, his delicate body crushed and spent. That night she was lying on Abby’s bed, preparing to go to sleep, when I approached to thank her and say good

night. I was 40 years old at the time, and all I could muster between sobs was “Oh, mommy, help me. I’m broken.” She pulled me down gently and held me on that bed as she had when I was a toddler.

Which brings me to the 76 inch by 80 inch rectangle that lay that morning somewhat ignominiously on the grass next to our silver maple in the front yard, a sacred slab that Krista and I had shared for two decades. Oh, Lord, the dreams and nightmares we shared upon it. With apologies for exceeding the TMI quotient of this or any other Daily Advocate column, each of our four children were conceived there. It has “enjoyed” a front row seat to considerable human drama and the lion’s share of our most important and difficult conversations. Laughter, joy, shock, questions, confusion, pain (physical and psychic), convalescence (physical and psychic). Tears created, tears wiped away. Sound and fury. Silence and love. Twenty years of every breed of misery and delight, as well as the full array of human banalities. With apologies to Paul Simon, we took our two bodies and twirled them into one there. Our hearts and our bones. And they won’t come undone.

The fine men from the furniture set up our new beds—each spectacularly comfortable and significantly taller than their predecessors—and loaded up the old ones. They sped away with our foam-filled memory factories and, I presume, delivered them to a local landfill. Hours later I crawled under the covers atop our new bed and wondered what the next 20 years might bring. And I slept like a baby.

By Tim Swensen

Virtue & Mischief

Timothy Swensen is the author of the weekly column series Virtue and Mischief that is published every Tuesday in The Daily Advocate. He can be reached at [email protected]. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.

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