My brother and I are twins, and when we were growing up, we slept in the same room, in matching twin beds. Twin beds are 38 inches wide by 75 inches long, which is plenty enough for kids who haven’t yet reached their adolescent growth spurts. When I was very little, I used to roll out of bed in my sleep, and my parents put up bumpers along the sides. Eventually, I learned to stay within bounds.
The shared space meant sharing habits as well. Sometimes my brother and I had conversations, in the juvenile philosophical mold—what happens after you die, are colors the same for everyone, and so on (the same questions philosophers debate as adults, really). Mostly, though, we would lie there in the dark and listen to cassette tapes. We checked them out from the public library, which had standup comedy from the 70s and 80s and radio serials from the World War II era—there was, for some reason, an ample collection of tapes of The Jack Benny Program, one episode per side, and we made our way through all of them. There were also a few tapes we owned ourselves that we listened to repeatedly. We would deliberate on what to put on and then bide our time through bouts of early onset insomnia.
One of our favorite tapes was called 600 Words You Need to Know! and consisted of dramatic or humorous vignettes. Each one included vocabulary words announced by sound effects related to the story, which were defined in a boring debriefing after the episode’s completion. The segments I remember include a soap opera, “High School University,” a Julia Child parody, “The Furious Cook,” and a story, the title of which I can’t recall, about a man who is searching for a legendary lost explorer named Vladimir Sam De La Como. I promise this existed, though I wouldn’t get my hopes up about finding it online.
By the time my brother and I were teenagers, our parents moved us into our own bedrooms, but we kept the same beds. I stopped growing at around 16, leaving me at my current height of 5 feet and 9 and ¾ inches, which is pronounced 5’ 10” in verbal conversation. But up until I left home, I had no trouble sleeping in a twin bed.
I left for college when I was 18. My dorm also had a twin bed. On one of my first evenings there, during freshman orientation, I took some acid and had a bad trip. I retreated from dormitory teambuilding activities and spent a sleepless night in my twin bed, believing I was being watched by a giant spider and seriously questioning my sexuality for the first and only time in my life. It was not a smooth start to adulthood, but in retrospect it seems like a fitting one.
We hadn’t planned on it, but my brother and I had ended up going to the same college. Our sophomore year, we lived in the same apartment, for the sake of convenience. For the first time, I had a queen bed. A full bed, also called a double bed, has the dimensions of two twin beds pushed together, but a queen bed gives you six more inches of width and a foot and change more length. It was a clear improvement: leg room, freedom of movement, ampler cool spots. But as often as not, I would absentmindedly go out into the living room at night and sleep on the couch, which was smaller than a twin bed.
The next few apartments I lived in were furnished with queen beds. I never stayed in any of those places very long. When I moved to Brooklyn, I lived in an apartment in a former tenement building that couldn’t have been much larger than a king-size bed itself. I had a twin bed, and for the first time, it started to feel uncomfortable. I had to bend my waist and curl my knees and keep my arms forcibly at my sides. It also began to seem inadequate for receiving overnight visitors, not something anyone worries about in college, but which causes increasing embarrassment and logistical trouble the older you get. I eventually upgraded to a larger room with a full bed, but I stayed in that building until it burned down, in a fire caused by negligent electrical wiring.
That day, I heard the fire alarm go off, and I thought to myself, the people on the second floor must have forgotten to change the batteries again. I’d sometimes been compelled to do this for them in the past. This is the worst thing that could possibly have happened today, I thought to myself. I decided to bring it up and talk about it like adults. I went up the stairs and opened the door and was blasted with a thick jet of hot black smoke, like in a cartoon.
Three hours, seven fire trucks, and eight broken windows later, the fire was out and the building was destroyed. I watched from the sidewalk, shivering in the pajamas I’d been wearing before running outside. My room had been mostly untouched by the flame itself, but the process of extinguishing it had caused irreparable damage. The ceiling had caved in, and the floor was flooded with water and soot. The furniture, including the bed, was wrecked. The fire chief paced back and forth overlooking the ruins, and cheerfully commented, “It’s like I always say—if the fire doesn’t get ya, the fire department will!”
A home, as George Carlin put it on a tape I listened to as a kid, is really just a place for your stuff. I’d lost most of my stuff. When I had to buy new stuff to replace it, I decided to get a decent bed, for once in my life. I was in my thirties now, after all, and had been through at least one objectively traumatic event. When I found a new apartment, I measured my room in exacting detail and figured out a layout that would hold both a queen bed and a reasonably sized desk.
When both of them were delivered, I found that they didn’t fit. The foot of the bed exerts pressure on one leg of the desk, no matter how much I adjust them. I live in fear that one of these days, the weight of the bed will snap the leg of the desk in half.
In spite of the lack of structural integrity, it’s pleasant having a queen bed, for all the same reasons I discovered the first time I had one. It’s also a dangerous temptation. One is more likely to waste a whole morning, or for that matter a whole day, in a queen bed. I’ve become accustomed to them now, and make use of every inch, as often as possible.
These days, when we stay at our childhood home, my brother and I have switched places. We didn’t decide on it deliberately, it just sort of ended up this way. He stays in my room and I stay in his. It’s the same twin bed in there, and every time I try to sleep in it, I lie awake for hours worrying I’ll fall off the edge.