You’ve done it: You met someone somewhere, somehow. You cajoled them into bed, hopefully without one of you playing guitar for the other. Then, after pleasuring each other as best you could, the two of you collapsed into one, sweaty, breathless heap. Now, with your chests heaving, you’re staring at the ceiling. You're pretty sure the person tangled in your arms is voting for Hillary. They sit up and reach for their phone. “What are you doing?” you ask, seizing the moment to grab your phone, too, which, hard in your hand, feels better than sex. They settle back into their spot on the bed and, with a yawn, explain that they're “just setting an alarm.”
Well, shoot. You knew this might happen. You knew they might stay the night. But still. They’re so casual about it. They plan to sleep with you, as if that’s not invasive, as if it's entirely ordinary — I mean, what else would they do? Certainly not go back to their apartment, hotel room or commune, to the comfort of their own bed.
But still. You did dry runs to prep for this. At the behest of a sliding-scale therapist, you piled pillows next to you to simulate a hulking bedmate, but you couldn’t adjust to its presence, as much of a catch as the pile of pillows was. Your grandparents slept in separate beds, separate rooms, even, and sure, they both reached for pen and paper and then decided against it right before they died, but other than that it seemed to work out just fine!
Sleep is privileged, personal, private. It is a time when you're at your worst. You sweat buckets. Your mouth dries up like you’ve eaten old chalk. Your eyes crust over and your nose fills with soft-serve boogers. Not to mention the staccato burps, brassy farts and deep legato snores — the person next to you has a ticket to the Bobby McFerrin concert and it’s too late to scalp it.
And that’s the scenario if you actually fall asleep. Once you turned 30, life's big questions started keeping you up at night. (Who are you, Plato? Knock it off.)
Now, every night, you gobble melatonin and valerian root. You guzzle tea and wine. You breathe the way an app taught you to. But still, your mind races. You steer the REM plane down the runway, only to get a little air and touch ground again, and once you're airborne, you're only taking domestic flights — nothing international, nothing on which they’d serve a meal, let alone two.
Your guest goes to pee and gargle your roommate’s mouthwash. They walk back in, naked and all smiles. They put an arm around you and zoom up behind you. They mouth-breathe on your shoulder and kiss it. “Goodnight,” they say.
“Night,” you reply, correctively, because it won’t be good.
You lie there, motionless, restricted to one location and position, with their arm around you a merciless warden. Your guest laughs, slightly “You run hot, don’t you,” they say in your ear. “Your back is like a furnace.”
“Then get off of it,” you reply, and they do. Finally, a modicum of freedom. A small footprint in which you can rotate like a rotisserie chicken. Literally, some wiggle room.
You worry you were too severe, but they seem to have accepted it and perhaps they even agree: Sleep is not the time for closeness. It’ll just make more sweat. You always see those couples clinging to each other, hopping through museums in each other’s arms like they’re in a potato sack race you weren’t lucky enough to enter. There is a time and a place for physical proximity; you’re more than happy to cuddle during a pleasure exchange, or a crisp hayride, or when someone’s family heirloom is pronounced worthless on Antiques Roadshow — you know, when you’re really turned on. But not in bed! That’s too close, too constant. You want to miss them. You want to long for their touch, not languish under it.
Glancing over your shoulder at your guest, you watch their head settle into the pillow, and you rage at how your bed has so willingly accepted a foreign body. It stings. One by one, you dismiss all the songs angling to be the one to get stuck. You roll onto your side. You roll onto your stomach. You roll onto your back and close your eyes. You count your breaths like sheep. In your mind, you walk down the path behind your childhood vacation cottage. You think about your guest.
It feels about as likely to have another person sleeping in your bed as it does a giraffe, or ten old refrigerators crushed into a cube by the city and dropped there. You stare at them like you’re E.T. What if they're getting subpar sleep but stayed anyway? Something is gained in the sharing of a bed, you suppose. Someone close by to read with, beg massages of, grab in case of a medical emergency. Someone who might have a medical emergency. You wonder how you’d hack it, whether you’d rise to the occasion or crumble into soap flakes. The latter, you realize, would truly be you at your worst. You’d hate to see anything befall this person. They’re nice, they’re funny, and, as you mentioned, voting for Hillary (you’re fairly sure). They’re also younger than you but still an empathic kisser, a member of the last generation of good kissers, raised still spinning a few bottles and not just swiping left and right.
You zoom up behind them and put an arm around them. You palm the fur on their stomach, which inflates and deflates like a balloon. Their throat gurgles with mucus.
You mouth breathe on their shoulder and kiss it. They stir but don’t awaken.
By the time morning comes and their alarm goes off and they rub their eyes to look at you and open their dry, chalky mouth to say to you, “Good morning,” you haven’t slept a wink and you’ve come to miss them terribly and Jesus Christ, fuck-fuck, what now?