Back when I used to tell my famous bed story, I told it slowly. In my mind, its events needed to undulate like a flag filmed in slow motion on a windy morning in an old TV commercial for a losing presidential candidate. But from the first time I told my famous bed story, I sensed that no matter how carefully I orchestrated my story’s details, my listeners weren’t entirely satisfied. Where I expected head shakes, grins, and guffaws at the story’s lively absurdity, where I expected head shakes of comradeship with all I had endured, I saw a blankness, perhaps even hostility, I couldn’t quite interpret.
My famous bed story begins with my wife, B., telling me that I take up too much space in our bed. I expect the absurdity of this opening to be readily apparent to all who hear the story. I am a small person, so lacking in physical presence that I hesitate even to think of myself as a person. I rush to assure my listeners that throughout the course of the bed story, I will be entirely objective in my description of our relative physical space. I tell my listeners about my attention to the width of our bed. I describe my pains to measure the percentage of that width I occupy and ensure it is less than half of the total width. I recount my attention to my legs, lest they stray past that boundary; perhaps my knees, when I lie on my side facing B. and bend my legs, extend past their allotted space. In the story, I recount how each night, before I go to sleep, I remind myself to be very careful during the night to maintain my position, I tell how sometimes I wake up in the night and check to see that my body has not strayed past the center of the bed. A detail I am particularly proud of in my bed story, one I always expect to elicit gasps of glee, is my study every morning of the indentations on the mattress and the patterns of wrinkles on our sheets, both of which indicate that I am keeping to my side of the bed. Nonetheless, most mornings B. tells me that the night before I was bothering her, that I was in her space. In a burst of unexpected camaraderie, B. and I attack the problem together: We buy a wider bed. The first morning after the first night in the new, wider bed, B. tells me that I take up too much space in our wider bed, too. This is one of the story’s several intended punch lines, but the audience reaction never amounts to much. I suspect I could refine the wording, weight the sentence more toward the final couple of words. However, I have more confidence in the next part of the story, in which I describe my increasingly desperate efforts to reduce my presence in the bed, positioning myself further and further toward the edge until I am barely not falling off, my knees and elbows actually hanging over the side, like Wile E. Coyote after he has unknowingly dashed off a cliff’s edge and hangs there before plummeting to the canyon’s bottom. I really like this image, and once in a while, I do see someone in my audience crack a smile, although it’s possible the smile is merely a response to how hard I am selling this part of the story. At this point, I usually become aware that my famous bed story has no end. Sometimes I just finish with the Wile E. Coyote part. Sometimes I improvise a closing reminder of the absurdity of the original claim of my bed-hogging, just something to signal that the story is over. But no matter what, my listeners just stare at me, and I am left with the task of shifting our conversation to a new and less perplexing topic.
When I sat down to write this piece I had a hazy ending in mind. Something like this: I would realize that what my audience found so confounding was the passiveness and compliance of my response, the absurdity that I did not finally make some bold statement asserting my right to half the bed. What I did not consider, however, was another possible ending: just how loathsome B. found it to share a bed with me, and with that revelation, the understanding of just how much of a failure my famous bed story, and I as its teller, has always been and will always be.