The following piece of creative nonfiction is part of a series I started on my personal blog a few years ago called “Alphabet: A History,” which is a collection of short, autobiographical vignettes, focusing mainly on relationships (familial, romantic, platonic, and self).
Alphabet: A History (M) Mattress
It’s June, 2004 and I’m moving into a 1-bedroom apartment on Winnemac Street. I’m a ten-minute walk from the park in one direction, a ten-minute walk from the lake in the other, and I’m right around the corner from the Hopleaf. It’s the first time I’ve lived alone in almost four years, so I’ve bought a new mattress to honor the occasion. It’s a Sterns and Foster, which is the only kind my mom said is worth getting.
It’s hot and I’m wearing a t-shirt and underwear while I paint the place and wait for my mattress to be delivered (none of my other furniture is here yet). I’m painting the kitchen the color of a watermelon because the black and white splash board reminds me of seeds. I paint my living room mocha, my bathroom light purple, my dining room apple green, and my bedroom a golden yellow. I don’t have AC, but I’ve got the ceiling fans on high and all the windows open. I’m playing a song by Wheat called “I Met a Girl” over and over on my little CD player and I dance around my empty apartment, barefoot over the newly-varnished hardwood floors.
A year and a few months later, after another date that leads to nowhere, I spend an evening lying on the same floor, staring at the ceiling, listening to Mazzy Star’s “Halah” on repeat. It’s getting cooler now, the bars and cafes have moved their outdoor tables and chairs to wherever it is they keep these things in the winter. I ride my bike around aimlessly, with the left leg of my jeans rolled up, my blue jacket zipped to my neck. I eat mussels for two at the bar at the Hopleaf, sharing my meal with a rotating cast of friends and forgettable dates, most of whom I meet online these days. Saturday mornings I spend at the bookstore, a stack of magazines and a small skim latte by my side.
I adopt a kitten from the shelter where I volunteer a few hours a week. He’s a grey striped tabby with a big white belly, and I take him home and name him Miles. My last boyfriend was allergic to cats and I wait over six months after we break up to get another one just in case he decides he wants me back. He doesn’t, and it’s for the best. I give Simone extra love now so she won’t get jealous. We feel like a family.
In the winter, Miles grows four times his size, easily twice as big as Simone. He likes to sit in the living room window, watching the courtyard and street below, occasionally making little twittering sounds when he sees something he wants to chase.
I have a new song I listen to over and over. It’s called “Girl in a Hood” and it makes me think of living under water for some reason, floating through life in slow-motion. I lie on my bed, on my Sterns and Foster mattress, and sing along to some of the lyrics. “I wanted to ask you to run away…”
I live in this apartment longer than I live anywhere else my whole life — three years and four months. The ceilings are too short, the layout is awkward, and I don’t like the bathtub, but leaving it is bittersweet. It’s mine, and when I go, I know it’ll be the last place that ever is. I bring my bed with me to New York, I move it into my boyfriend’s place, we get married, the bed seems small. I think back to my watermelon kitchen, the kitten who grew four times his size, my Saturday mornings at the bookstore, and I think: maybe it’s time for something bigger now.