Mental Illness

Caregiving: Pillow Talk

It’s been too long. Cushions everywhere and wrapped up in a blanket, I feel like I could sink into sleep far too easily. Come, it’s late, there are more blankets. Quilt, comforter, fleece, wool. Cushions and pillows, too. The blinds are down and curtains are drawn. There’s the patter of three sets of paws looking for supper. The hour is late and I can’t bring myself to climb the stairs to go to bed. To give in to the day’s aches as my head sinks into the pillow. I can’t. Not yet.

Where to start? Missing him. That’s where it starts. That’s where it ends. I miss him. Every night. The heat of his body; a warmth that is so entirely his. The rise and fall of his chest. The safety of him beside me. We’ve been sleeping apart for months. Months that have slid into years.

I’m used to pulling the blankets close now. The gap where they bridged our bodies is gone. The space of cooler air our hands would cross no longer there. We used to fall asleep somehow intertwined. A foot that had snuck around a leg, an arm around a waist, hand in hand.

The church bells ring out sharper as the temperature drops. Time for bed. Time to help him get under the covers. Room for one. Budge up, I say. He moves over and I climb in beside him, stretching along the sliver of space. My head sinks into that sweet spot on his shoulder. I slip a leg between his. He moves my hand to his chest. I want to cry. I’m barely keeping my balance on the edge of the bed. I don’t want to go, I whisper. His hands grasp me tighter. His breathing is changing. He’s struggling to stay awake. It’s an exquisite kind of pain as I clamber out of the bed.

The duvet pulled up, our goodnights said, I turn out the lights. Retreating to the kitchen, his warmth fades. The lights glare in here. An audiobook talks quietly to itself from the table. Midnight creeps closer. The kitchen isn’t sparkling but it’s acceptable. I switch the lights off for the night, the audiobook, too. I don’t watch him sleeping. I can’t bear to. I climb the stairs and go into Juniper Junior’s room. He’s sound asleep. Books peek out from under his pillow, I tease them out and put them back in the bookcase. In our room, Little Juniper is sprawled across our bed. He isn’t the reason his dad and I sleep in separate beds.

The mattress is swathed in an obnoxiously bright pink sheet. There’s a beautiful quilt at the end of the bed, a duvet, too. Gifts from Mr. Juniper. Those first months crept past a year. The big wooden frame wasn’t our bed anymore. Hadn’t been our bed for a long time. It was the place I slept. Nothing more. Come upstairs, he said. His excitement, his happiness, was intoxicating. Waiting for me was a different bed. Same frame. Same nuts and bolts. Except colour now exploded across every inch. It was the first time I had smiled at the sight of our bed in months.

It was slow at first, the feeling that this was our bed. Then all at once it was our bed. I remembered this space. This little place in the world that was just ours. That night, I went to bed as close to happy as I could be without him. The reality becomes normality. We sleep apart. Disability dictates the terms. My comfort with the arrangement changes like the tide. I can justify why it’s simpler to sleep apart. I can be rational about why we live this way. He accepted it more easily than I did; he had no choice but to. For him, the necessity of the sleeping arrangements is inescapable. I don’t deny why. I don’t question the need. My pain over this separation doesn’t have to contend with any other internal war.

The spark of an idea begins to grow. Several Internet searches later and with help from a friend, I think I have stumbled on the perfect Hogswatch gift for Mr. Juniper. The parcel arrives within a few days. I dig out the partner to what I already have. I don’t wait until Hogswatch. Difficult days have passed. Little Juniper helps me to wrap. For you, I tell Mr. Juniper when he comes in. Had I not given into the urge to thrust the parcel at him, I might have had to time what I usually do. But no note of sweet nothings this time. Instead simply a gift wrapped in more tape than paper. I wanted to give this to him, just the two us. Perhaps for the best, Little Juniper’s presence diffuses the atmosphere. The tape defeated, the parcel unwrapped, out falls the bed linen. A duvet set by the same company that made my beautiful quilt. The pillow case that goes with mine, the one that should have been his all along, there too. It’s so we can share a bed again, I say quietly. When he hugs me, I’m close to tears. I’ve been missing him when he’s been here all along.

By Juniper

Rarely to be found without herbal tea nearby. Team Unicorn. Often in pyjamas. Also: TEAM KATNISS!

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