Saturday, May 22, 2010


For pretty much forty years, Ellie and I have been sleeping together in the same bed. Occasionally, true, we have found ourselves in situations—in hotels, for instance, or as guests in a friend’s home—we have slept in separate, but adjacent beds. There have been times, too, when either one of us has been on the road, away from home. But those occasions have been rare. Forty years times three hundred and sixty-five days equals… what? Fourteen thousand six hundred. Let’s say, then, that we have slept together at least fourteen thousand times.

I reflect on this because last night we slept in separate beds, in separate rooms. And no, we didn’t have a monumental row. We do have them, sometimes, but I can’t remember a single occasion when that has prevented us from ending up in our shared bed. No, the cause was different.

You see, I snore. I snore horribly, loud enough to shake the house, let alone to keep my poor wife awake.

It was perhaps fifteen years ago, on the occasion of a trip to Berlin and the uncommon luxury of staying in a luxury hotel—I need not go into the circumstances—that my snoring became intolerable. It ruined, for Ellie, what would otherwise have been a marvelous trip. The hotel pampered us. We had the opportunity to learn a great deal about the contemporary art scene in Berlin, one of the world’s great centers; to have some memorable meetings with world-renowned artists and collectors; and to visit not only the great art museums, but also some powerfully moving sites like the old Gestapo headquarters, still haunted by the spirits of those imprisoned and tortured there; Checkpoint Charlie and what remained of the Berlin Wall; and the then recently completed Holocaust Museum by the architect Daniel Libeskind.

All of which was ruined, for Ellie, by my snoring and her inability to get a decent night’s sleep. So on our return to Los Angeles, she prevailed upon me to do something about it. I had in fact gone to the Kaiser sleep clinic some while before, and had been diagnosed with sleep apnea. Without realizing it, I was waking more than thirty times a night for lack of breath. I learned at the time about the CPAP machine, a simple air pump with a sleeping mask that facilitates breathing. I had even given it a test run for a night, but was repelled by the necessity of having a mask over my face. Now, it seemed, the time had come to make another effort.

I have used the CPAP ever since. I do not like it. I sound like Darth Vader and look like Hannibal Lechter. But the damn thing works. I do not snore—except when the mask slips, which happens rarely enough not to be a serious problem. And I sleep a hundred times better. It still irks me to have to put the mask on my face every time I go to bed but recently, on those rare occasions when I have slept alone, I have learned that the quality of sleep is not the same without it.

So last night—to get back to my story—I prepared for bed and discovered that the clip that holds the soft plastic cover in place, to form a seal and provide a modicum of comfort, had somehow gotten disconnected from the mask. I searched the bedside drawer where I keep the mask. Nothing. I searched the floor around the bed. No. I searched through the bed linen… No plastic clip. I wash the mask often, and leave the component parts out in the garden to dry, so I wondered if the clip had dropped off there, and went out to look. I even checked in the container where our weekly gardener piles the swept leaves. No luck.

I decided eventually to try sacrificing comfort, tightening the straps that hold the mask in place to try to seal it that way; but as soon as I laid my head down, it became clear that air was leaking all over the place. Worse, the whole apparatus started to whistle alarmingly. After a few minutes, it was clear that there was no choice: I would have to go to the guest room to sleep.

Not a happy situation. I did not sleep well without my sleeping aid. In the middle of the night, George must have noticed I was missing, because he trotted into the guest room, where the bed is a shade to high for an easy leap, and demanded to be helped up. Ellie woke, distressed to have been abandoned not only by her husband but, now too, her dog. But the mishap did offer me the opportunity to reflect a bit on the fact I alluded to at the outset—that we have slept together, in one bed, for all these years.

As Ellie said, this morning, sleeping like this is surely part of the glue that holds a couple together. It’s not just about the sex—though that is of course a part of it, but one that does not need to be discussed here! Aside from the sex, there’s love at stake, and compromise. And sacrifice. There’s an accommodation involved in sharing a bed, which requires the actual, physical surrender of some personal space. So it’s about the bond of intimacy that grows, over the years, from sharing a proximity that tolerates all the farts and (well, mostly) the snores, the dreams and nightmares, the restless stirrings and the depths of a sound sleep. It’s a sharing that we rarely register consciously, but one that must surely have a profound effect on the unconscious mind, where so much that is important in our lives takes place.

There’s also a kind of exclusivity involved: in all these years, I have not shared a bed with anyone else—except George, of course, and over the years a few other sundry dogs and cats. Bed is the place of ultimate recourse, the place of recuperation and, when needed, of healing those mutually-inflicted wounds—often without words—by sheer proximity. So last night proved to be one of those “gifts wrapped in shit” that I often write about, offering both of us a moment to reflect on the value of what we have shared over the years: the opportunity to sleep together.


robin andrea said...

I hope you find or replace the clip and get back into your shared bed with Ellie. I think of what it means to sleep next to Roger every night quite often. There is a safety and a comfort that is immeasurable. Sometimes I reflect that as a twin, I wasn't even alone in the womb. A body close to mine is my heart's expectation.

TaraDharma said...

I used a machine for awhile and found I could not sleep with it. I'd take it off in my sleep several times a night. Dont use it anymore, the SA seems to have gotten better with weight loss. I sleep with my snoring dogs and cats, and they give great comfort. My wife and I can only sleep in separate rooms -- we've tried over the years to share a bed, but lack of sleep is a relationship killer. It's nice to know she's just down the hall, sleeping like a log.

Anthony said...

Hi Peter: Liz and I smiled at your post. I've had a CPAP for many years, but only used it regularly for the last few. When we got married she insisted I wear it "for my health" and honestly I've never had a problem with it - I now have the newer smaller version and it's been great, the nosepiece I have that just sits over my mustache allows me a lot of flexibility. Anyway, I hope you get sorted out soon!