When I look back at my divorce, I can tell you the exact worst moment. The children and I had been back and forth between our East Coast time-out, soon-to-be home, and the Midwestern hell that had housed my marriage and our family. I had FINALLY filed for divorce and made arrangements to retrieve many of our belongings after a year of sleeping on cots and living out of cardboard boxes and suitcases in hopes that Ex’s therapy might take, that he’d stay on the wagon, that we’d have something promising to return to.
We had hired four farm boys to load a U-Haul. Most dramatically, they loaded my great-grandmother’s seven-hundred-pound Harvard upright grand piano onto the truck using a special dolly and a ramp. Two days and 900 miles later, we hired movers to unload the things in our Virginia home. Those movers were pros (with back belts). There were four of them and when they unloaded the piano, each took a corner and simply hoisted it up the stairs, into the house, and into place. They didn’t need no stinking ramp, no stinking dollies. Everything else came too, including the boys’ oak captain’s beds.
That first evening with our belongings in the new house, we were knee-deep in cardboard box chaos and scrambling to get the beds together such that the children would have a place to sleep. Furniture break-down and assembly had never been my “department.” I was a novice and I lacked the necessary tools, but I was determined that my children would have a place to sleep that night. I asked my then seven-year-old son to help me by holding the pieces of the bed together while I secured the bolts, or rather—while I tried to secure the bolts.
In the end, I melted down as mothers should never do in front of children. I cried. I probably swore. My son was obviously moved. He said, “Mom, if you can hold this, I think I can get the bolts on this corner.” He was the night’s super-hero. The children had beds to sleep in because he assumed a role that had previously been his father’s, while I sniveled and held the joints together for him. No one really asked him to do it, but there was a need. He saw what was needed and he stepped up to save the day and I love those beds.
At bedtime earlier this week, my youngest son was admonished to put on warmer sleeping clothes, it’s wintertime. I was sitting on the edge of his bed, reading him the draft of the first piece I’ve ever written for the blog about him. He has never wanted me to write about him before, but has recently had a change of heart, witnessing the exchanges with his siblings over things I’ve written about them. He was hopping out of bed for more clothes. I said, “Chillax, it’s bedtime.”
Like a swimmer about to perform a scored dive: Bounce. Bounce. Crack.
The laptop leapt from my legs and I was thrown to the floor as one of the rails split away. (The laptop is fine. My arm has a nasty bruise, but nothing broken.) My youngest son was devastated, he began to cry. Guess who came to the rescue?
My eldest son helped me move the mattress to the floor so his brother would have a place to sleep. My eldest son got an extra blanket: “It’s colder on the floor.” He told his brother, “Hey, I don’t know what you’re feeling, but I can tell you’re upset. I don’t feel things like you do so I’m not as attached. You can have my bed. I can sleep on the floor.”
I thanked him and said it was kind. This boy, who can be such a pill, such a noodge, who can be so emotionally detached, can also be so perfectly compassionate. I have a feeling both boys would prefer I not tell you what happened next, so I won’t, but I will say it was beautiful.
My youngest son’s mattress remains on the floor while the bed awaits repairs. Our friend can fix it, but not as prettily and he had to order special brackets. Those beds have given my eldest son an opportunity to show his best self more than once. I love those beds.