November 27, 2009
Growing up with scoliosis, I was no stranger discomforts with my back. The first time I threw my back out was in 1996. I was 14 years old, a freshman in high school and on top of the puffy cheeks from braces, puffy acne from my dad, and puffy hair from God only fucking knows where, I had to make due with the spine of a brittle old woman.
Once I was diagnosed it wasn't that big a problem. I went to the chiropractor once in a while when I would feel the pinch and he gave me daily exercises to ignore. It wasn't like I had to wear any metal back braces or anything- it just sort of sucked when I twisted the wrong way or lifted a box incorrectly and had to deal with the incredulous looks of teachers or employers when I told them that I, a seemingly virile high schooler, could not continue just now, because I "have a bad back." Lazy!
As an adult, it hasn't been so bad. Once my spine fully formed into it's final not-too-too-twisty ess shape, I have been able to continue in my life with relatively few problems. One problem that has remained constant however is the question sleeping arrangements, especially when I travel.
A mattress too hard or too soft will create or perhaps just exacerbate an intense tension in the lower lumbar muscles and I can't stay in one position longer than 5 minutes without getting what I would describe as essentially a charlie horse in my lower back.
On one of my first stays at a former girlfriend's apartment, I remember having this problem and she offered me a back massage. While it was a kind offer, after a half hour of lumbar torture, lying in the same position, but not wanting to hurt her feelings, the pain was such that I was forced to ask her to stop so I could just get up and walk it off.
Nowadays, the worst I deal with are my trips to my parents house. The beds they put in my room when I moved out have single mattresses with so little wear and such thickness that I need to hop up in order to sit down on them. My feet don't touch the ground. They are quite stiff, and I do my best not to sleep on them. It's gotten to the point that if the whole family is home at the same time on Christmas or Thanksgiving I will sleep on the nice soft couch cushions in front of the fireplace in the living room like some decrepit blind old family dog.
My favorite bed in my parents house is Devon's bed. His room is darkest, with thick curtains and contains my niece's crib and white noise machine, which I set to tropical rain forest and slip away from the stresses and worries of the day. The bed itself was my great-grandmothers and is at least 200 years old. It being so old, it was not built to any standard size and is somewhere between full and queen I think, but shorter in length. This being the case, traditional mattresses will not fit it, so it still has the sagging, newspaper and straw filled grain-sack that came with it some two centuries ago. Upon laying down on the bed, you immediately roll to the middle and sink so deeply in, you are almost unable to see over the edges of the mattress. This is a comfortable bed.
Whether due to the uncomfortable bus seats, or lugging a full duffel bag from Red Hook to the Port Authority, sometimes the Amish bed doesn't work for me and I must travel down the hall to my brother Charles' room. He has a more modern mattress, I think it's a full. It basically helps only in it being a dramatic change in support from the old bed and I'm able to squeeze another hour of sleep in before the muscles begin to throb once more.
There are the occasions however, when neither bed seems to do the trick and unable to sleep for lack of a position that does not greatly discomfort me, I find myself wrapped up in blankets like an old dog on the floor of living room - or if the ashes in the fireplace have gone cold, the floor of the den, where a small electric heater warms me as I sleep for the few more hours until the rays of morning sun come pouring in through the shadeless windows.