When I was a kid, our parents dictated that we wash the sheets every two weeks, a routine so regular it was religion. When the designated Saturday rolled around, we’d aggressively strip the beds in the entire household and the washing machine ran in shifts until the afternoon when every linen set was warm and ready to return to its rightful mattress. Even though we kiddos knew how to make our beds, I’d beg my dad to apply the surgical precision of sheet tucking he’d acquired in the military, and when I’d slide under the covers that night it was like squeezing the last match in an already full box, so snug and tight I couldn’t move and didn’t want to because my whole body could rest in the ultimate physical feeling of security.
The religion of my small, sweet nuclear family now is every once in a while. When the covers feel slightly weighted from body oils, night sweats or too many bad dreams. We sense stale energy and that’s our gauge: time to wash the sheets. I remove all the pillows (always too many yet somehow not enough) and peel back the layers, folding the comforter and parking it in the oversized leather chair in the living room where it can double as the most magnificent cat bed in the meantime. The urgency this process possessed in my youth is gone and I take my time, making sure not to overwhelm our lovingly used top-load washer, mixing hand towels in with the pillowcases, throw blankets separately, sometimes running the sheets through twice for no reason at all. Maybe I leave the sheets in the dryer, sitting still overnight, or bring in the laundry basket filled with blankets as another cat bed option for Jaxy Panda, because, gawd knows, he could always use another snuggle cove.
For at least an earth’s rotation, we sleep with the bed laid bare. No sheets, no pillowcases, just freshly washed throws for cover. We got a little excited every time we decided to go an extra night without putting the sheets back on, like kids at a sleepover, our laid-back adult version of making a tent out of blankets. It was the ultimate treat, sleeping wild, stripped, back to basics, breaking all the rules. Laughing in the face of a sheet-washing schedule. We dared lay our heads on the pillow without the protective layer of a case. We let our mattress look like we had just moved in, boxes unpacked, no condiments in the fridge yet. Except we were fully settled and many salad dressings filled the fridge door cubbies. We kept a home and cleaned the floors. Pulled weeds. Filled bird feeders. Paid bills. All the schtuff indicative of adulting.
But we kindle our tiny rebellion, sleeping wild, for a night or two or three, now and again.
When we’ve sated our thirst for unencumbered mattress time, we pull the sheets and pad into the bedroom, Jaxy Panda jumping up on the open terrain to begin our bedmaking ritual. With me at one corner and The P.I.C. sprawled out at the head, he holds his side while I ripple the sheet with a continuous wavelike motion, creating an air bath of cave bubbles swirling over and around Jaxy, cat heaven. Sometimes I let the sheet fall to find the lump of his meatloafed cat bod, then run a comb over top until he goes for it, a bumble of claws poking through the sheet in upside-down attack. Once the comb has been conquered, he shoots from under the sheet like a racehorse out the starting gate into the other room. Sometimes The P.I.C. peeks under the sheet periodically to catch Jaxy’s attention. Now locked in, he readjusts, angling toward his prey, wiggling his back end in wind-up to pounce . . . Charge!—startling the shit out of everyone and halting a hair’s breadth from Jimmy’s face. “He almost got me good!” he’d pipe every time and we’d laugh while we snugged the fitted sheet in place. Then Jaxy would gallop back in and hop up, ready for round two with the next layer of bedding. And so it went. The one ritual we shared, all three of us together.
After billows and comb play, laughs and P.I.C. peekaboos, the bed was tidy and expected. We caught our breath. Back to normal.
Until the next time the sheets felt energetically damp, and the craving was back to strip it all away and sleep wild. Then we could come together in celebration of our cozy, quiet life and the fact that we found contentment in doing things just a little bit differently.