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Nighttime negotiations

By Brian Doyle

January 17, 2014


 

When I was a kid, there were more brothers than beds in our house, so we had to sleep two by two, in age order, and I got assigned my brother Peter, whose arms were so long he could reach across the room and turn out the lights without getting out of bed. I had campaigned for our youngest brother, Tommy, who was so small and uncomplaining, I could have stashed him in a shoebox and no one would have ever known. But Peter it was, and there was at that time no appeal process in place for edicts from above (the appeals court came later, when our grandmother came to live with us), so Peter and I had to figure out how to sleep in the same bed.

Being the older brother by a year, I proposed that I sleep in the bed at night and he sleep in it during the day, but he objected to this, and unbelievably mom backed him up, and dad made that harrumphing noise, which meant if you want to sleep in the yard with the dog, keep going with this line of inquiry. Then I proposed that I sleep in the bed and Peter sleep on the floor, because everyone knows that beds are not so good for your spine and floors are excellent for your spine—this is why people go camping and why God invented the Boy Scouts, but again Peter objected. He was a contentious and contrary child, I have to say.

Finally we settled on splitting the bed half and half, with Peter getting the side against the wall because I said so and I made a fist, but that night when we tried to get to sleep we discovered an engineering problem, and it is this I wish to talk to you about today, for I would guess an awful lot of us did exactly this thing, but do not talk about it now that we are ostensibly mature adults, with good shoes and pension plans.

I rocked. There, I said it. I rocked—back and forth, regular as a metronome, mindlessly, often while humming quietly (says Peter, not always a trustworthy source). I rocked, I had always rocked, probably I rocked in the womb for all I know, and indeed I continued to rock gently all the way into the first weeks of my marriage, at which point my lovely bride, who is a small lithe woman but firm-minded, said to stop rocking or else, and then weirdly she made that same sound in her throat as my dad used to make. I dislike sleeping in the yard with the dog, who laughs and chases otters in his sleep, so I stopped.

However, when Peter asked me to stop, that first night, I negotiated a better solution, one which I have occasionally proposed to my lovely bride when I am feeling flush and reckless; we learned to rock together, turning right and left in synchronous time. As I remember, it took a few minutes to get the pacing down, but I say with some pride in my brother Peter that he quickly got the hang of it, and for the rest of the time that we had to share a bed upstairs, near the closet where our grandmother several times saw angels battering their wings against the tattered old insulation, we rocked in time, and slept well, and waited out the long endless weary years until our older siblings finally went to college and we could get a bed all to ourselves, which I used to think was the coolest thing ever, until I met my lovely bride.

Brian Doyle is the editor of Portland magazine and the author of numerous books, most recently the novel The Plover.

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