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It is a blessing that all my life I never had to think much about my mattress. As long as I could remember, mattresses had always materialized over my bedframes and under my pillows. As I grew, so too did the surfaces I slept on. From the cradle to the twin to the queen, my parents always saw to it that my spine was suitably supported.
Soon after I started my first job, I arranged to move out of my parents’ place, which meant leaving the mattress of my adolescence behind. I was working hard, working late and falling asleep on both my morning and evening commutes from the suburbs and back. Before I knew it, it was the week before my move-in date and I hadn’t worked out any part of my furniture situation.
The foam-mattress revolution was in full swing, and I figured one could be found online for cheap. After all, what was a mattress really? A few inches of squishy material? Maybe a spring here and there, in the old-fashioned models? The city was wallpapered in sleek ads for modern mattress brands, marketed toward millennials like me. Everyone knows we’re collectively broke, so how much could a mattress be?
On my commute one night I finally Googled what a new mattress would cost – a rude awakening! The cheapest no-names from overseas were disconcertingly thin, and reviews detailed products of poor quality that emitted suspicious chemical odours. The trendy brands I’d seen advertised all over the subway ranged from $800 to $3,000 for my bed size.
Surely this had to be a prank by my elders – keeping secret the excessive cost of a mattress, until an innocent like me tries to leave home. This was generational hazing, and they had got me good.
Time was running out, and if I didn’t order a mattress soon I’d end up sleeping on my new roommates’ colourfully-stained couch. On the one hand, there was no point in moving out if a cheap mattress was going to emanate toxic fumes, shrivel my lungs and kill me before I turned 30. On the other hand, if I spent an arm and a leg on a fancy mattress, there would only be two thirds of me left to benefit from its use.
I floated the idea of a sleeping bag, thinking this might build character. How many of history’s greats had slept on cold, hard, dusty floors? Then again, with bugs tending to skitter around old flooring, character be damned. And I already had an old bedframe, just nothing to fill it. I had big city dreams but nowhere to dream them.
After hours of agonizing deliberation, I reluctantly decided to invest in myself, my future and my sleep. I figured when it came to my spinal health, now was not the time to act spinelessly.
I grit my teeth – as only a nighttime molar-grinder such as myself could do – and added an $800 mattress to my online cart. This was going to be my mattress for a very long time. Wherever I would go for the next decade at least, I wanted this mattress to follow.
It arrived in a box as promised, and I was responsible for unwrapping the contents and exposing the mattress to air so it could expand. The great beast unfurled slowly. I watched with heart-shaped pupils as the floppy slab of foam took in air and gradually filled itself out. Soon it was plump and fleshy and looked like the mattress of my dreams.
For the next year, it did everything I needed a mattress to do: bore my weight without groaning; cushioned me while I watched movies in bed; and caught the food crumbs that filtered through my sheets.
Then the time came to switch apartments, and all my stuff had to move across town. My dutiful boyfriend came over to help, and the mattress immediately gave us trouble. It didn’t look like it was going to fit through the door, or down the stairs, or into the van.
“You might have to leave it,” he proposed innocently.
This was not an option. The mattress was barely more than a year old, and we had bonded. It remembered my shape. It upheld me during sleepless nights. It housed my dead skin cells.
But more importantly, it was the centrepiece in the transition to an independent life I’d come to love. When I’d unboxed the mattress a year before, its bedframe was the only furniture I had. For the first few months, I was too busy and focused on succeeding at work to care that my room looked like an apocalyptic bunker, stocked solely with essentials. I lived out of the suitcases I’d used to move until a trip to IKEA legitimized my living space with the addition of a dresser and nightstand. It took half a year for me to do any kind of decorating, and that was only because I was having a good day when I saw the dollar store sells string lights shaped like flamingos.
The expensive mattress supporting my slumber for a year had become a daily reminder of my newfound ability to support myself. It was my first big, scary, necessary purchase as an adult, and an investment in my vision for the rest of my 20s.
After an exhausting struggle, the mattress was eventually folded, contorted and heaved out of my room and down the stairs, dragged across a wintry sidewalk and stuffed into the car. It made it to my new place with a few battle scars – likely absorbing traces of street debris I don’t want to think about – and I still come home to it every night.
When I ordered this mattress, I was trying to create the conditions for a much-needed adventure. There have been fits of insomnia and anxious nightmares, and I do not always get out of bed with enthusiasm. There have also been lazy Sundays, cozy sleepovers and well-deserved rests at the end of eventful days. Disgustingly, our mattresses retain little bits of us all. I know I can’t use this one forever; which is, hygienically speaking, a good thing. But for now, is it ever nice to rest my weary, aging bones on that basic, overpriced block of foam.
Jessica Goddard lives in Toronto.