The Iron Beds

Iron bed with Morrocan pillow

Iron bed with Morrocan pillow

A thing has to have meaning for me to keep it these days-to haul it in and out of storage every time I decide to travel. But, if it does have a place, say in my heart, or reminds me of good things and loves past, I’ll keep it even if it’s heavy and unwieldy, or takes the lions share of rented space.

Back, way back, in the obscure recesses of my memory, there was an iron bed. It figured prominently in a nightmare I had for three decades, but I never actually saw it until I was in my 30s. My mom used to tell my sitters, “If she wakes up screaming just turn on the light and hold her for a few minutes, she’ll go back to sleep.” Frequently, an earache triggered the nightmare. As I got older and life became more complicated, the catalyst was, more often than not, emotional distress.

2nd Iron bed

2nd Iron bed

In the dream, I am suspended in total darkness, alone and weightless. Suddenly, a high-pitched trill, like a bird in distress far-away seems to surround me. The sound begins faintly and becomes progressively louder and louder until I wake, shaking, sometimes sweaty, my heart pounding. Similar to falling dreams where one never hits the bottom, the source of the tormenting, other worldly noise never reveals itself.

In the mid-70s, when I was living in Chicago, the nightmare came so frequently I was afraid to go to sleep. My friend, Ginny, suggested I visit a past life regression hypnotist that she knew. I had nothing to lose.

The hypnotist turned on a tape recorder to tape the session: for his safety, and for me to review later. Within minutes, he had me in a trance. My first death occurred when I, as an old man, was on a dappled gray horse, being chased by rogue solders- Romans, we believed, by my description of their uniforms. They over took me, and dragged me hanging from a stirrup to my death.

The second time I died,, I was a young shepherd boy. I was tending goats on a verdant, grassy hillside overlooking the sea, but I felt very sick. I went home to a long, low, white washed building. Inside, small children were sitting on benches at a large table. It was warm. My mother gave me a bowl of soup, which I slurped slowly by the fire. As I was describing my second death to the therapist, the dream arrived, cutting my description of death short. I shouted, “No! No!” The hypnotist calmed my fear. “You are not alone. Let the demons come. I won’t let them hurt you,” he assured me.

Through tears, I began drifting in the dark. The therapist kept talking. “Don’t let it go. What do you see?” It was as if I was watching a photograph take shape in the dark room. The black void that had terrified me all my life, took the shape of nun’s habits, bunched together in a fluid galaxy, in a dim, sparse room. The screaming came from me. I was a baby, maybe a year old, just able to stand. I was standing in an iron bed, hanging on to the bars, screaming because my head was hurting. No one seemed to hear me-or care. The hypnotist assured me I was not alone; but I was sobbing now, because then I had been. And, I had never forgotten that aloneness, I’d been carrying it around in my psyche my entire life. After that session, the dream left, and hasn’t been back.

During the mid 80s I owned some land with a musician friend outside of Clear Lake, CA. One afternoon, we visited friends of his. We entered the house through the back door off the kitchen. Straight ahead, through the kitchen, in an alcove a foot or so above the floor, was a simple black iron bed. I shivered. My friend asked if I was OK? “Yes, but something is strange,” I told him. I felt a uncanny attachment to their bed. Just minutes after I met his friend, I told her, “ It’s crazy, but that bed is mine. When you no longer want it, let me know and I’ll come and get it. Having imbibed in psychedelic mushrooms, and a habitual pot smoker, she didn’t think it was strange at all. “OK. Will do,” she assured me.

A few months later, she called me to say they were moving and had left the bed in a storage bin in Clear Lake. They gave me the code to the combination lock. I had two weeks to pick it up. I moved my precious bed to San Francisco. It was squeaky and a bit unsteady. At one point during a raucous bout of love fun, the bed broke. Marty, my lover, bound it together with electrical wire. When I left the Bay area, the bed moved to Sonoma with me.

Several years later, I went on the road to do stand-up. I put the bed into storage in Sonoma. When I moved to Los Angeles in l990, I loaded the bed in the U Haul cart I towed behind my l977 turquoise and white Buick Skylark. I barely got out of San Francisco, when the car began to huff and puff up even the slightest hill. She ran hot. She just couldn’t haul the weight. I drove to my friend, Carol’s, in Alameda. We unloaded books, and other heavy stuff. I left the bed in. She said, “You need to get rid of the bed, too. Leave it here. I’ll call Goodwill to come pick it up.” “Oh no!” Crying, I called my daughter, Alice. “Mom, why are you crying about that old bed?”
“It has such wonderful memories,” I answered.“Memories are just burdens if you have to haul them around,” she wisely countered. It sounded like a country song.

The old bed was too heavy to haul up another hill, memories leaned against the garage wall, destined for Goodwill. I called my daughter for comfort, but her logic was sound, memories are only burdens if you have to haul them around.

Sometime in the late 90’s a childhood friend of mine and I bought a century old house in the forest close to the small Western Pennsylvania towns we grew up in. In the house were three iron beds, complete with heavy metal springs. Aside from a waterbed, I’d never slept on anything so comfortable.

When we sold the house a few years later, I hauled two of the beds and the heavy springs to California. Since then, they have spent more time in storage than out. A year ago, I moved to Lake Isabella. The friend who moved me into the cabin was about to set up the beds when he realized there were no rails. They had apparently had been left in LA –three years before.

It’s time the beds join the dream, as memories, not burdens.

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