It is Saturday night and I just texted Cait, tomorrow’s self-imposed deadline hot on my mind:
“I don’t know what to write about.”
A minute passed, and then a chirp.
“Write about the mattress.”
It’s not a bad idea. The mattress is a good story.
When Cait and I moved in together, we had met only a few weeks before. I had come to realize that my salary as a staff writer at an alt-weekly in Albuquerque would not be enough to support my habit of living alone. I needed a roommate.
I mentioned this to Laura, who was at the time a co-worker I barely knew but desperately wanted to befriend. Laura was a beauty, in the most encompassing and truest sense of that term. She was black-and-silver hair and creamy skin and a mouth that was always drawn back into a smile. And she was cool, the kind of cool that is only accessible to people who don’t even realize the word “cool” is a thing anymore. She was utterly unaware of it. Just effortlessly and awesomely herself. I could write a whole letter on the coolness of Laura. Maybe one day I will.
So when Laura told me she had a friend who was also looking for a roommate, it was clear I needed to meet her. Anyone who was friends with Laura must be magical, I figured. And, of course, I was right.
Cait and I spoke on the phone and scheduled a time to meet. She came to my apartment straight from one of her ballet classes, her hair tightly lofted into a topknot. I thought she looked like a nymph, with lissome limbs that curved like willows and contained the same kind of resilience.
We sat on my futon and talked and decided within what must have been only 10 minutes, maybe less, that we would live together. After she left and I closed the door behind her, I did a little dance in the name of my good fortune.
On May 1, 2005 (or was it June?), Cait and I hauled our respective possessions to our new home, with the help of myriad family members. Even at our age (young), and with our lack of experience (vast), we knew we had found a unicorn of a situation. The Royal Fork Lofts, on Fourth Street and Coal in downtown Albuquerque, had been built from the shell of the old Royal Fork Restaurant, which must have been a cavernous dining hall of a place. In a word, the apartments were airy. Or maybe the word is chic. Hardwood and stained concrete and steel and skylights repeated through two bedrooms and two balconies and two floors and two living rooms and two bathrooms and one courtyard. And the whole thing cost $950 a month. Total. Writing this now, from 2016 Brooklyn, I am shaking my head at how unreal it was. But even better than all of that, Cait and I liked each other. We had a good feeling.
The only real difficulty of the day was figuring out how to get Cait’s mattress into her room because there was a great, big beam that ran parallel to and right overhead the stairway. Midway up the stairs to the second floor, where our bedrooms would be, was a small landing where the main stairway bisected into two little stairways going in opposing directions. If you walked up the stairs to the left, you got to my room; to the right, you got Cait’s.
What this all amounts to is that there was a tricky spot on the stairs—right at the place you turned, there was that hefty, hanging beam. A tall person would need to watch her head. Getting large furniture past it was a puzzle.
Everything went up decently enough—even my ridiculous king-sized bed, which I had bought at an incredible discount and refused to part with. The mattress was unwieldy but floppy, and we squeezed it through. The box springs were just a pair of twins—simple enough.
Cait’s mattress was a queen, and it wouldn’t give. It was too big to maneuver like a twin, but still small enough to retain its rigidity. We couldn’t get it up the stairs. Or, rather, and I should have mentioned this sooner, the altruistic people helping us move couldn’t get it up the stairs. Cait had three strapping young men by her side: her brother Johnny, Johnny’s friend Danny, and Cait’s then-boyfriend.
Those three guys spent an hour trying to get that mattress past the landing. They lifted and squeezed and pivoted and finagled. They thought maybe they could get it in through the balcony instead, so two of them brought it outside and trying to hoist it as high as their arms would let them, while the third leaned over the balcony and tried to grab it. I remember standing in the doorway to Cait’s room and watching as two corners of a mattress bobbed in and out of sight.
That plan didn’t work.
There was talk of pulley systems and sawing off part of the frame. Finally, the three of them unanimously decided it just wasn’t going to happen.
“I’m sorry, Cait,” Johnny said. “You’re going to need to get a new bed.”
I think Danny suggested that the old one could be used as an art project.
A little dejected and probably more than a little frustrated, they left to go get pizza. Cait and I were left alone for the first time in our new apartment. We looked at each other. We looked at the mattress, leaning defeatedly against the side of the stairs. Of course we were going to try.
In under five minutes, that mattress was in Cait’s room. Went right in. Easy.
We couldn’t wait to tell them.