It’s vast in a way, almost ominous. You’re surrounded by crumpled sheets and comforters which, in the sparse light of the early morning (late, late night) look like mountain ranges and valleys. Even the smallest bed which, during the day, serves as a source of minor embarrassment and proof that you have not quite yet aged into the bracket of proper bedding, is rendered by the rising moon into a great expanse of cotton and down. You feel, shifting around in its emptiness, that it may swallow you whole.
There are times when its openness can be pleasant, even relieving. You stretch every limb outwards and take up the space the way you so often want to in your daily life. “This is me, this is mine, I am here.” Being able to roll around and luxuriate in a kind of absolute selfishness is a gift we can so rarely claim, and when it feels like your whole being is being encroached on by a thousand unwanted hands and expectations of reciprocated touch, nothing is better than aloneness. Nothing is better than having an entire cocoon to yourself, making it whatever you want it to be and shaping it to your form. It’s a mold that only you fill, a secret you have whispered to no one.
But sometimes the silence is overwhelming. You prop your laptop against a neighboring pillow and it takes up the space that someone else might — a space that might even be empty, if you could stand it. After enough nights enjoying the freedom to move around as openly as possible, sometimes it is nice to be constricted to your corner again, if only by a cold piece of technology. You scroll through friends and stories and images who are a thousand miles away but who, for at least tonight, are taking care of you. They are providing a small kind of barrier from whatever dark expanse lies beyond the glow of the screen, the empty room which will not get any less empty when you finally step on its floor.
Loneliness isn’t scary, in itself. An empty bed is nothing to be afraid of. It’s nothing embarrassing, nothing unusual. It’s just the kind of thing which can feel sad after a while, something that can remind you that the thermostat needs adjusting or the wall needs painting or the blinds need readjusting, because you must find something to focus on. It’s the kind of thing which makes you turn on music, or talk radio, or sounds of rain, because the silence is starting to hurt your ears. It’s the kind of thing which reminds you that this silence, this quiet caused and absorbed entirely by yourself, is what you’re really afraid of.
Because the silence is a calm before a storm. It reminds you of when you were a little kid and you couldn’t let your feet hang over or step down to go to the bathroom because a monster would pop out from under the bed. Or maybe it was hiding in the closet, or maybe behind your dresser. It was somewhere, you were sure. It wanted to attack you, to eat you, to take you in its enormous teeth and chew you to tiny pieces. So in order to prevent its reign of terror, in order to protect yourself against his inescapable presence, you left on a nightlight. You let it glow silently next to you, bathing you in its comforting light.
Now you’re not sure what the monster is, or why it only wants you when you’re alone. But you know you need that nightlight. You know you need someone to protect you. So you open that laptop screen, and set it like a prized lapdog on a pillow in front of you. You look at the warm, familiar faces who can’t reach you but who might just be taking up the full space of their own beds tonight. And for that minute, you feel just a little bit less alone, a little bit less afraid of what is happening around you. And the monster crawls back under your bed, defeated.