The mattress section of Art Van Furniture looks like an upscale prison — long rows of stripped beds, designated strips of plastic to place your feet, employees meandering through the aisles as guards. I visited the store in Canton for the first time while mattress shopping with my mother a week before moving into my new college apartment. That’s when I met Jeffrey, Mattress Salesman Extraordinaire.
Jeffrey was a little too excited about mattresses. His face lit up when he explained the difference between foam and springs, how the foam is actually sturdier than the coils I’d been sleeping on for years. But being just over 100 pounds, it was natural that I couldn’t feel a difference in the two mattresses he had me try out. Jeffrey, in his “I-went-to-business-school” voice, had me try out at least three more.
“Okay, but this one…,” “You know, the price of this queen mattress is unparalleled…,” “Actually, I know this is the one you’re looking for. …”
I still didn’t have a preference.
Jeffrey sighed as he sat down next to me, sweaty, and asked, “Well, then can I ask a personal question?” Without waiting for an answer, he asked it anyway.
“What type of men are you interested in?”
Shocked, I didn’t respond. Jeffery continued to compare my body type to his wife’s and pointed out their foam mattress doesn’t move her side of the bed when he gets up for work, despite their 200-pound weight difference. He explained if I didn’t have a preference between mattresses, I should “think about what would work best for my future husband’s body type” — and if I knew what that would be, I could “accurately choose to fit his needs.”
I think about this day a lot. As a femme woman, people often assume that I’m straight and looking for a partner. Family members often ask whether or not I have found a new boyfriend yet, thinking it’s been enough time since my last long-term relationship that I’d be in the market for someone new. What if they knew I’m bisexual and not looking for a relationship at all?
My last boyfriend — whose middle name was Jeffrey, ironically enough — is to thank for getting me to this point. When I told him I might be attracted to women during my junior year of high school, he felt threatened and assumed I was going to cheat on him with my college roommate. For the entire three years we were together, I pushed the thought out of my head and assumed I had “chosen a side” by being with him. For a while, I really thought we were going to get married — until I realized I’d given up all of my independence for him.
I took the bus to his college and ended it before I could change my mind. And afterward, I felt like the most powerful person in the world. I joined new clubs, wrote music, spent more time with my friends and went on trips with the money I would’ve spent on bus tickets to see him. I started going on dates with women for the first time. The thought of tying myself down to a man again felt ridiculous.
But according to the rest of the world, I was supposed to want to do it all over again. Women are supposed to thrive in the Art Van Furniture Store, eyes lingering over curated showrooms that seem to represent the perfect life. We should want the living room with navy leather chairs and a rustic coffee table, ready to hold a conversation that never develops past small talk; the burgundy loveseat where a married couple may share a glass of wine after work; the kitchen table for a family of four. I saw how my mother looked while walking through the showrooms, surely making mental notes about which pieces would match our living room.
When I walk through the mattress section at Art Van it feels exactly the same way it looks: a prison. Buying furniture for a hypothetical self would be like locking myself up for life because I might one day commit a crime. Buying a mattress for my future partner means I’ll be sleeping next to an empty void for the next decade or so, just waiting for someone to fill the spot next to me. But maybe I don’t want to get married — and, if I do, there’s a fair chance it will be to a woman and not until long after my college mattress will have worn out.
I never answered Jeffrey’s question. Instead, I bought a double bed rather than the queen size he had recommended. I left through the sliding doors with my mother, receipt in hand, feeling like Princess Leia escaping from Jabba’s Palace. I even had my hair tied into space buns to match.
When the delivery men dropped off my mattress a week later, it was the first time I was alone in my new apartment. I watched their truck struggle to pull out of my tiny driveway and waited until they were out of sight to test out the new bed. I stretched out my body so it took up the entire mattress, fingertips reaching towards the edges and toes touching the corners. I let myself sink into the foam.
This bed is my double for a single, and it’s all mine.