How many brothers does it take to carry a queen-size box spring up a narrow flight of stairs?
You would think the answer simple: it takes three brothers. Specifically it takes my two brothers and me.
It might have taken only two of us. We’re each of us capable of lifting unassisted the weight of the box spring.
But we couldn’t lift the box spring up the stairs.
See, you have to factor in the low-hanging soffit, which, when combined with the bocce-ball-esque knob bolted to the top of the bannister post, left us a space roughly six inches too narrow to accommodate this particular box spring.
This was my brother’s place. Not my youngest brother’s — my younger brother’s.
Two days ago now the three of us brothers loaded his and his girlfriend’s mattresses and box springs, and a bookcase and desk and a sofa and clothes, into a truck and our two cars (my brother’s and mine) and thereby moved them into their first shared apartment.
It’s a nice place, recently renovated, with floor-to-ceiling windows, hardwood floors, and ornate trim painted a crisp charcoal that compliments the soft-white wall color nicely.
I never knew how well-built box springs were until we pulled off its backing to see whether we could pry off one or two pieces of strapping that made up the box spring’s frame.
We could’ve damaged the thing, sure. But my brother noted that if we couldn’t get the box spring upstairs then he would have to trash it.
On the two-hour drive home, I rode with the vent blowing in cooler evening air while Adam Duritz sang about sleeping in “perfect blue buildings beside the green apple sea,” and about his needing “a little oblivion, baby”. Dreamless sleep was always what I thought he meant by that — until I realized he might actually was talking about scoring drugs and escaping his lonely troubles.
While I listened, I realized I’d owned this album for nearly two decades, and in all that time I hadn’t managed to find another album that does quite what Duritz and Co. had managed to do with those eleven well-crafted tracks: to tell the story of a life rife with heartache and doubt and joy, lived out in a specific place and time.
I thought about how tired I felt after helping my brother move. It was a good tired — the kind of tired that’s earned; the kind that encourages reflection.
As I drove, I considered that my brother is about to begin living the kind of life my wife and I started living when we moved to West Virginia seven years ago next month. Coupled life. They now cohabit. The next few weeks will seem to pass very slowly, while they unpack clothes and books and kitchen supplies, find places for the things they’ll keep, and figure out how to get rid of what they no longer need — those things their new life has rendered obsolete or burdensome.
As they make such decisions, they’ll come face-to-face with the parts of themselves they’d built up to sustain their single lives. These parts’ll have to go just as the box spring has to go. Maybe some of them will have to go.
We don’t lose all the unique parts of ourselves. We would wind up in pretty serious trouble if we gave up all our quirks and preferences and personal baggage. Not ugly trouble; the kind of trouble that leaves us stranded, alone, and wondering how we got to be that way.
The parts that get in the way or keep us from connecting — these are the parts we have to learn to let go. And just like my brother’s box spring, letting these things go won’t be easy.
For me, it was my need to keep things simple. To minimize. To do without, if it came to it. To make do with what I had.
I used a set of Teflon-coated pots and pans while I lived alone a year after finishing my undergraduate degree. When we moved in together, I insisted on keeping these pots and pans even though my wife had a much sturdier set of stainless cookware.
I liked the set I owned — I should say I claimed to like the set I owned — because it cleaned easily. I was in the habit of cooking eggs for breakfast most mornings and I preferred to cook my eggs in a skillet which required very little scrubbing.
My wife suggested the stainless set she owned would not only come clean as easily as the nonstick cookware would, but that by would also prove more durable and longer-lasting. She thought we ought to get rid of the nonstick set. In the end, she relented.
My wife and I weren’t married when we moved in together. We hadn’t talked much about compromise or the rest of our lives at that point, so a tiff over pots and pans had been a pretty big deal for us, though still a relatively low-level issue in the grand scheme.
Needless to say, she had been right about the superior quality of her stainless cookware. But the way she handled the issue is what makes it so memorable. Maybe right isn’t the proper word; maybe patient better captures her attitude, or understanding. We used the nonstick cookware for three years, wearing out both the large and small skillets. When we moved back to Ohio, the stainless pans came with us. They’ve lasted six years, and show no signs of wearing out or warping.
She wasn’t insistent. She didn’t push. She listened to my reasons for wanting to use my nonstick cookware.
It may seem a bit shallow to suggest we learned to live with and love each other after debating and sometimes arguing over what to do with our stuff. But we learned to use those debates as points of entry into discussions of deeper issues: what would we value? What would we keep? How would financial decisions be made? How would we balance our professional and personal obligations? How would we budget our spare time, and our time together? To which projects should we devote our collective energies?
My brothers and I could have cut the box strapping along both sides of the box spring’s base and folded the whole thing in half like a book, then unfolded it and screwed the cut straps back together once we got it upstairs. I discovered a This Old House video just this morning that shows in stepwise fashion how to do this.
At the time, none of us cared to try splitting the frame.
It’s good that my brother and his girlfriend are thinking that way, though. Problem-solving. Over time they’ll need to look at problems like the box spring not as obstacles but as opportunities to work together, think together, open up to each other.
They’ll learn a lot about themselves over the next few months. It’ll be vital that they learn to share these insights.
As it turned out, my brother and his girlfriend went out the next morning and bought a split box spring.
“Probably I’ll set it out front at the curb,” he said when I asked him whether he maybe would burn the old frame in his fire pit.
He was curious to see whether someone would come along and take it. He thought there was a pretty good chance of that happening.