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I have a deep and abiding affection for pillows. I always have.  We lived a very unusual childhood, most of which was spent in the back seat of a car, traveling down some unknown interstate.  My mother would always put pillows in the backseat with us, to use as desks.  For many a mile, a fluffy propped whatever notebook I was currently using to write in, or it was where I put my CD player while I stared out at semi-trucks and sang along in my head with Tanya Tucker.  Sometimes, when it got dark out, and we’d been in the car for hours, I’d stuff the pillow between the window and my shoulder, lay my head on it and just rest.  Pillows followed us everywhere.  When we’d finally stop for the night at a hotel, we’d frequently have to call the front desk to ask for additional pillows because we each needed at least two to sleep.  Whenever I had my own bed, I preferred three: one for my head, one to lay pressed against my back and one to hold. As ridiculous as it sounds, being surrounded by pillows made me feel a bit safer.  Ridiculous—I know.  Pillows are soft.  Strength, not softness, is what offers protection…. until it doesn’t.

I am quite talented at rolling with the punches:  I learned that, given enough time, circumstances will always change.  The good part about this truth is that if something painful comes along, I can just take a deep breath, remind myself that it will change and, usually, I come out on the other side in decent emotional shape. Unfortunately, the opposite is true, too: if circumstances are good, if luck seems to be flowing in my direction, well, I cherish it because I know that it will not last long.  These lessons were hard earned, and have been ingrained in my brain since childhood. Strength became a shield by which I buffered life. I came to believe that I could never, ever let my guard down—not even in good times.  I had to be constantly on guard, my walls could never shake.  To relax, to really enjoy  the seasons of peace, meant that I’d be blindsided by pain when I wasn’t prepared to constructively handle it, when I might “break” and cry: I might even do something stupid like ask “why me?”   I decided I’d rather live prepared.  I wanted to be alert, so that when the pain came, I was ready,  my heart was protected behind this shield of strength (read: “calm silence”).  I became “strong” in other words.  I lived each moment as a soldier, studiously protecting my heart from pain that hadn’t even come yet. I was thankful for the good seasons, the peaceful ones, but fearful of what the next day, or the day after that, might bring.  When people asked me how I was, I said, “Oh, I’m fine, and how’s Suzie doing?” with a bright smile designed to convince. I wasn’t purposely fooling people;  I thought I was helping them by sparing them the weight of my inner turmoil. Frankly, I still struggle mightily with this.  Battles are to be fought alone—this is a lie, but, when whispered in my head, it sounds an awfully lot like the truth. So… I’ve been strong.  I’ve done a fairly decent job of protecting myself, and of “holding on”, of managing the pain, of keeping myself under control, of avoiding an emotional meltdown.

Then it gets dark out.

And when it gets dark outside, I start to panic. I do not like the nighttime hours.  I work hard in the middle of the night, avoiding sleep for as long as possible, because I don’t want to feel guilty about not being productive for six hours and also because dreams are scary things. So I avoid, avoid, avoid … and then I must lay down, or either crash. I am just human, and an unfortunate consequence of being human is the fact that our bodies simply require sleep.  Panic starts seeping through my bones… but then my arms would reach for Hugs, a pillow, and my heart just…. sighs.  Sometimes, all I have to do is put my head on a pillow for tears to instantly fill my eyes for apparently no reason at all. I have a great pillow, one into which my head just sinks. I’ll wrap my arms around half of it and close my eyes.  Its softness reminds me to cry. When I was a child, and then a teenager, I used to pretend that the pillow could talk and it would tell me that it was okay to cry, and I believed it, so I never argued: I just cried. In fact, I used to pretend, that a pillow’s job was to hold whatever I needed it to hold so that I could sleep:  if something wonderful happened during the day and I needed to contemplate it before I could rest, I could do so laying on a pillow.  If something awful happened, my pillow’s job was to hold my tears so that I could sleep better. Of course, I don’t pretend all that now but, when I’m sad or upset, I still tend to feel better when holding a pillow.  It’s just a pillow, but the only time I ever put my head down, I’m in my own bedroom, in the dark, with no one to see: it’s safe to cry there, I’m not hurting anything or anyone by showing how not strong I really am there. I can be afraid. I squeeze its downy softness and feel  the permission I need to let go.  It’s the quiet place where all my dreams, all my fears, all my insecurities are as well known as the color of the sky. I don’t have to be strong when I’m laying down. Furthermore, I know it’s stupid, but having a pillow on either side of me and one under my head makes me feel hidden, like I’m buried in my own little cocoon in which the only thing touching me is soft and kind: no harm can reach me.  Again, Iknowit’s pillows we’re talking about here, not brick walls, but, still… it’s a fortress.

Pillows aren’t only there when I need to express sorrow, though.  Pillow fights make me joyful in a way little else can. Visions of pillow fights in which downy feathers fly everywhere have filled my brain at seemingly odd times in my life. Steal my pillow, and you’ll likely see a real strength you didn’t know I possess emerge and, because I know it’s ridiculous, probably also a hint of a real laugh. Barriers crack, charades of strength stumble, when something as silly, yet personal, comes into play.

Hugs was my favorite pillow.  It was square and fuzzy, and actually the fuzziness made it warm.  It’s the only pillow I’ve ever had that actually made my head feel warm.  Whenever I sat on the couch, I grabbed and held it.  Whenever I wrote, it was the desk for the computer, or my paper notebook. It was a beautiful pillow, too: one that practically invited you to hold it.  I miss that pillow.  My bed has lots of pillows on it, and I hope to find a substitute for it soon. For now, I just wanted to take the time to express how grateful I am for pillows in general, and that one in specific, and how they’ve been a quiet comfort to me all my life. In other words, be it silly or childish or ridiculous, pillows are friends.

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