Canthigaster rostrata, Inflated (Caribbean Sharp-Nose Puffer)

The Snoring Proviso

Sharing a bed requires rules. An important addendum comes along well after the blanket allowances and closet zombies have been settled.

Apparently, I snore. I say “apparently” because I haven’t actually heard myself snoring. I just hear about it, ex post facto. It’s kind of funny, that in our sleep we do this thing that has the power to drive our loved ones completely mad, yet we’re unaware we’re doing it and it’s out of our control.

No, that’s not funny at all, actually. If you laugh at that, you should have your sense of humor examined. (Just paraphrasing my wife here.)

The bedroom occupies a unique space in our lives, unlike any other place we spend our time. It may sound cynical to say, but my wife and I sometimes feel like our waking hours are a constant siege: work, family, chores, repairs, health, finances, all of it coming at us all day every day, an unyielding assault. Yes, I know there are bright moments too, and plenty of them, but my point is: Life is exhausting.

What happens in daylight is largely a crapshoot; we do our best, but uncertainty prevails. We succeed or fail not by how well we control our environment, but by how well we adapt to it. But at night in our bedroom, things are different. In the bedroom nothing is left to chance. We have complete jurisdictional authority.

Like most couples, my wife and I abide by a contractual agreement where the bedroom is concerned. The articles of this agreement, unwritten but mutually understood, are stipulated as such:

Proviso #1—Side of the bed: Using the view from the foot of the bed as a fixed point of reference, she is always on the right-hand side and I am always on the left, forever and ever in perpetuity.

Proviso #2—Distribution of blanket: Must be fair and equitable; will be confirmed by precision measuring instrument (aka wife’s eyeball) in situations of dispute. (I keep some extra blankets handy, just in case the arbiter rules against my self-interest.)

Proviso #3—Lighting: The length of time a bedside lamp may remain on after one of the bed’s occupants has closed his or her eyes is up for nightly negotiation. (This is really a moot point since I always fall asleep first and can literally sleep through anything, including, but not limited to, crying children and beeping smoke detectors.)

Proviso #4—Status of closet door: The closet door must be closed when lights are off, to keep the zombies from stumbling out and devouring us while we sleep.

Proviso #5—Windows and blinds: Why make things overly complicated? If you’re hot, open a window. If you’re cold, close it. If the window is open and it’s dark outside, and the bedroom lights are still on, you might want to refrain from walking around naked. The neighbors can see you. It’s your call.

Proviso #6—Use of alarm clock: Setting the alarm to a popular music station poses a high risk of “earworm,” a (usually) non-fatal condition whose sufferers spend whole days walking around mumbling the lyrics to Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance.” Country music is an effective alternative, in that all songs sound the same and none is really familiar. Volume is another important factor. If set too softly, the alarm won’t wake up anyone; too loudly and both sleepers will awaken—one much sooner and more pissed off than intended. And don’t hit the snooze button too many times. Once is fine, twice maybe, but three times? Is that really necessary? Come to think of it, why don’t you just sleep on the sofa?

In those first, dewy-eyed days of our cohabitation, snoring was not a problem. The muscle tone of my tongue was firm and strong, and my throat tissue was as thin and graceful as a male supermodel’s.Our Bedroom Contract was settled very early on—it’s the kind of stuff you get out of the way right at the start, whether you realize it or not. I knew which side of the bed was mine and which was hers before I even knew her middle name. But then, I was kind of a slut. Point being, if you’re going to share a bed with someone for the long haul there are details to iron out. Like, for instance, the practice of closet-zombie containment.

Each provision of the contract has been ratified for as long as I can recall. Very little comes up for renegotiation, and breaches rarely occur. Can you imagine a scenario where you retired to the bedroom before your partner, and just to stir things up a bit, just for shits and giggles, you decided to fall asleep on the wrong side of the bed? Should you survive the attempted smothering by pillow, you will find the Blanket Proviso declared null and void.

At night in our bedroom, everything is under control. That’s the only way we can get our beauty sleep, by fostering an environment of complete predictability. If life is a giant game of kill-the-guy-with-the-ball (which, let’s face it, it is), then the bedroom is home base, the one place where we can’t be tagged. The one place where we’re safe. In the bedroom, there are no surprises.

Unless you count snoring.

Snoring is a rogue, an embodiment of anarchy.

Snoring is a free radical.

Snoring invades our bedroom without warning or discretion, disrupting our peaceful slumber, destabilizing our sense of control.

Snoring turns us against one another, reducing intimate partners into nemeses, making enemy combatants of husband and wife.

In those first, dewy-eyed days of our cohabitation, snoring was not a problem. We were young and lithe and resilient. We lived carefree lives and slept like angels, floating on clouds. The muscle tone of my tongue was firm and strong, and my throat tissue was as thin and graceful as a male supermodel’s. So what happened? Age, that’s what. Age and throat fat. Somewhere along the way my tonsillar pillars and pharyngeal walls went all soft and bulky and started flapping in the cool nighttime breeze, making more racket than a self-regulating whoopee cushion.

The advent of my snoring required the drafting of a new proviso to the Bedroom Contract:

Proviso #7—Snoring: In instances of snoring (any variety), justice shall be meted out quickly and fairly, employing a “three-strike system” that all parties accept and agree to:

  • Strike One: You get a warning. You are politely asked to roll over.
  • Strike Two: You are asked to get up and go to the bathroom or get a glass of water or something, in hopes that the disruption to your sleep will somehow break the snoring cycle.
  • Strike Three: You’re out. Exiled. Collect your things and find somewhere else in the house to sleep.

Is there anything sadder than a Snorer in Exile, stumbling around a darkened house in the middle of the night, pillow tucked under an arm, dragging a blanket, looking for a place to sleep? In our house, the options are limited. These include:

Our 8-year-old son’s bed: First, it’s small. A twin-size, and it doesn’t have a box spring. It’s merely a mattress, resting on slats. Is that good for his back? I don’t know, though I strongly suspect it’s not good for mine. My wife assures me that the whole slat thing is OK but I am dubious. The size and softness of the bed make sleeping beside my son a disagreeable alternative, as does his tendency to sweat profusely and speak in tongues when he dreams.

Our 11-year-old daughter’s bed: My daughter has a box spring and a double-sized mattress, but that doesn’t make sleeping beside her any more appealing because, when she sleeps, she spends the entire night flailing and thrashing about like a ninja in the throes of death. Now she’s sideways, now she’s upside down, now she’s folded in half, and so it goes. Once she actually split my lip with her wayward toe. The deductible on my health insurance is too high to make this a viable option.

The futon couch in my office: Sleeping here, you get an awfully good sense of what it feels like to be the ground beef tucked inside a taco shell. Especially if said taco shell is 15 years old, upholstered in dingy, threadbare cotton, and is a metropolis of dust mites.

The family room sofa: Not the least comfortable sleeping arrangement in the house, despite the fact that its length from arm to arm is shorter than my length from head to toe by about four inches, the springs are a little wonky from kids jumping on it against their father’s wishes, and the cushions, when pressed too close to one’s nose, bear the distinct, Frito-y funk of family dog.

Fortunately for me, my wife and I have an informal agreement where Snoring Exile is concerned—we alternate. Recognizing that my snoring is largely a condition outside my control, my wife has voluntarily consented to amend the Snoring Proviso in the Bedroom Contract and share the burden of exile with me. In fact, more often than not, she’s the one who vacates the premises. On nights when my snoring is a problem, I will often roll over to find her gone, her spot in bed occupied instead by a dog with halitosis.

It’s a nice arrangement that doesn’t make me feel like a total pariah. I’m not trying to keep her awake on purpose—I just have excessively bulky throat tissue, that’s all. I’m extremely grateful to my wife for her flexibility and willingness to compromise. We both know she doesn’t have to be so charitable. That’s true love. And when you think about it, it makes sense. She’s six inches shorter than I am. That family room sofa was practically made for her.

Sean Tabb has made a grand total of $250 writing for the internet so, no, he is not buying this round of drinks. He lives and works in Portland, Maine. More by Sean Tabb