I grew up in a suburban Cape Cod style house. There were supposed to be two bedrooms upstairs, but my bedroom was the only one finished. The other space held the old Christmas decorations and some family ephemera. I assume for economic reasons, my room remained unheated. But since our house was located on the coast of central New Jersey, winters never got THAT cold. I slept under a bunch of blankets and when it was really, really cold I had a strange urine colored electric blanket that had a scary label on it warning the user not to fall asleep with the blanket while in use (?).
My mother attributed my robust health to sleeping without heat. Which was a convenient belief because both of my parents were smokers. But the thing I remember most deeply is lying in bed late at night, the house dark and quiet, my bedside digital clock flipping each minute with a gentle, hypnotic tick. If I stuck my face outside the covers I swear I could see my breath.
And then I’d hear our family mutt making her rounds. We had hardwood floors and I could hear her nails tapping as she made a rote circle through the downstairs. Sometimes she’d give a low throaty growl — a warning to anything passing through the suburbs to move along. Then I’d hear her tentative steps up the slippery, uncarpeted staircase to my room. I’d count the paw-falls to number twelve when she’d make the carpeted landing (Because my room had a deep green wall-to-wall carpet that I imagined was the color of Middle Earth).
I’d hear her gentle panting, because she was an old dog by this time, and I’d smell her damp dog-breath as she came up to the side of the bed. I’d stick my arm out of the blanket pile and pat the bed, encouraging her to come up and warm my feet. She would jump up silently and stake out a spot at the foot, facing the door to sense when my father got up, because he was the alpha dog.
And then, finally, I’d fall asleep.