The Hideabed: A ten-part personal history told through the pull-out couch, fold-out sofa, sofa-bed, or hideabed as it was known in my family.
One: A Boyfriend’s Hideabed.
When I was in ninth grade, my boyfriend was a senior in high school and a rebel in his family. He was the second son of four boys raised by educated, politically liberal but socially conservative parents in an upper middle class family. His father occupied a special chair in the history department at Montana State University, in Bozeman. His mother was a librarian at the university library.
Three of his four grandparents were Jewish, a fact his parents didn’t want known in Montana. So there was no religion in this family, but there were rules. He and his brothers wore dress slacks to school (in Montana), kept their hair cut short (in 1973), and went to bed (in pajamas) by 8PM on school nights. Owning a car was out of the question, but his parents did relent and allow him to work as a lot boy at the Fiat dealership. I have no idea why Bozeman had a Fiat dealership in the 1970s, but it did.
Anyway, he secretly saved his money, bought a car, and used it to run away with his girlfriend at age sixteen. By the time the police found them (somewhere in the Deep South) they had broken up, and both worked in a chicken processing plant. He was arrested and faced charges of statutory rape, but the liberal application of lawyers made all that go away.
Once his parents got him safely back home, the rules relaxed for my boyfriend. He grew his hair long, wore jeans and flannel shirts, openly smoked cigarettes, worked at a gas station, and bought a noisy Chrysler hot rod with a 440 engine. He also gave up the pajamas. Within the family’s tastefully appointed midcentury home, he further demonstrated his freedom from the rules that bound his brothers by vacating his childhood bedroom.
He moved to a spare room on the lower level that contained not much more than a hideabed and a large black and white TV. The room had sophistication, I would give him that. It was just down the hall from the little door he and his brothers had shimmied through to reach a dirt crawlspace, where they’d created a magnificent series of roads and excavations for their Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars. He opened the door to show me once, and let me tell you, I wanted nothing more than to go in there and play. But that was childhood, and he was grown.
I was grown, too, I guess. I was fourteen, on the Pill, and had been released into the wilds of unsupervised adolescence by my parents. Whenever his family traveled—he never went along, preferring to stay home and work—I spent nights on that hideabed, the first I’d ever slept in, with the bar across its middle pressing into my back, and him pressing into all the rest of me.
Two: A Parental Hideabed Appears.
I spent part of ninth grade and the summer after it living with my older brother in Bozeman, but Brother Steve moved back in with my parents late that summer. I stayed with my sister in Bozeman for as long as I could (she’d moved out at age sixteen and had a basement apartment off Main Street), but eventually I had to move to Missoula, too.
My parents, in one of their stabs at reinvention (law school for my dad), lived in married student housing for the University of Montana. So that’s where I landed at the beginning of my sophomore year. My family’s first hideabed appeared here, a small fold-out loveseat for this apartment, a “really good” one, according to my mother. She was particular about furniture brands, something she bequeathed to me, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
No one slept in the loveseat hideabed. I slept upstairs in a twin bed, displacing my older brother, who took my little brothers room/bed. Eric bunked in with my parents in a game of Musical Beds. It was a three bedroom with five of us and one bathroom. Then my boyfriend showed up. He’d put off enrolling in college because he was miserable and lonely without me, so he got a job in Missoula and moved into my twin bed.
The situation was untenable, but we’d lived in plenty of untenable situations before. This one proved too much for even my parents. They decided to clean house. They would keep Steve—my mom almost always kept my older brother—and my little brother was only three years old, so he wasn’t going anywhere. My parents decided that my boyfriend should return to his plan of enrolling in an auto mechanic program at the junior college in Yakima, Washington, and that I should go with him. So I did. At age fifteen. I moved to another state, where we pretended we were married so CPS wouldn’t put me in foster care.
Three: Sorry, I’m trying to stick to writing about hideabeds, but this other crap intrudes.
I hated Yakima. Hated being so far from my family. I ached and pined and had what I know now were anxiety attacks. I was so excited to go home for Christmas that year, but it was a disaster on more levels than I have the heart to recount. I’m not sure who slept in their miniscule living room on the miniscule hideabed that Christmas. My boyfriend–let’s call him “Phil,” because that was his actual name–Phil was with his family in Bozeman having his usual opulent Christmas, so I think it might have been me and my sister.
After that sad little Christmas when I was fifteen, Phil and I didn’t go back until the next summer. I was sixteen. We worked for my parents, whose miniatures business had really taken off. They still lived in the University’s student housing even though neither of them were taking classes. That summer wasn’t bad, really, aside from sleeping on that teeny hideabed. It was cramped and the bar pressed across our backs, but we fit. And I learned to ride a bike, finally.
And then, my sister moved to Missoula. Yes, that same summer. So we were all jammed into that tiny student housing apartment, Mom, Dad, four kids plus Phil, very little money, no space. Phil and I returned to Yakima, dropping the kid tally to three, but even so, this was just too much for my parents. They’d been moving us out since my brother turned 18, and we all kept moving back in, over and over again. They couldn’t get rid of us, but they kept trying.
So after my father flunked out of law school, my parents left both my older siblings behind in Missoula and moved to California. I didn’t know they’d moved until I made a slightly panicked phone call to my sister when I was not able to reach our parents. “Oh, they moved,” she told me.
I know we gathered in Missoula that Christmas, in a mobile home my sister and brother rented while they both went to college. This was another miserable Christmas. My parents were desperately broke. We were all so desperately broke. And there we were, trying to gather like any other family and celebrate. No wonder my mother hated Christmas.
We all went home, sadder and not merry at all.
Four: A New Gigantic Hideabed
Before I return to the hideabed, I need to make it clear that I’m not very clear on how it was for my parents in California. I’m not sure where they lived or where Dad worked, or how it even came to be that they moved there. Communication arrived via letters. They continued to move around a bit, and had a terrible experience working for a residential school, and eventually settled in Redding.
Dad returned to work for either the Forest Service or the Army Corps of Engineers. Mom was home with my younger brother Eric. I think they were also on-site managers of their apartment complex.
It was the spring of my junior year when Phil and I drove to Redding from Yakima to visit. I had only seen them for that terrible Christmas in the preceding year, so this visit felt momentous and important. On our way down, we passed through Portland, Oregon. I’d always hated large cities, but as we drove through Portland I had a bone-deep sense of wonder and happiness. I told him, “I hate cities, but if I ever had to live in one, I think I could live here.”
Redding was fun. Mom bustled around, cheerful and excited. She baked challah bread, and made a “really good” French Stew in her Dutch oven. My little brother’s hair was bleached blonde and he was brown as a nut from swimming in the apartment complex’s swimming pool. It was April, so my mother took me to a small, artsy shopping mall and had me pick out my 17th birthday present. I chose a pottery unicorn that the shop owner said she’d bought on Telegraph Avenue in San Francisco. I still have it.
This is one of the few times in my memory when my mother seemed happy with her life. It’s possible that she was just happy to see us, but she seemed domestic and contented. That was rare, and I enjoyed it.
They had a new hideabed, a large one. In fact it was Queen-sized, and to Phil and I, who slept in a double bed in our furnished apartment, it seemed enormous. Mom claimed it had a “really good” mattress, and we would be comfortable. We only stayed a couple of days, and of course we slept with the bar pressing into our backs. But I was so happy to see my mom that I didn’t care. I would have slept there forever.
Five: The Enormous Hideabed Heads North.
Of course they couldn’t stay in Redding. When my parents moved to Portland, I was quietly thrilled. It was so much closer to Yakima, and there was only one mountain pass between me and Mom (satus Pass, near Goldendale). It felt like my parents had moved next door.
Their first home was a rental in the Southwest part of the city, very near Alpenrose Dairy. It was a ranch with two bedrooms in the main part of the house and a back addition where my older brother had a room. He’d moved back in with my parents due to health problems, and took care of my little brother while both my parents worked for the Corps.
When Phil and I visited, which we did quite often, we slept on the enormous hideabed. I really hated it. It was a little older, and the mattress that my mother had insisted was “really good” had gotten softer. That made the bar even more of an issue. But it was worth it to see my parents, my brothers, and the wonders of Portland.
Ah, Portland in the seventies. We shopped at John’s Landing, where my favorite store was Talk to the Animals. The restaurants where we ate—Henry Thiele’s, Mazzi’s Pizza, Carrow’s, The Crab Bowl—are no more than quaint memories. But I loved Portland just as much as I thought I would when we drove through on our way to Redding.
I was in my senior year. Graduation loomed. I told Phil that I really wanted to move to Portland once I finished school. I pointed out that he’d chosen Yakima, so wasn’t it my turn to choose? And I wanted Portland. He’d exhausted employment opportunities in Yakima, which sounds strange, since he was an auto mechanic and there’s generally a great job market for mechanics. But the YVC auto program was the best in the region. Yakima was overly supplied with young men with good training in the art of auto maintenance.
Phil needed to change markets. Portland beckoned.
Phil moved in with my parents in the spring of 1978. He left me up north with no money and no phone. I’d walk up to a phone booth and call collect to check in. His job search was delayed by having his wisdom teeth out. That didn’t go well. Phil had zero tolerance for pain or illness, and when he experienced either, he completely collapsed. My parents lovingly tended him as he recovered on the enormous hideabed.
He eventually recovered enough to find a job at a brake shop that paid over $7.00 an hour. This was an hourly fortune. We had lived below the poverty level for three years. Come to think of it, my family seemed to always live below poverty level, one way or another. How would we spend all that money?
My head spun with thoughts of how we would live in Portland, and where, and what it would be like to live so near my parents for the first time since tenth grade. I couldn’t wait to get there, but first, I had to graduate.
Six: A Terrible Hideabed Rented Month-to-Month.
I didn’t connect with Phil via the payphone for a few weeks. When I called collect to my parents’ house, he was never there. Mom sounded really brisk and nervous. No one had time to talk to me, it seemed. I was trying to finish up my senior year, subsisting on food from a friend’s father who merchandised groceries and gave us the stuff he culled from grocery shelves, and pervasive melancholy.
Where did the melancholy come in? Well, there had been trouble in my friend circle that year. The tight group of juniors had splintered, leaving me with fewer friends and a sense that graduation was imminent and we would all be scattering. I was also living alone (except for the cats) for the first time in my young life. I didn’t much like it.
Finally, I made a collect call to my sister in Missoula. I did that rarely because it was so expensive. She accepted the charges. She sounded terrible. “I’m so sick. I’m so sick, Karen. But guess who’s here?” Who. Hmm. Her boyfriend Dan? Nope. Her friend Lisa? Not her, either.
I couldn’t guess, so she handed the phone to someone else. I waited.
“Hi,” said Phil. “I didn’t like the job in Portland, so I quit and came to Missoula.” He had already found a job at a car dealership, but they were both sick with what we called the stomach flu back then, and probably what we call Norovirus now. They were so incapacitated that they were just laying together in my sister’s hideabed, suffering.
That’s why my mother had sounded so funny on the phone. When Phil hadn’t liked his job, she’d heartily encouraged him to go to Missoula, and not to tell me as I might object! I can imagine her waving her hands, exhorting him to Just go, Phil! Fly!
Well, it worked. My plans to move to Portland were successfully thwarted, my return to the parental home narrowly averted. Mom must have been so relieved.
I trudged through the remaining weeks of the school year. My parents drove north to Yakima to watch me graduate, and Phil drove east from Missoula to do the same. After the big day, it was time to pack up our meager belongings and the cats, and move back to Montana.
I did not want to move back to Montana. I associated Missoula with six weeks of misery in the tenth grade at Sentinel high school, two horrible Christmases, and the pervasive rotten broccoli smell from the pulp mill. I had no idea, none, why I was headed back. But at least my sister was there, right? I had her, didn’t I?
Except, I barely saw her. For the first weeks, my sister stayed with her boyfriend and Phil and I slept on her hideabed. This was an especially terrible hideabed, with an especially useless mattress. It came with her furnished apartment, and I hated it.
I hated everything. I was lonely for my Yakima friends, disappointed in my sister’s lack of interest in spending time with me, and expected to marry Phil because I’d finally turned eighteen. And to top it all off, there I lay on this lumpy hideabed with the bar in my back, night after night, while we saved for an apartment of our own.
When the apartment directly below my sister opened up, we put down the deposit and moved in. It was a crumbling, drafty, ramshackle one bedroom, but it had a bed. A thin, hard, crummy double bed, but a bed nonetheless.
I remember this apartment and the year I spent there as pretty terrible. We had zero money, the heat bills were horrendous, and my sister ignored me once the tiny patio wedding was over. She had her own friends, two jobs, and an extremely dramatic life in which there was little room for me. Once again, I was alone with Phil in a place I didn’t want to be. And to top it off, we were really married.
A trip to Portland the summer after I turned nineteen convinced me that I needed to move there as soon as possible. I came home and tried to convince Phil, but he was a skier, a hiker, and a mountain climber. He loved Montana. I started at the University of Montana the next fall. I was only there for two quarters, but I made friends, took classes from some wonderful professors, and endured an escalating level of physical violence from Phil because he sensed I was slipping away.
Here’s the thing about Phil. He was considered the sweetest guy in the world by almost everyone who knew him. Only a few people knew about his raging temper, and even fewer knew he hit me while he raged. But in 1979, no one I told, including my parents, thought this was a reason to leave him. Well, except maybe my sister. She knew, and she cared. But she was busy planning her own escape from Missoula. I was bereft when she moved to Oregon within a few months of my arrival.
I wanted to leave so badly. For months, I called my parents and asked if I could come home. They said no, they had no room for me. I reminded then that Phil hit me. My mother reiterated the advice she’d given me for years. “Try not to make him mad.” She also reiterated the fact that they had no room.
Finally I called and just told them I was coming. They didn’t have to have a room for me, I’d figure something out, I just needed a place to stay until I could get a job. I would stay in their basement if needs be.
“What about Phil?” my dad asked. “Are you just abandoning him?”
“Yes,” I said calmly. “Yes, I am.”
I should never have married Phil, but when I did, my parents bought us a “really good” bed. I took that bed with me when I finally moved to Portland in the spring of 1980. I took the bed, but not Phil. My sister drove out in her big van and rescued me. And the cats. Let’s not forget about the cats. I had my bed, my books, and two cats.
It was enough.
Seven: No More Hideabeds for Me. Because I Brought My Own Goddamn Bed.
This time, I didn’t land on a hideabed. I set up a room in the corner of my parents’ basement. No, it wasn’t a walkout or a finished basement. It was an actual basement, raw walls and concrete floor with no ceiling, just beams and joists above my head. I had a pull string light over the bed, and a dirty basement window that barely admitted any light. The washer and dryer were ten steps away, as were the cat boxes. Spiders. Dampness. Mold. I didn’t care. I was in Portland, and I had finally broken away from Phil. I was determined to make it work.
The big hideabed upstairs was occupied by my sister and her husband, who had also decided to move to Portland to live with my parents. This was a two-bedroom rental house with a sort-of finished attic. Before I knew it, it somehow held my parents, me, my older brother, my younger brother, my sister, her husband, and then my sister’s best friend Lisa arrived. Where did they all sleep? I had no idea. I went to work and out on dates and hung out in the basement, doing my best to avoid all the drama going on upstairs.
I’d lived in Missoula for a year and a half, and when I got to Portland, my parents were in a state of open marital warfare. Gone were the parents who had seemed so happy in Redding, so delighted by their first year in Portland. My sister’s eating disorders made every shared meal into a sort of black comedy with sound effects. My older brother’s blue plate combo of obsessiveness and passive aggression were absolutely out of control.
In all likelihood, these things had been going on for years. But at age 19, I had returned to the parental home as an adult. I could see how the life my parents led had affected my little brother, who was only eight. I was worried for him. My parents were both having affairs, and my mother kept raging at us kids for being born and my father for not giving her the life she deserved. We were all so broken, including me.
A person shouldn’t know this much about herself at age 19. I had no choice. I understood why I’d had such a hard time leaving Phil. I understood what he’d offered me. We’d built a strange and shabby little life together, but Phil provided the only security I had ever known.
It had taken a lot of courage to throw in my lot with my parents again. I did it because I’d thought their lives had finally changed in Portland. Both of them worked decent government jobs. They rented the little house because they were building a large house in the Portland suburbs. But they were terribly broke and it was somehow our fault. All us kids contributed rent but there was never a penny to spare, and for the life of me, even now, I still don’t understand why. I hadn’t taken a dime from them since I was fifteen, and my sister moved out to support herself at sixteen, but somehow it was all our fault that they were always, always broke.
There was no security to be found, financial or emotional, in my parents’ home.
Still, I didn’t regret my decision to leave Phil. I no doubt had PTSD, but I was toughing it out, working as a file clerk, establishing Oregon residency so I could get in-state tuition, trying my best to get on my feet and figure out my next move. I was trying.
Then, out of the blue, Mom announced that she and Dad were going to sell the house they were building and move to Taos. I wanted to cry but I laughed instead. Of course they were going to move. How else would they get rid of us? They didn’t move to Taos, and within a year, we had all exited, to return or not in the coming decades.
I understand now that my parents were trapped in a wretched cycle. They were ambivalent at best about parenting, so they offloaded us older kids as quickly as possible. But they sent us out into the world far too early, with no support. We kept returning, trying to force our way back in, as if we could be re-parented and then launched successfully. And of course, our parents did love us, so they let us return, only to shove us all out again. Who could blame them?
Maybe my mother blamed the hideabed. If she hadn’t always had a place for us to sleep, certainly we’d have stayed away, wouldn’t we? So she got rid of it.
Eight: The Enormous Hideabed Moves to My House.
In 1981, with the ink on my divorce from Phil barely dry, I married again. I married at 18 and again at 21 and I really needed to find a better way to mark momentous birthdays, but there I was, pregnant, so I married Kevin.
My mom and dad had given us the Big Hideabed with the worn out “really good” mattress a few months earlier. They’d bought new couches at the Meier and Frank warehouse sale and needed to offload it, and we didn’t have a couch. So moving that enormous beast of a sofa became our job.
In our first apartment, Kevin’s mother slept on it when she came down to help us with our newborn daughter. She was planning to stay for six weeks and lasted three days. I didn’t blame the hideabed. She left because she wasn’t allowed to smoke around the baby, but if the discomfort of that bar pressing into her back played any part at all in her decision to return home, then I owe that bar a debt of gratitude.
The next person to sleep on the hideabed was my mom. My father and younger brother had moved to Bainbridge Island, but Mom was still working in Portland for the Corps of Engineers. So she slept at our house during the week, and went up to Bainbridge on the weekends. She liked her job, and her independence, and the fact that I had dinner waiting for her every evening. And she got on like gangbusters with our daughter, who was less than two at the time. She adored her Grandma and it was mutual.
This is another time when I feel like my mom was happy with her life. Mom never once complained about that bar across her back.
When Kevin and I were finally flush enough to buy our own couch, we decided on one that didn’t fold out. The enormous hideabed had served us well through many of my parents’ homes and two of our apartments. It was time for it to retire to the Union Gospel Mission, the only place in town accepting used couches. They came and picked it up, all five hundred pounds of it or whatever it weighed. I was not sad to see it go.
Nine: The Final Hideabeds.
In 1988, Kevin and I bought our first home, and promptly bought another hideabed for our TV room. We both wanted a place for friends and family to sleep. I made no claims that the mattress was “really good,” but it wasn’t as bad as some I’d slept on. I knew it had a bar that pressed against people’s backs because we occasionally slept on it ourselves. But it was in a room with a door and a nearby half-bath. These were decent guest accommodations.
When Kevin left, I bought another loveseat-sized hideabed for the Great Room (the 1980s version of “Open Concept,” look it up). It was called into service fairly often. Kids would have friends over, or someone was sick and wanted to sleep in the living room with the big TV, and out came the bed. It wasn’t comfortable, but it was serviceable. Our dog Holly really liked sleeping on it so it got a little hairy and smelly, just like sweet old Holly.
Years passed. Holly died. The kids began leaving home. My two younger daughters went to college, and lived in dorms and shared houses. Once gone, they mostly stayed gone, though they both returned for short spells after graduating. I sent the big hideabed to the dump when I turned the TV room into my bedroom, and I lost the smaller hideabed in a house fire. But there was always room for the girls on a couch or in a spare room or even in my king-sized bed, along with me and all my snoring.
My oldest daughter, in pursuit of a creative career, took a bit longer to move out. But her room was always right there waiting for her. I kept it ready because she is an actor, and had breaks between show runs when she needed a place to stay. She also came home for a few months during the pandemic shutdown. The thing is, she’s married now, and a homeowner. I should probably face the fact that she no longer needs a place to land, and convert that room into an office.
Ten: Hideabed Free.
At present, it’s just me and my beloved husband here. We have zero hideabeds. We’re happy to host people in our guest rooms, which are a little cluttered, but really, they’re just fine. One has a double bed with a memory foam topper, and one has a “really good” queen-sized bed. The bathroom is right across the hall. I tell people, “Stay with us anytime. We have room.” I feel magnanimous, offering such easy hospitality. I want people to be comfortable while they’re here. That’s why we don’t have a hideabed.
If I have a point, it’s this. If you want to avoid children boomeranging back into your home, don’t get a hideabed. Instead, provide them a safe place to grow, and don’t shove them out until they’re ready. Let them know they can return if they need to, and save a place for them in case they do. Chances are, they’ll fly and stay flown.
Guests? That’s a different matter entirely. If you want to make sure your guests don’t stay too long, get a hideabed. There’s nothing like a bar across your back to make sure you don’t stay too long.
Oh, Karen, I just love who you are! Your writing flows so very lovingly, with such great wit and tongue in cheek observations, that you reveal very gently what had to have been a very painful adolescence and young adulthood. Only someone who has confronted and dealt with this pain could find such joy in life. Thank you for having the courage to share these experiences so eloquently.
Pat, thank you for reading with such compassion and care. As I said to Popo, I have no idea why this is all coming out, or why, but I will just go with it for now. Hugs to you.
I don’t know about you, my friend, but for me, writing something so incredibly personal and so unapologetically honest would be very, very difficult: like ripping an inch-deep scab off a sensitive body part and watching the hole fill up with blood. Brutal.
Well done, you.
Yes, dear popo, and then that leaves the question of “why.” Is it better to leave that scab in place? This long piece grew out of a two-word writing prompt sent by a friend. I approached it with no intention of revealing this much of myself. I was just going to talk about all these damn hideabeds, and how much I disliked them. I ended up telling a story of parental dereliction, adolescent trauma, and domestic abuse. I have to ride this wave of self-revelation for some reason but there are times I am baffled as to what the hell I am doing. And yet, I continue.
I love this! Such a great vehicle to walk us through the seasons and people in your life. Just the other day I was telling Alvin how fancy I feel having a whole room with a “really great mattress” to offer. I do my makeup in there at the desk/vanity and It feels so upscale. Ha! How did you survive my pull-out in nyc for all those visits? I couldn’t do it at this point. Oh we were so much younger then and not so creaky and stiff.
There are two hideabeds I never minded sleeping on–yours, and the little one at Mimi’s treehouse on the coast. They both have/had bars across the back, but I managed to sleep on both because it meant I was in fun places with people I love. I might work them in that last section if I revise this and correct the typos…