Like Civil War bandages.
That’s how my boyfriend describes the way pillows look when they turn all mottled and brownish. “What is coming out of our heads that make them so gross?” he asks. This question is unanswerable, and most of our pillows look like Civil War bandages.
When we moved in together, PT and I combined our pillows without thinking about it. We just put pillowcases on them and piled them on the bed. Two of them went to the bed in the furnished extra room that we rent out as often as we can (n.b. we have not used Airbnb yet!). Some were mine and some were his, but all of them—save for the one Ikea pillow I picked up at some point in the past seven years in New York—were of unknown provenance; and they were gross.
On a Sunday a couple of weeks ago, we went to Ikea for new pillows. I knew that the one good one I had was a Gosa Pinje, the phrase lodged in my head, somewhere between where I keep my stray bits of Yiddish and the names of record labels (metacategory: nonsense words that still convey meaning), and I murmured this to myself as we strolled through the store. “Gosa Pinje, Gosa Pinje, Gosa Pinje.”
Turns out Gosa Pinje comes in both back sleeper and side sleeper varieties. “Why even bother naming a thing if it doesn’t mean enough?” PT grumbled. It didn’t matter! We bought two, standard size, $9.99 each.
The next Sunday, we got around to putting them on our bed, and had to choose two of the six extant pillows to discard. We unsheathed them from their pillow cases, put the previously owned Gosa Pinje in the “keep” pile, and looked at the rest. They were all kinda icky: splotchy, brown, embarrassing reminders of humanity’s capacity for secretion.
“How do we do this?” I asked. We took turns putting our faces down on the pillows, imagining ourselves sleeping.
“This is our life now, Baby,” said PT.
“This is not a thing they taught me how to do in grownup school,” I said. “They did not cover this in Career and Personal Planning.”
Then we actually had to make some decisions.
“This one definitely goes.”
“Oh, but I’m kind of fond of this one.”
“It is lumpy and disgusting.”
“I kind of like how lumpy it is.”
“So which ones do you want to get rid of?”
We were both paralyzed with potential regret: what if we had preferences that we didn’t even know? What if our subconscious selves were drawn to specific pillows that our waking selves couldn’t identify? What if we got rid of the wrong pillows?
The lumpy one went, as did one with the word “medium” written all over it in fake-fancy scrawl. We reluctantly hid the remaining war bandages with pillowcases; covering our shame with the triumph of brand-new vintage pillowcases thanks to my grandparents’ hoarding techniques (my sheets are the very same ones that Sally Draper has in season five of Mad Men.
“Maybe we should replace all of them?” PT asked.
“Yeah,” I said, “but like, with the fancy, $80 pillows.”
“But not from Ikea.”
“No, like from…” I realized I have no idea where one is supposed to buy non-Ikea pillows. Macys?
[Flashback to being sick in my fourth year of undergrad in Toronto, and weirdly not having any pillows because I had lost them in a move. I decided that I absolutely could not be sick in bed without pillows so I, in the dead of winter, got on the subway and went to the Bay in the Eatons Centre where Sarah Jessica Parker was having some event to promote her new perfume and the place was mobbed and I was sick-addled and pillows all seemed unreasonably expensive so I went home without any pillows, and instead with something useful but unnecessary, like a new bath mat]
This morning, we stuffed the two discarded pillows down the garbage chute.
Dory Kornfeld is a Ph.D. candidate in Urban Planning at Columbia. Her best side gig is teaching economics to IBEW union members at the Harry Van Arsdale Center for Labor Studies. She also makes quilts for all the weddings and the babies. Her halfhearted tumblr is greenpeugeot.tumblr.com.