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Transitions: Destroying the bunk bed

The bunk bed’s time was up. Nick is 16 now and has moved into the back room. He uses the bed in there that we once kept for guests. He left behind him all the toys, projects, books, and models he paid attention to as a child. In his new room, he surrounds himself with the things that interest him now. He abandoned the life of a child and entered a new phase of life.

At the same time, we need a room where we can house guests again. Nick was essentially inhabiting two rooms, one with his old self and another with his new. We also require a place we can use as an office, as the desk in the basement, well, is in the basement, not a good place for me to work. The low ceiling and lack of light doesn’t lend itself to a great place to contemplate and cogitate. But the living room table, while in an expansive room with a high ceiling, is all right during the day but becomes a hub of family activity in the evening, making it less than ideal.

Nick’s old room would be a perfect place for an office, a place where I can retire and close the door, effectively separating me from the ruckus of life and the television. Virginia will also find a desk useful, as it will give her space to do her charting in the evenings when I have already completed my work for the day.

Nick and I set to work after weeks of saying we were going to do it. We gathered claw hammers, two-pound sledge, nail-pullers, wrenches, and drill with a Philips-head bit. Once we had the tools, we walked into the room and made a plan. I directed, sort of, as Nick is a go-getter and has a good head for these sorts of things. We started with the bed’s ladder, which was nailed in two ways and a real bummer to loose from the frame. But with come guidance and leverage on a nail puller, it came loose and we hammered the nails out of it.

Meantime, I was using the drill to take out as many of the wood screws I’d built it with as I could. It turns out that I used both nails and screws where one or the other would have worked. Nick unscrewed the nuts on the carriage bolts that carried the bulk of the weight of the mattress structure at the joints. What we could not unscrew, the sledge took care of nicely. I had to show him how to swing it. After a few strokes, he had it down and became a real demolition man.

As it came apart, the bunk bed said a lot about me. When Nick came to us, we wanted to greet him in a way that would make him feel welcome from the start. A bunk bed in his new room, I thought, would be just the thing. I went out and bought new two-by-fours and two-by-sixes, a drill, a hammer, and enough nails and screws to do the job. Then, I set to work in the basement, moving the completed pieces into Nick’s new room and putting it together with friends.

As we deconstructed the bed piece by piece, the whole of the work surprised me. Its craftsmanship was clearly of an amateur. I had a firm had a firm idea of what I wanted to do but didn’t have the skills to do a neat, clean job of it. I found in the destruction process that I’d overbuilt it, which demonstrated that I wanted to construct something that would last, would stand up to boys running up the ladder and wrestling on the bunks. I noticed that I’d rounded off the rough edges with a wood rasp. I’d painted the bed Nick’s favorite color at the time, sunflower yellow.

I couldn’t help thinking, wow, I did that. Can I still accomplish such a feat? Are these skills lost to me now? Nick didn’t know until we started our work just went into the bed. He wondered aloud what other kinds of things I was capable of. The bed reminded him of the playhouse we once built in the backyard. As with the bed, our hut served its purpose and we tore it down together. Here we were, at it again.

At the same time, I remembered Nick’s friends staying overnight. They had skittered up the ladder and down. They wrestled on the bunks. I remember going in there some mornings and finding kids in knots on the bed, everyone sleeping. He’d also built his own life in there, graffitiing the bunk above him and all along the sides.

When we’d taken apart the top bunk completely, we stacked the wreckage in the basement. We smacked our hands and set to the next phase of the transformation from child’s room to family office and guest room. Childhood interests had accreted all around the bed and underneath it—twelve years of kid’s stuff. I had Nick get some trash bags and empty the drawers of his chest into them. They were full of clothes he grew out of some time ago.

Then, we put our minds to getting rid of all the kiddie goods he no longer used: karate uniform pads, and helmet. We bagged up these and the worn-out games and toys, books useful to no one anymore, and school projects long forgotten. I left him to this work after a while and used the vacuum cleaner to suck up all the dust and crumbs in the space we cleared.

It was hard for me to see the passage of one phase of life into another. Those pictures in crayon and pencil, magic marker and felt tip jerked tears and sobs, but I was careful not to let Nick see these things happening. It was important that we separate ourselves from these things, to be as unsentimental as possible in our work. It hurt to throw out the things that reminded me of his childhood. He looked at some stuff with awe, as if learning something about the person he was.

I steeled myself then. No more would I bemoan the passage of time. Instead, I would look forward to the promises of a new field of endeavor, a new place to ply my trade. I’d celebrate the maturation of my child. We tied up the bags and set them on the curb with the recycling. But our day was not yet complete.

We had to move the bed to another wall. We set the mattress on the bottom bunk on that which came from the top, making a suitable bed for guests. Then, we vacuumed more, getting the dust of years out of the corners and from beneath where the toys and games once laid. We redid the bookshelves and moved them to another wall. Finally, we remade the bed and put the old bedclothes in the washer.

By the time we had completed our work, we had been at work in the space for about three hours, the two of us busy the whole time. We left the room. I fixed in my mind the way the room used to be, another memory I will have every time I go in there. I witnessed the passing of an age, the only remnants of which are the impressions on the carpet where the bunk bed, as a whole, once stood.

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