The Scary Bunk Bed

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Move-in day in the girls dorm. Photo courtesy Conni Townsend.

You will be secure, because there is hope; you will look about you and take your rest in safety. Job 11:18 (NIV)

My first night in the dormitory at Kent Academy the auntie on duty pointed toward the tall bunk bed against the right-hand wall of Room 15 at the end of the first-grade hall. “You’re in the top bunk,” she said.

My stomach tightened and my six-year-old voice squeaked like a mouse. “I have to sleep way up there? But how do I get up so high?” I’ve never slept so high off the ground, I thought to myself. It looks scary.

“I like the upper bunk,” my roommate said. “Can I have that bed? Please, please, please?”

“No, I’m sorry,” the auntie replied. “Your bed has your blanket from home and your name printed on the tag here.” She ran her finger along a piece of tape on the metal frame. “I can’t change that, and I’m sure you’ll both get used to them soon.”

After she left to check on the girls across the hall, my roommates and I gathered around the foot of the bed.

“There’s no ladder,” I said, “and that bed’s as tall as Mount Sanderson behind the boys’ dorm.” Tears sprang up and I blinked them back. I’m so stupid. I can’t even get into my bed.

“Look at these bars on the end.” My roommate patted two parallel crossbars, about two feet and four feet off the ground. “You climb up on those.”

“Are you sure?” I asked. “Our towels are hanging over them. How do I get up without stepping on the towels?”

“Maybe you use this edge of the bar where the towel doesn’t reach. Try it!”

Scaling Mount Sanderson

Gripping it with my fingers and toes, I heaved my weight up.

I braced my left foot on the bottom bed frame and threw my right foot up to the first crossbar. Inching the towel aside with my toes, I then pulled my left foot up alongside. Next, I stretched my right foot up to the second crossbar. Gripping it with my fingers and toes, I heaved my weight up.

Safely on the top crossbar, I stood tall and rested my shaky legs, peering across my mattress.

“Almost there!” my cheerleaders called out.

Giving one last push-off with my toes, I flung my chest over the bedspread, and flailed my hands out to each side of the mattress. Grasping handfuls of the bedding, I tried to shimmy the rest of me up and over. I didn’t budge.

Finally, all three friends shoved on my heels and my backside. “Wow! I’m up high!” I grinned ear-to-ear as my cohorts clapped.

Scrambling to the head of the bed, I crawled between the cool, white sheets. The skin on my stomach burned, and I discovered a long, red welt from scraping over the top edge of the metal frame.

Just then the auntie came back in and gave us each a quick kiss on the cheek. “Good night. Sleep tight!” she called out in a sing-song voice and flipped the switch off. “Remember, there’s no talking after lights out. And no getting out of bed until morning.”

Rumblings in the Scary Bed

All of a sudden, a wave of fear gripped me. The metal railings had a space in the middle that my thin body could squeeze through. On the other side, along the wall, was a big gap and no guard rail at all.

What if I roll off when I’m sleeping? I’m in danger no matter which way I turn.

With my heart fluttering like a hummingbird’s wings, I lay in the center of the bed, as straight and still as I could. I don’t want to budge. I might loosen the sheets because they’re keeping me tucked in.

Suddenly, I felt a massive earthquake shake our school compound.  What’s happening?!

Then I realized the girl below me had kicked up on my mattress. She gave another violent thrust, bouncing me around. “I want your bed!” she wailed. “Why can’t I have the top bunk?”

“Don’t do that!” Panic rose from deep in my chest, lodged in my throat, and turned my voice shrill. “Stop it!”

Staccato footsteps sounded outside our door. With the click of the light switch, the bare, overhead bulb flashed into every corner of the room. “What’s going on here, girls? I heard voices.”

Am I in Trouble?

Shielding my eyes from the glare, I stabbed an accusing finger toward the bottom bunk and said, “She was kicking my mattress! I’m scared I’m going to fall onto the floor!”

Pointing at the girl below me, the tight-lipped woman declared, “Young lady! Don’t let me catch you kicking Debbie’s bed again.”

Then looking up at me, she continued, “And Miss Jones! Don’t be a tattle-tale. There’s no need to cry. Once you fall asleep you won’t worry about a thing.”

After the auntie flipped off the light and her footsteps disappeared down the hall, the little tyrant gave the mattress a few more shoves. I clung to the thin railing.

Coming to my defense, another sleepy girl hissed, “Cut that out! We might all get in trouble!”

Eventually my tormentor settled down and I heard her steady breathing. Only then did I drift off to sleep.

Looking Back

This memory so traumatized me, that whenever I thought back to my first room at Kent Academy, I pictured myself sleeping in a single bed. We must have had only three girls in our room, since there was no bunk bed for me, or so I believed. Some years ago, I unearthed my first-grade dorm report card, and it listed four girls in my room. I finally confronted this memory.

The scary prank continued nightly for a few weeks, then slowly tapered off, with sporadic recurrences. Fortunately, in second grade I was assigned to a lower bunk. In third grade I again had an upper, and by that time felt confident sleeping up high.

During that first school semester, I developed several techniques to help me cope: 1) Try to hide my distress, 2) act nice to my bunkmate without mentioning the problem, and 3) ignore the concern and hope it disappears.

 Like a pair of crutches, coping techniques are only meant to be temporary.

Through the years I’ve used those coping skills to handle insecurities and scary situations. Although God graciously allowed me to find ways to survive, those tools replaced feeling loved by him. Like a pair of crutches, coping techniques are only meant to be temporary. However, I depended on those devices for so long, that I didn’t discover how to lean on God and feel loved by him during difficulties.

How do I heal from childhood trauma? Telling my story is the first step. Learning how to walk in freedom and forgiveness with the Lord, as I grow in my ability to feel his love, comes next. Much of this hinges on knowing and trusting God’s character so I can process these memories, like the scary bunk bed, in light of his bigger story.

Link It to Your Life

Is there a memory that you have put off exploring? Was there a time of insecurity or trauma when you used coping mechanisms to get through, perhaps blocking out your emotions? Have you discovered ways God brings true healing?

Prayer: Father, thank you that I can rest secure in you when life is tough. Help me always hold onto hope in you, trusting you are ever with me.

 

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