First, there was the issue that I hadn't slept in a top bunk in about 15 years. I'm laying there thinking, "I better not fall off this damn thing. I'll kill myself." I fell off a top bunk once in college, and I woke up on the way to the ground. Believe me, of all the horrible ways to wake up, waking up in midair a split second before you land on a hard tile floor has got to rank somewhere near the top. I barely had time to squawk.
After the fear subsided, I started to worry what this poor little girl would think if she knew that some giant, gross dad had slept in her bed. I just imagined her squealing and running away from sheets that were totally infected with some cootie-type parasite. But, I figured, her mom was the one who put me here, so maybe the cootie problem was well in hand.
Third came my wife, who was sleeping on the bottom bunk and who didn't really appreciate my thrashing around awkwardly on the top bunk. Apparently, I was shaking the whole set-up. So I tried to stop moving.
After I settled in, I started to pay attention and found myself smack in the childhood of an interesting little girl. It's funny what you can tell about people, even kids, from their spaces. Of course, Hannah Montana was looking down at me, microphone in hand, hip-cocked and smiling. Hi, Hannah, wait till you see what happens after you become Miley.
The bed's owner had also taped a piece of notebook paper on the wall where she could see it. On it, she had carefully written a long title and drawn two columns. The title was "The DIFFERENCE between insects and bugs." In the bugs column, she had written, "They have a triangle on their back." In the insects column, she had written, "All insects are bugs, but not all bugs are insects."
In a weird sort of way, I think I understood exactly what she meant.
And then I got sucked into the Strawberry Shortcake poster, and that was where I got seriously unhinged. I remembered Strawberry Shortcake as a cute little thing with freckles and pigtails. But, my oh my, Strawberry has certainly changed since I was a kid. Now she's a full-on Japanimation wonder, with huge blue eyes, a tiny nose and rosebud mouth, and lustrous hair. In the poster, Strawberry was braiding her pony's hair, and no little girl could ask for more than this pony. It pranced on three hooves, with its head cocked coquettishly, its back delightfully rounded. The pony's mane had been transformed into a cascade of golden locks and its giant, melting eyes were half-closed, its tiny pink mouth half open.
The pony was pitched perfectly at eye level, so you could lay in the top bunk and stare and stare, imagining your fingers intertwined in the pony's luxuriant hair, caring for and pampering the sexy little beast.
I had one of those moments. I could actually feel the longing of a little girl studying her poster, wishing for all the chocolate kisses in the world that she could just crawl into that land where houses are made from cupcakes and love that little pony with all of my heart. Later, I'm sure Strawberry Shortcake will come down and Justin Bieber (or whoever will play his part in the future) will go up, but the effect will be exactly the same: it will be one of those empty canvases upon which little girls draw imaginary sketches of love, of barely understood lust and longing, and a future where they aren't little girls anymore but lovers and brides and wives and mothers.
After I got through thinking all this (and by now was truly getting tired), I wondered if, later on, there would still be room in her life for worrying about the difference between bugs and insects. I hoped so.