Red Bed

Last month, I dyed everything on my bed red. This desire came over me in a rush. All at once, I dumped bright dye in the washing machine, followed by sheets, pillowcases, a bedspread, shirts, nightgowns, pajamas and underwear. My eyes danced with the visual feast that emerged. Every night I wallowed in varieties of scarlet. Each fabric took the dye differently, so I enjoyed hues from salmon orange to hot pink and Christmas red to soft rose.

I’d loved my formerly white sheets, seven hundred count Egyptian cotton. I had them monogrammed with my original name which I’d reclaimed after a bad breakup, a symbol of my new life. The sheets featured thousands of tiny bumps and I loved the soft texture. As years went by, I patched several small holes. One day, when I tried to brighten the white sheets by washing them with too much Clorox, the bleach caused large beige/ochre stains which bore an unfortunate resemblance to urine. Nothing removed those stains. The rebel in me said, No, I refuse to throw away these noble sheets. This led me to grab the old dye bottle, which happened to be near.

My wild red spree didn’t seem inspired by frustration with the pandemic. Ten years ago, I did the same thing with purple dye, tossing in shirts, pants and underwear. I spared my bed on that round. But I felt resplendent in the new shades of purple I donned, from lavender to deep royal hues. Friends noticed and were kindly inquisitive about my new purple clothes. But these colors didn’t bleed in subsequent washings with other fabrics. Unlike red. 

I’d “fixed” the red colors in a special substance designed to stop any bleeding into other fabrics. But eventually all my towels, washcloths, kitchen linens and more underwear turned pink. The red dye spiraled out of control. Everything in my home now matched. I wouldn’t change a thing. I preserved my favorite sheets, luxuriated in warm colors each night and cheered up my home with rosy accessories.

I began to think of other impulsive decisions I’d made in the past: who to date, where to travel. The consequences of some of these had, like red dye, bled into the rest of my life for years, sometimes turning it more cheerful like the pervasive pinkness in my home. People I’d met in Czechoslovakia in 1967 became friends for life. Now, even our children keep in touch.

At other times, consequences could be more dismal. A couple of bad breakups came to mind. I wouldn’t have changed all the good inherent in these relationships at the beginning and the valuable lessons I learned about how to communicate better with people. However, I still grieved the deep sadness of our final partings, a permanent stain on my life.

Recently, the most significant major unplanned decision arrived with the pandemic and like red dye, I’ve watched it bleed into the rest of my life over the past eleven months. When Covid-19 first struck, I felt a deep and sudden urge to try hard to stay healthy and take whatever steps necessary to help others keep safe, too. Not that I haven’t had moments of self-pity and bickering. I hated being separated from my son since his town had a high infection rate. However, I remained resolute, making the best of it, as have most of my friends. But one colleague showed up on Zoom meetings and, each time, angrily ranted about how she hated having her usual routines upset by the pandemic. I haven’t yet mentioned to her that this terrible disease has probably been more inconvenient for those who’ve died. It’s been tempting.

On the other hand, she made me realize that, like my red bed that has continued to spread cheerful pinkness throughout my home with each load of laundry, my initial pandemic decision to roll with the punches has given me a more positive attitude in the long run. On lockdown number one, I discovered how to order food from grocery stores and have it delivered, a new convenience I’ll continue into a Covid-free future. I now love keeping in touch via electronic meetings, which wouldn’t have happened so pervasively without this national emergency. Over the unexpected year of solitude, I’ve enjoyed socially sanctioned introversion: reading, writing, painting, drawing, meditating and journaling. Our normally hyper culture had previously rewarded hectic and extroverted life styles. I’d felt pressured to conform and tended to over-schedule myself. No more. Just as my red bed spawned cheer in my home, a mostly positive attitude toward the pandemic has led me to new joyful discoveries.


Cate Burns is the author of Libido Tsunami: Awash with the Droll in Life, in which she unearths the ludicrous in the emotional live traps surrounding us — in families, friends and disastrous romances. Get it on Amazon today.

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