“With the landless gull, that at sunset folds her wings and is rocked to sleep between billows;
so at nightfall, the Nantucketer, out of sight of land, furls his sails, and lays him to his rest,
while under his very pillow rush herds of walruses and whales.”
— Herman Melville, Moby Dick
I’m very particular about where I lay my head when it’s time to sleep. So many pillows have felt uncomfortable, inadequate, or inferior that a untallied number of nights away from home have passed in restless distress, moments of doze fractured by bouts of waking to stare at walls or ceiling shrouded in shadow.
It’s difficult to find a comfortable middle ground. Preferences in pillows are as diverse as opinions on anything else. One person chooses goose-down over synthetic foam. Another likes their pillow tortilla-flat rather than skyscraper high. Still another prefers concrete hardness above a softness that cradles ones head like an egg in a cup. Me, I like thick over thin, firm over soft. I was raised with feather pillows, whose stuffing I gradually plucked free as the quills worked through the striped covering to prick my cheeks. A good solid drubbing was the only thing that would lend them some loft before bed, and they were consequently flattened by morning.
It took me years to get used to foam pillows. The early one felt funny beneath my head and smelled strange when I attempted to nestle into them. More than once, I cast them aside and slept with my arm beneath my head or substituted a folded towel or blanket. They’ve improved with time. Either that, or I’ve grown tolerant.
When it comes to a daytime nap, I’m less picky. I’m not sure why that is, unless it has something to do with the conscious knowledge that it’s only for an hour or two. I can easily fall asleep with my head cocked up on the arm of the couch, on my bent elbow, or nestled against one of the cats. I can drowse without any pillow at all or with just a swatch of blanket folded against my cheek. Unless I’m sick, of course, and then I want my regular pillow.
Is it the comfort of familiarity, I wonder? When I’m ill, I seek out favorite foods or pajamas, blankets or movies. As much as I enjoy travel (for the most part), when I’m away I crave a comfort that reminds me of home. It’s gotten so I travel with my pillow, if it can be easily accommodated. With that beneath my head, I can sleep anywhere, even on a hard floor with a Boxer (the dog, not the person) snoring in my ear. (Been there.)
Having spoke to friends about this, I know I’m not the only one out there with a pillow preference. What about you? What’s yours?