Hot and sweaty, I let my bag drop onto the worn hardwood floor. In the singular minute since my dorm room has been unlocked, shirts have already been hung and the bed partially pieced together, my patchwork quilt prematurely draped over the footboard. I shake out the gray top sheet and attempt a hospital-corner tuck at the bottom left of the bed, but I am unsuccessful. My foam mattress topper has raised the height of the bed by nearly three inches, rendering it impossible to neatly tuck the sheets underneath. I leave the thin sheet loose, hanging off the edge of the bed.
In many ways, I am the perfect representation of the twin XL that lies before me: long and narrow and disproportionately lanky. The only difference in our frames is my bones and its bedsprings. I wasn’t always this tall. I only shot up in height at the start of my sophomore year of high school. But I didn’t feel the growing pains until I realized, when crawling into bed one night, that I had to curl my legs up into my stomach to prevent my feet from hanging over my mattress. Either that, or my chin would be pushed against my chest to keep my head from pressing against my childhood headboard.
I do not merely bear a physical resemblance to the mattress size. The twin XL is compact. Unassuming. Modest. It takes up the least amount of floor space not out of a fear of attention, but out of courtesy. There is a need, rather than a willingness, to self-sacrifice. The twin XL is used in the American college dorm for practicality. It accommodates others without denying itself comfort. It recognizes the demand for others to be the principal focus, while still assuming space purposefully and in a cleverly efficient manner.
As I approached adolescence, I became increasingly conscious of others’ opinions of me and I struggled with the ability to take up space confidently, making my ever-increasing height and length seem like a cruel joke. It created a terrible feeling of estrangement exacerbated by awkwardly outgrowing hand-me-downs. I was discomforted by the discomfort of others and, as a result, I shifted over to allow them the space I formerly occupied. Like every teenager, I was uncomfortable with myself, and it took constant reminders from others and supportive environments to move past my instinctual impulse to disappear.
I have come to realize that there is a difference between selflessness and self-sabotage. In order to become a reliable figure for others, we must be altruistic, not self-sacrificing. The five-inch difference in length between a twin XL and twin mattress is the difference between security and estrangement. In those extra few centimeters, I feel the contrast between constraining myself and lounging, outstretched, in a soft and easy slumber.
Over the past month, my twin XL has become a reminder to assume the space I require. At times, I still feel out of place and in the way of others; but, I think this might just be a human feeling. Increasingly, I find myself establishing my presence with the reassurance that I am not only allowed to take up space, but that my space is valuable. There is no nobility in craving attention, but there is also no nobility in contorting yourself to the will of others.
And so, the twin XL is my perfect role model. Understated yet present, creative yet purposeful, my twin XL grounds me in reality, a gentle reminder that I belong in the spaces I occupy.