Around this same time, I had my first kiss. The average temperature inside the human mouth is 98.2 degrees. Our skin is cooler, though, especially the curved, protruding parts of our bodies (think nose, fingers, toes). So what I recall most from that romantic encounter is the delight I felt when my boyfriend blew into my curved, protruding ear, the surface of which may have been anywhere from 92 to 87 degrees.
I also remember a black and white checkered ice bag that was about the size and shape of a tam. I could fill it with ice cubes to use on a sprained ankle or nasty bruise, but mostly I filled it with warm water when I was cramping. The sloshing water was kept inside by a metal cap that looked just like the one on my thermos.
In my 20s and living on my own, I bought my first heating pad, a plastic white square over which slipped a pink machine-washable cotton cover. It stayed with me through many moves. Maybe because I used it only once or twice a month, this rudimentary heating pad didn’t conk out until after I’d reached menopause.
For occasions when my mid and lower back hurt, I put on an extra long Ontel Relief Wrap. This burgundy heating pad also clasps with magnets at the neck, but looks more like a cape than a stole and provides heat all the way down to my rear end. For targeting a small muscle group, I have my trusty infrared Light Relief, which supposedly uses NASA technology to promote healing.
I ordered it one sleepless night, mesmerized by a late-night TV commercial in which Robert Wagner says, “Sounds like science fiction? Well, today, it’s science fact!” Maybe I was impressed by his turn of phrase. But more likely I was desperate, so I called the 800 number. The gadget has a small jellylike blue pad that contoured to my aching shoulder. I don’t think the infrared light did one darn thing, but the heat was amazing.
For times when I’m sore but must be on the go without an electrical outlet, I use my Bed Buddy. This amazing device does not require a teakettle. I just pop it in the microwave for a minute or so and wear it, like an open scarf, driving through stressful Miami traffic. The Bed Buddy is shaped like a sausage but is filled with grains so it drapes and contours well.
The blasting AC in my Honda in combination with the heat on my neck is akin to the delight I felt when I beheld my first flaming baked alaska: the pleasures of extremes. The Bed Buddy has rope handles at each end, so I can tug for more pressure as the contraption starts to cool. More than once I have seen another woman, stuck at a light, wearing her own Bed Buddy.
If all this sounds a bit like a fetish, maybe it is. Why else would a pain relief thingumajig be called a Bed Buddy anyway? As a child visiting my relatives in Canada, I learned that my widowed aunt would take a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel and put it between the top sheet and bedspread to keep her warm, as my uncle once had. At a residency at the Elizabeth Bishop House in Nova Scotia, I found potholder-size pillows filled with herbs that could be heated up and put near socked feet for a toasty slumber. And long before the invention of hot water bottles and microwaves, brass bed warmers were filled with warm coals for the same purpose.
After my friend lost her husband, she bought herself a Bodymate pillow at Bed Bath & Beyond. She put it on his side of the bed to fill the place he once slept and marveled at how the pillow also kept her warm. Another friend, after a breakup, bought a Pillow With Benefits, out of which jutted a human-size arm into which she could cuddle. When I tried to make her feel better, congratulating her on her recent promotion, she quoted Marilyn: “A career is wonderful, but you can’t curl up with it on a cold night.”
I suppose an electric blanket is the biggest heating pad of all. I remember the one on the double bed my sister and I shared during those fierce Rhode Island winters when my parents were trying to save money on heating oil. My sister and I snuggled in. That blanket may have given us static cling, but how we loved turning the switch on high.
Everyone who has ever shared a bed knows it is much warmer to sleep with someone else. Everyone who has ever held a sleeping baby knows how much heat that little furnace can radiate. When we love, we feel warmth. When we warm up to someone, we feel endearment. Sometimes I find myself singing, “I Wanna Be Loved by You” to my Sunbeam, grateful that, at least for now, nothing hurts.