It was a gift from my great-aunt Bonnie. She quilted one for each new great-niece or nephew that was born, a compulsatory measure for an unwed great-aunt like her I suppose. My parents swaddled me in it on the way home from the hospital.
It was a square blanket, on one side a sea-green floral pattern with a lavender trim; on the reverse, a grid pattern of adjoined squares, each square adorned with a five pointed star. Each one of these square-and-star pairings was unique: marigold stripes and solid greens, pink plaids and prussian blue dots, cream rosettes and bandana red paisley. I would stare into the pattern, imagining vast worlds and stories that lay just beyond the portal of the colored stars.
At some point it took on the name “Blankie”–another casualty of my uncreative naming conventions as a child, along with my teddy bear “Teddy” and my betta fish “Mr. Betta”.
Every time I played make-believe, Blankie was there. When I was a pirate captain with a paper towel roll telescope, Blankie was the vast sea under my laundry basket schooner. When I was a superhero, Blankie was my cape, carefully tucked into the collar of my onesie pajamas. Propped up by my knees, it formed the epic mountain peak for finger-legged mountaineers to summit.
When I was upset, I would bury my face in Blankie and scream and cry, leaving the stars discolored with tear spots and some snot. Years of accumulated tear-salt gave Blankie a unique aroma, a comforting smell of safety and of sanctuary as I fell asleep with it wrapped around my head.
For much of my childhood, I refused to travel without it. Blankie came along for road trips and camping trips and for sleepovers later on . At some point I noticed was the only boy who still brought his blanket and a teddy bear to sleepovers. Ashamed, I stopped bringing Blankie places, and banished the menagerie of teddy bears and stuffed animals living on my bed into the closet. But the blanket was banished to a special fate: the Chinese chest. It was a lacquer wood chest my parents had received from some forgotten Chinese relative as a wedding gift, ornately carved with goldfish on the sides. Despite its beautiful appearance, the whole thing reeked a bizarre odor, a strange mixture of moth balls and the lacquer from whatever Chinese factory it came out of. Inside we stored all the extra blankets and sheets, the itchy ones reserved for winter. I folded up Blankie and carefully placed it on the top, next to my older sister’s previously disgraced stuffed bunny. I told myself it was for the best, that it was to keep Blankie’s fraying corners and stretched fabric from being damaged any further. I shut the lid and tried to forget.
Years went by. Some nights I would instinctually reach for something to clutch close to me as I fell alseep, only to remember that boys didn’t need Blankies, that Blankies were for girls and little kids and other people who still needed something to hold close and cry into.
As I aged out of the insecurity of early adolescence and into the nostalgia of early adulthood, I thought about the blanket again. Curious, I pried open the Chinese chest and sure enough, there it was, its mismatched stars and squares in all their faded glory.
But when I pulled Blankie out and held it close, something had changed.
That ancient, familiar scent of tears and comfort was gone,
Replaced by the acrid smell of lacquer and mothballs.
Read more about childhood and post-childhood at Mopey Optimist