2018 Theme Issue: Keepsakes
“Body” is a baby-blue hand-knit blanket. She is female. She is a member of the family just like the dog. She is my son’s bedtime companion, his after-school friend, and his counsel and comfort when no one else will do.
In the beginning I thought it was precious, how he dragged Body everywhere. Being a lefty, he naturally held her in his left hand. In his right hand, he held his bottle while stroking Body’s blue fringe on his cheek. I had a theory that the fringe brushing his cheeks felt similar to my long hair, which brushed his cheek when I nursed him. I hoped my theory was true, because it gave me pleasure thinking he was re-enacting the warmth and security of that special time.
When my son turned five he was still dragging Body around. That’s when his father and I started to get concerned. Would he ever give this blanket up? Would he bring it to college? How would he explain this to his first girlfriend, his wife, his kids? Would I look like a bad mother because I allowed the relationship to continue long after toddlerhood?
Shortly after my son’s fifth birthday, I found a book about a young Kermit the Frog deciding it was time to part with his blanket. After I read it to my son, he turned and said, “Don’t ever read that book to me again. That was a really sad book, Mommy.”
I put the book on his bookshelf. A few days later he picked it up, walked into the kitchen with Body in tow, and told me to throw it out. I put it on my bookshelf for future reading. I thought, Perhaps a year from now, I’ll take it down and try again.
By then, daily phrases like pick up your Body, leave your Body at home, don’t drag your Body on the floor, your Body is dirty, were normal in our household. Laundering Body was an especially traumatic event for my son. He insisted on putting the blanket in the machine, apologizing the whole time.
“I’m sorry, Body, it will only be a few minutes. It’s okay, this will be good for you.”
Then he would close the washer door with a sad little pout. I would start the machine and he would stand there and watch the clothing tumble. When Body came out of the washer there would be a short intermission of hugs and reassurance before he allowed her to go into the dryer. When the process was complete, my son would run up to his room clutching Body and remain there for a good half-hour. Now, he was soothing Body.
If a piece of Body’s fringe fell off, no matter how small, it could never be thrown away. And I once asked what would happen if we lost Body. His eyes got huge and he shook his head “no” in silence. So, if a small piece of Body fell off , we had a container to hold the small fringes that were impossible to tie back on. My son kept this container on his closet shelf. It was a clear plastic painter’s pail, which was overkill for the dozen or so tiny blue half-inch long strands. Sometimes I’d hear him remove the pail’s metal lid and think how obsessed he was about Body. On the other hand, I felt that at least he was taking care of the strings himself. He wasn’t asking me to tie these impossibly small pieces back on.
Occasional surgery also had to be performed on Body, procedures that could only be done by Grandma, who was experienced in the art of crocheting. Because my mother and Body were separated by the entire United States, Body only had surgery twice a year, once in California and once in New York. Grandma has repaired many holes in Body, but has not always been able to match the original yarn. Today Body looks like she has keloid scars.
My family didn’t always understand why I let my son hold onto his scarred baby blanket for so long. In the early years, his father was ambivalent about our son’s attachment to Body by casually saying, “He will grow out of it, Andrea.” My new husband was more critical of Body. He felt I indulged my son, and that it was a big issue that he still slept with his baby blanket at eight years old. Even Grandma would complain, asking, “He still has that thing?!” It was certainly out of character for me to let something old and worn out remain in the house—me, who’s constantly giving away bags filled with slightly worn towels, sheets, and clothes to Goodwill. So why not Body?
Two years earlier, when my son was six, I had had the unfortunate task of telling him that Mommy and Daddy were getting divorced. The two of us were in the car together. He was in the backseat playing a game on his handheld electronic device. I was in the driver’s seat facing forward staring at the upright hood of the car. We were inside Jiffy Lube. I’m not sure why I decided on this moment to tell him, perhaps because we couldn’t escape. It was just the two of us. Trapped.
Through the rearview mirror I saw his lower lip stick out as he brought Body close to his cheek. “Mommy and Daddy still love you. This is only about Mommy and Daddy not wanting to live with each other anymore. You will get to see both of us just like you do now—in different houses.” I said. His head dropped down and his lip quivered a little more and I finally turned around and looked at him. He raised his head, looked at me and said, “Okay, but I’m going to need two PlayStations.”
The first day after his dad moved out, my son called out to him because he needed help with a video game. “Dad isn’t here, buddy,” I said. “Remember, he’s at his new house.” Silence. This happened a few more times, and then one time he yelled out from the family room, “Daaa…oh, never mind.” I was in the kitchen when I heard him correct himself. I put my hands on the edge of the sink, and it was my head that dropped this time. When I went upstairs to check on him, he was in a fetal position hugging Body.
Throughout that difficult adjustment period, Body comforted him. At night, after we’d read together, I’d check in with him. “Hey buddy, how are you feeling about Mom and Dad living in separate houses?” “Fine,” he’d say, as he rolled to his side and clutched Body a little harder.
There were times when Body was forgotten at one parent’s house, and had to be delivered late at night to the other’s. After this happened too many times, I made a sign for my ex-husband’s refrigerator. THINGS TO PACK: 1. BODY!!!!!!!!!!!!! 2. Backpack!!! 3. Baseball equipment!!! 4. Dirty baseball uniform!!! 5. X-box controller!!! I hated that my son had to deal with being shuffled from one house to another, so any added stress in the transition sent me into a frenzy. I’d yell at my ex by saying, “Why can’t you friggin’ remember all his stuff? You have the list on your fridge. READ IT!”
At bedtime, just before his tenth birthday, I heard my son crying in his bedroom. When I walked in, he was lying under his Los Angeles Lakers blanket with Kobe Bryant looking down on him from the poster on the wall.
“What’s wrong, buddy?” I asked.
“It’s too hard to talk about,” he said between sobs, but then finally confessed.
“I have to give up Body, because I’m too old now.” He face was pinched and red.
“Are you sure?” I asked. Through tears, he nodded. I then asked him where he had put Body. He pointed to the closet. I looked and there she was, on the closet floor in a small blue heap. I returned to his bedside. “Are you sure?” I asked again. He again nodded.
I lay next to him until I thought he was asleep, thinking about what had just happened. I was happy he was giving up Body, but not because of the obvious reasons. Body had been such a source of comfort to him, but I realized I had also been jealous of Body, because there were so many times I could not offer the same comfort. After all, I was the cause of his father’s absence in the house.
In the morning, I went to my son’s room. He was still asleep, but his small hands were clutching that clump of blue yarn. A little later he came downstairs in his pajamas, holding onto Body. He said he couldn’t stand it, that he’d had to get Body out of the closet. I told him not to worry. I said, “Body is special to you, and you do not have to do anything you are not ready to do.” He nodded yes, and clutched Body under his chin.
That year, whenever my son had a friend over, he’d run up to his room first and hide Body in his top drawer beneath his underwear. I’d sometimes wonder if he’d have another pre-birthday episode of trying to give up Body. I had given the Kermit the Frog book to Goodwill many years ago, but I couldn’t make Body join the same fate as the old towels, the old sheets, and the old clothes. Body was old, but not in the same way. Body represented something of the past, a past that included two parents. Perhaps I hadn’t forced him to give up Body because he’d already sacrificed enough.
My son is now fourteen, and I recently realized I hadn’t seen Body in a while. I’m seeing new things now, like a deeper voice coming from his throat, his head above the dining room chair instead of the chair as a background to his auburn hair, and shoes that are finally bigger than mine. I also discovered Body in my son’s storage box with stuffed animals that no longer are part of his everyday life, yet are not ready to be given up. In some ways, I feel the same. I now have to knock on his door before entering his room. He doesn’t ask me what we are doing over the weekend. He tells me what he wants to do, and it has nothing to do with me. With all these changes, I feel like Body.
Yesterday, I was in my son’s room trying to figure out where to set up his new air purifier. He told me he would put his storage box in the garage, and that I could put the air purifier in its place. I looked inside the box and saw Gopher. I’d given all of his stuffed animals voices and character traits, and Gopher was in his 70’s and crotchety. We once brought Gopher to Vegas and left him in the room to go to dinner. When we returned the thermostat was at 66 degrees. That night, Gopher told my son, “I froze my balls off while you guys were at dinner!” My son laughed so hard that he rolled right off the bed.
I reminded my son of the Gopher story. He laughed. “That’s a funny story Mom. Now can you get out of my room.” I started to leave, and then he called me back. “Wait! You know I love you, mom.” He gave me a hug and I smiled. “I love you, too,” I said. I picked up the storage box to take it to the garage, then thought better of it. Across the room, I saw a small, empty space. I placed it there.
STORY IMAGE CREDIT: Flickr Creative Commons/KnitSpirit and second image, within story, courtesy of author.