35 years ago I lived in a four bedroom house on a ‘rural’ stretch of road on the outskirts of Gorham, Maine. Across the road from my childhood home is a large field where I used to race down a sloping hill in the winter along with all the other neighborhood kids, careful not to go so fast or so far that I ran into the barbed wire fence that bordered the field from the adjoining property.
Spring, summer, and fall days were spent trekking through the field, the tall grass brushing against my legs, to a small ‘pond’ that could not be seen from the road, nor from my home or any of the others. I would lay down in the grass beside the water and long for things to be different…better…..safe. In my mind I dubbed this place of serenity and solitude ‘The Wishing Pond’. If I close my eyes now I can still picture it, small and unassuming….the water still and calm. There was a fallen tree there, and in the summer the bugs hummed and buzzed and sang a chorus of platitudes to me as the grass licked at my skin. I never swam in the pond, as the surface was a bit murky and therefore spoke to unknown horrors that lay beneath. Growing up in the era that saw the original release of the film ‘Jaws’, despite it being one of my favorites, a generation of kids were taught to fear what they could not see beneath the surface of any body of water….or at least that’s what it taught me.
I wrote a story about the pond in my junior high school years when my teacher, Mrs. Burke, tasked us with creating an original composition about any subject of our choosing. I chose to write about a group of friends who lived near to a place like my own grassy oasis. The title of the story was ‘The Wishing Pond’. It was a work of fiction about a member of the aforementioned group of friends who chose to end her life out of despair, and how the surviving members of the group gathered at The Wishing Pond to remember her. The story was fiction. The setting was real. The character who chose suicide as a means of escaping despair…was me. Unlike my fictional counterpart, I survived my attempt to end my life, and spent many more days at The Wishing Pond, in the fervent hope that life, my life, would improve over time. I felt safe there, as if I were so far removed from the ills that plagued me at the time that none of them could reach me. I could outrun them as I made my way across the field, up the hill and down over the other side again. They dared not shadow me to this one place where I felt safe.
In prior years, my ‘safety’ was found in the form of a favorite blanket. My brother had a matching one, and they were dubbed the ‘Indian Blankets’ as they had a Native American style print on them. I would wrap myself, cocoon-like, in it and watch Saturday morning cartoons, and each year during the annual showing (pre VHS and DVD and Turner Classics) of The Wizard of Oz on television, when Miss Gulch would become The Wicked Witch of the West during Dorothy’s tornado induced journey to Oz, I would throw the blanket up over my head and ‘hide’ from her. I could watch the Witch without fear for the remainder of the film, but this initial transformation scared me so that I found it absolutely necessary to conceal myself from it until it had passed. What it represented to me at the time, upon years of reflection and too many viewings of the film over the course of my life to accurately number, was that even though Dorothy was still safe in her home, albeit up in the center of a twister, the Witch followed her and looked her right in the eye and cackled maniacally. Even though she was in what should have been the safest of places for her….her own bedroom in her own home….evil found its way to her. Evil also found its way to me, eventually, and the blanket was not enough to keep it out.
The blanket was many things to me over time….shelter, cape, fort wall or roof. It made many transformations over time into whatever I needed it to be. It allowed me, in my mind, to soar up into the air, far removed from the world below. Flight was always the super power I longed to have. I didn’t want a cool car, like The Batmobile, or the ability to talk to marine life like Aquaman….or an all-powerful ring like Green Lantern…..or even super-speed like The Flash. I wanted flight. I wanted to lift up from the ground where no one could reach me, and leave it all behind. I wanted to escape it. I wanted to go anywhere but there.
The blanket stayed with me over the years, and these days is folded up on the back of my reading chair. I spread it out over my legs during the colder months when I’m reading. The colors are faded….both sides of it are ‘pilled’….but it’s never been ripped or otherwise sullied to the point where I would even have to entertain the notion of discarding it. I don’t really know that I would. I think I’d wash it a hundred times or break out a needle and thread to repair it again and again, rather than ever part with it. It represents so much to me. It is one of the few things from my childhood that I can honestly say made me feel ‘safe’ in all the chaos that was in my home. Even if it didn’t fix anything or stop things from happening, I still look at it, at age 45, and the first word that comes into my head as a descriptor is ‘safe’.
A few days ago, early on a weekend morning, one of the boys asked me about the blanket, and where I got it. I told him that I had had it ever since I was his age, even younger, that it had always represented safety to me, and I had kept it all this time because it was very valuable to me. He asked me ‘how much it was worth’….and I used it, along with an iPod speaker base, to differentiate between something that had monetary value and something that had what was called ‘sentimental value’. I told him that things that had monetary value could be replaced, if you had enough money. I said that over time the price might go up, or you might have to settle for a slightly different model or version of something, but you could usually find a replacement. Things of sentimental value, on the other hand…were priceless. There was only one of them in the whole world that was yours, and that was given to you by someone special or that you acquired on a special trip, and you could never replace it…because even if you found something that looked ‘just like it’….it would never feel the same in your heart. He asked me if he could have it…and I told him, ‘Maybe one day…but right now I think I still want it to be mine.’ He asked me if that was because it still made me feel safe. I told him, ‘Not really, but at least it makes me feel like for a time in my life, a long time ago, I was…for a little while.’ He then asked, ‘What else made you feel safe?’ ‘Not much,’ I replied, ‘Not much at all.’
He didn’t question it further, to my relief, as he’s far too young for me to develop an age appropriate explanation for what I meant. One day he may circle back and ask me again about it, and I suppose I’ll be more hard pressed to give him an answer. It won’t be a ‘nice’ story….it won’t be easy to tell it. It won’t make anyone smile or laugh….and Disney will never purchase the rights to it and throw in a few musical numbers. It’s far from a fairy tale…..even if it is quite ‘grim’.
This morning I woke this same boy and found him, under the covers, wrapped in my Indian Blanket. Sometime during the night he’d taken it from the living room, curled up in it, and fallen asleep. I hadn’t noticed it missing from the chair before bedtime myself, but in truth wasn’t really looking for it, so that isn’t much of a surprise. When I discovered the blanket wrapped around him, I smiled to myself that he had chosen that one, that specific one, out of all the other blankets in the house to wrap himself up in last night. He has an Avengers blanket, a skull and crossbones blanket, a SpongeBob blanket…and many others to choose from. He chose the Indian Print blanket over superheroes and cartoon characters and pirate symbols. The faded orange, green, red and yellow pilled blanket won out over all of these. I hope, in the hours that he wrapped himself up in it during the night, that it kept him warm and comfortable. More than that, I hope it kept him ‘safe’…at least in his mind.