Written by Kayla Hays.
Graphic by Quynhmai Tran.
“We bought this for you,” said my mom, handing over a hot pink blanket which burned brightly in both the soft fabric and the forced femininity for my five-year-old self. Of course, I didn’t know to care at the time; I didn’t know to care that my blanket was hot pink and my brother’s was green. I enveloped myself inside of it, letting its warmth comfort my bare skin.
I was five years old, and I had just emerged from the pool at my uncle’s too-big house. I was five years old, and I sat enveloped inside of a hot pink blanket, on the couch in the billiards room, my hair and skin still tinged with chlorine.
A couple years later, my dad would burn the edge of the hot pink blanket with a cigarette. It was an accident. Or—maybe—it was a sign from the universe that his vices would continue to burn me for many years in the same way.
The next few blankets were lost to time and memory, though I think they still sit in the armoire in my living room, untouched and smelling of mothballs. There were more hot pink blankets—one with cartoon pictures of girls’ faces, one with Barbie herself, and countless others. They were gentle reminders of my femininity. Gentle reminders of my place in the world.
Sometimes I look at myself in the mirror on the outside of the armoire. Too often I see the blankets inside, the femininity thrust upon me.
By Christmas of my freshman year of high school I had broken the mold one too many times. I didn’t fit in a perfect box of girlhood anymore—I had abandoned dolls and princesses and hot pink long ago, sometime during elementary school. I didn’t wear makeup or spend long amounts of time doing my hair. The only clothes in my closet were orchestra t-shirts and jeans.
I didn’t even fit in the perfect box of my family. Two years before that I came out, was received horribly, and proceeded to hide my feelings away. Two years before that I began to reject the Christian rhetoric with which I grew up. Two years before that I became an entirely different person—one my family hardly even knew.
That Christmas I opened up a present. The soft touch was familiar to my skin. It was a blanket, a blue one, with cats all over it.
“Look, it’s a cat blanket!” my mom said with a smile on her face. “You like cats!”
I did like cats. It was probably the only thing they knew about me at the time.
About a year and a half later, I took that cat blanket with me to my annual Latin State competition. I spread it over mine and my girlfriend’s legs while on the bus. It comforted us on the ride there, during mid-competition naps, and during the two-hour long award ceremony in the school’s freezing gym.
My mom still thinks it was just a phase.
During my junior year of high school, my mom walked in my room while I was hanging out with a friend. Well—we were romantically involved, but he didn’t want to be called my boyfriend. It was complicated.
“I bought you some stuff,” she said. “Here—it’s October now, and I found this.”
She set a Halloween blanket on my bed, black with pumpkins and skeletons and bones all over it. “Thanks,” I muttered, unsure how to react. I wanted her to leave; it was awkward with her next to my boyfriend-not-boyfriend.
I probably cried into it a good amount of times when he ended things for good a month later. Now, I fall asleep on top of it in my college dorm room, a bittersweet two hundred miles away from him.
(It’s improved a lot since then, I promise.)
In the months before Christmas of my senior year of high school, I constantly talked about wanting a weighted blanket. Little did I know, my boyfriend of one year at the time had bought me an eighteen-pound one, tan and soft. I loved it.
We broke up six months later, for reasons unrelated to his generosity in gifts and much more related to our differing core beliefs and his manipulation.
I still sleep under that blanket—and sometimes, I hate it and the memories he left me with.
A few days before my high school graduation, my best friend swung by my house with a mask and a tub of graduation goodies. The first and best thing was a blanket, softer and bigger than any other, burnt orange and white with a longhorn logo on one corner.
Upon the advent of autumn, we were to be a thousand miles apart, each at our own respective universities. And even though she ended up staying at home, only two hundred miles away, her blanket is still with me—a reminder of high school, of us, and of an anticlimactic senior year. It sits on my dorm room bed, on top of all the other blankets with too many memories to count, on top of reminders of warmth and femininity and hate and heartbreak and all the things in between.
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