[nine things a blanket can be]
one. a blanket can be a starting line to a long race
folded and laid out on the floor
the first item my parents ever bought together
it was a testament to seven years of love between them
two. a blanket can be a cape
knotted in the front
ends always flying behind me as i ran around the house
the blue blanket i always had wrapped around my shoulders was
everything i wanted to be
someone who always saves the day
an older sister
i took that cape everywhere
telling everyone i met about my made up adventures i had with my dolls back home
how i always saved them in the end
even if i may have cut it a little too close for their liking
three. a blanket can be the most beautiful mermaid’s tail
gleaming in the fake sunlight our lamps provided
cinched with a clothespin around my little sister’s waist
her teal tail prevented her from moving off the couch
lest she wanted to flop like a fish on dry land
she used it as an excuse to never do her chores
but she looked so cute
that no one could ever say no to her
she sat herself on her rock surrounded by blue
watching all the fishies in the tank
her long hair woven together with green yarn to look like seaweed
and the starfish she carried around attached to her arm
a mermaid on a mission
determined to watch fish all day long
four. a blanket can be the best pink wig you’ve ever seen
wrapped so tightly around my youngest sister’s head
held up with hairs ties and headbands and sheer luck
it was the only accessory she needed on a rainy day
strutting around the house
with a sparkly costume fitted on her small body
and that pink wig dragging behind her
she was the princess of your nightmares
she carried a staff that was a rod from the curtains in my parents’ room
knighting only those she thought worthy
and not many people met her standards
five. a blanket can be a robe-
turned-girl-powered-boat in the end
the solid red pooling around my baby brother’s body
he was too small to wear a robe anyway
instead we used the red fabric to pull him around the house
he giggled until he couldn’t breathe
his face matched the color of the boat
and he told us stories of everything that he saw around him
the strange creatures he befriended
and he would try to tell other people about everything else he saw around him
but no one could understand him like we did
six. sometimes a blanket can be used as a lid for a box
lifted and carried into a pickup truck that snaked down our driveway
a blanket that we couldn’t get back
one less cape
one less mermaid’s tail
one less wig
one less boat
one less adventure
all because my dad decided that sharing our blanket
wasn’t something he could do anymore
seven. a blanket can be one piece of a fort
and when one part is taken away
there is a gaping hole left where it used to be
eight. a blanket can be a fake fire
crumpled up in the middle of a room
the only thing keeping the warmth
between the people sitting around it
and the sailor
left behind misfits
with only one parent to love them
to raise them
who knew love didn’t come from the inside of a cereal box
rather it came from blankets that smothered them in warmth
even when one piece of the fort was missing
nine. a blanket can be the finish line to one long race
folded and laid down across the floor
but it can also be the starting line
for an adventure that will outlast seven years’ worth of racing
It was the first day of seventh grade–a new, but modest-because-mom-said-so outfit, bigger school, longer car ride. The night before, just after she and her dad had cleared off the dinner table, Adeleine put the last of the dishes in the dishwasher and then packed her own lunch with the bread, peanut butter, and two kinds of jelly that her mom had left out for her because she knew that it had been her favorite ever since she had started school.
“Pretty butterflies fly, fly, fly
So do you, and so do I,
But before we leave, we…?” he chanted in expectation with his hands in the air.
“Say GOODBYE!” 3 minutes of giggles that made her tummy ache with pleasure; 2 jumps, a double-handed high five; and lots of little girl wiggles later, young Adeleine and her dad parted ways on her first day of preschool just the way they had practiced the night before. Just before her mom put her favorite peanut butter and both strawberry and grape jelly sandwich–no crust cut into four triangles because that’s the way 4 year old princesses liked them best–she had put on her favorite soft pink footie pajamas, and then together, the three of them finished packing her lunch. Mom placed some apple slices in the brown paper bag; Adeleine dropped in a napkin and then folded down its edges. She listened to the crinkle of the paper as Dad pulled out a Sharpie to draw her name in squiggly letters and a funny face–the face Dad said she always made whenever he tried to tickle her with the fuzzy peaches that Mom brought home from the market on Friday mornings.
They had explained to her that she wouldn’t get to go to the market on Friday mornings anymore. Instead, she’d have snacks and story time, art class and trips to the library. She would make new friends, and she could come home and tell Mom and Dad all about it. And even though she was excited for new friends, little Adeleine couldn’t imagine a Friday without helping Mom pick out the prettiest green, leafy head of lettuce or laughing from peach-fuzz tickles when Dad got home from work.
This time without bothering to cut off the crust, she plopped her sandwich, an apple, and a napkin into a paper bag. And after she had gone off to bed, she was surprised to find the next morning that her dad had snuck into the fridge, but instead of reaching for something cold and sweet to satisfy his midnight cravings, he had written “Adeleine” in his tired cursive, and put the lunch sack right back where he had found it.
It was the first day of seventh grade. At 7:23am, as they approached the student drop-off ramp, the brisk, September-chilled air fogging up the windshield, he suggested, “We don’t even have to get out of the car.”
“Come on, I know you want to…” he pleaded as they pulled up to the curb of Wayside Intermediate.
“Do we really have to get out of the car to do it?” she pleaded, even though the early-morning sun had already melted away last night’s frost that blanketed the pavement that would lead her to another day in Mr. Nelson’s 5th grade class.
“It’s tradition!” he exclaimed. And with the soft clicks of unlatching seatbelts, the two of them stepped out of the car that would drive off until 3:30 when he would come back to pick her up, braces, neon purple skinny jeans, and all.
And together they said,
“Pretty butterflies fly, fly, fly
So do you, and so do I,
But before we leave, we say goodbye!” A soft smile lingered on her lips, and with two jumps that weren’t quite as high as they used to be and a double-handed high five that didn’t reach any higher than her elbows bent at her waist, they parted ways.
She guessed it wouldn’t be so bad, but she was in 7th grade; she was older now. So after a brief back-and-forth of early morning disgruntled negotiations and a brief awkward silence softened by the faint hum of the defroster, she agreed.
“Fine. I’ll do it, but please not today. Everyone’s watching,” she uttered as the words falling from her mouth swirled around in the morning air so brisk that it would cause anyone’s words to crystalize instantaneously around them for everyone to see.
And then, when the fog from her half-hearted promise had finally dissipated, she heaved her over-stuffed backpack onto her wiry, teenage frame and hustled inside to get out of the cold because puffy coats like the one he had gotten her the winter before weren’t exactly “in” at the moment. So, coat in hand–because her mother wouldn’t let her leave the house otherwise–Adeleine scurried up the pavement slightly dampened from the morning’s frost; past the swarm of fellow classmates garbed like Hollister models with bad acne and braces and enshrouded in a cloud of overcompensating cologne; and through the heavy glass doors of the school, she looked back for one last glance and a satisfied wave from her father. And just as it would every day for the rest of the year, the timely school bell told her that she had 5 minutes to get to her first 7:30am middle school class on time.
Through the crowded hallway of students rushing past her to get to class, her mind drifted alongside the draft that followed her through the doors of her new middle school.
“Are you ready?” She exclaimed, barely able to contain her enthusiasm as she donned her bright red converses and stood in front of her new, third grade classroom.
But before he had a chance to answer, she threw her hands in the air and proclaimed,
“Pretty butterflies fly, fly, fly
So do you, and so do I,
But before we leave, we…?”
And just to make her giggle so that it made her tummy ache with pleasure, with 2 jumps and a double-handed high five, he cheered, “say GOODBYE!” And after softly nuzzling her cheek with the tip of his nose, got back in the car, and she had to wait until 3:30 to see him again later that afternoon.
And in those last few moments before heading off to class, as she stood at those heavy glass doors and watched him drive away into the autumn chill, she tried to forget about butterflies. But she couldn’t seem to escape the ones fluttering in the pit of her stomach as the late bell morphed into the sound of the Miss Winston’s morning announcements.
Moment of Decision
Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost.
– Canto 1, Dante Alighieri’s Inferno
I sat on the ancient brick wall. It had been a long journey to see this place. I don’t know what I was really expecting. There were no grand memorials to the people who once were here, but rather, just farm fields and clay-baked headstones. However, to me, this was holy ground. For two hundred years my ancestors treaded this land where they were born, baptized, married, farmed, and carried out to their final resting place. I knew their names well enough, and the dates that they were born and died, but other than these trivial facts, little was known, for they had long ago finished their earthly pilgrimage. But now, it was now a time of decision, and I found myself taking a drive to meet the past, so that I might know the future.
When I arrived at Deep Run the sun was sitting over its fields, and with this as a backdrop, I took a walk to the old one-room meeting house and peered inside. I could vaguely hear the echo of a poem: “Deep Run! Deep Run! I think I hear thee come, Murmuring the story, Of a people whose glory, Remains unwritten, unsung.” Behind the simple stone meeting house were the clay-baked headstones of those very people whose story is unwritten. I walked through the rows and saw the names and the dates—those same trivial facts of a yellowed paper. I may not have been “midway” in my journey, as Dante was, but at the age of 18 I found myself in the same forest with no clear direction wondering, “How did they overcome the trials and tribulations of this world?”
In 1719 John Fretz was 18 years old when he embarked with his two brothers, Mark and Christian, on a journey to the “New World.” And, yes, to them it was a new world, because the old one had left them disenchanted, restricted, and hopeless. As Anabaptists, they had been publicly persecuted for their faith. They had been shunned, beaten, and some even martyred for their faith. These three brothers prayed unceasingly for an answer to these physical trials, and the answer came in the form of William Penn who promised religious freedom to those persecuted in Europe in his colony of Pennsylvania. Upon being given the choice to either join the state church or leave the country, the Fretz brothers carried their cross and chose to leave their ancestral land and endure a perilous seven-week journey to their “New World.” Mark Fretz never got to see this land of Canaan, for he perished on the voyage. As for John and Christian, they helped to build the Deep Run Mennonite Church in Bucks County and were fruitful in their efforts to establish farms by the sweat of their brows. Above all, they were free to read Scripture, and practice their faith in their everyday lives.
Nearly three centuries after John Fretz arrived in Pennsylvania, I was standing where he stood, looking at the same field and church that he helped to build. Yes, not much had changed in this little slice of heaven that had cost John and his brother so dearly. As I continued to walk, I noticed that some of the headstones were weathered to the point that one could never again read the name inscribed on it. Was this the point of life? Would any shred of evidence that we existed be wiped off the earth? Then why not say, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die”? But, I knew better than to think such thoughts. I turned to the concluding line of the book on John and Christian Fretz. It read, “Though the chisel may never inscribe, though the statue may never preserve, though the page may never contain and though we have long been sleeping the last sleep we still live – live from age to age, live in those whom we in life have blest. And though un-marbled, un-annealed, unsung, unwept, unremembered our names may be inscribed in the book of life.”
I do not think it mattered to those buried at Deep Run that they did not have grand memorials, nor great honors bestowed upon them. They were a faithful people, who worshiped in a plain building, and lived out their callings as servants of Christ. They were not looking for material success, but rather to do the work of God’s kingdom on earth. Indeed, a very noble cause. Finding this straightforward path, I walked away from that hallowed ground.
When I first received the phone call I didn’t know.
When my mom received the second phone call I didn’t know.
When I climbed in the car with my mom and brother I didn’t know.
When we drove to my grandmother’s house I didn’t know.
When we walked up the porch steps and opened her front door I didn’t know.
When I walked in and saw my dad standing there and my grandmother sitting at the table in silence my heart sank.
When I saw the rosary beads I knew.
This morning my feelings came up out of my stomach and into the sink.
They came up until I had no feelings left.
I saw tears today, tears I’ve never seen before.
I saw people today in ways I’ve never seen them before.
And then I stared at you.
I stared at you when you were a little kid;
I stared at you when you were older;
I just stared, and you stared back.
I loved you, but I wasn’t really there. You can’t love someone if you’re not there.
I’m sorry I couldn’t be there.
I’m sorry I wasn’t good enough to just be there.
I’m sorry I wasn’t good enough to just do what was right and deal with whatever happened later.
I’m sorry I failed you, but I wasn’t the only one.
Society failed you;
Your school failed you;
Your neighborhood failed you;
The rest of your family failed you.
Society refused you, and most humans did the same.
And now we’re left with one less.
I’m sorry it was you. It could have taken anyone, but it took you.
I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.
Put on black dress
Get in car
Stare out window
Pull up to church
And kneel down.
Say a thousand prayers.
Bury face in arms;
Recall a thousand regrets.
I pressed my lips against your waxy forehead
And by the time we lowered your body into the ground
I had no feelings left.
And unfair alliances
And family get-togethers
Years and years of silence.
A momentary reunion
To be followed by years and years of silence.
I stared at the sky,
At the ground,
At your stone,
And I knew that the hope is gone.
I remain the final hope.