DON'T GET COMFORTABLE
The Montreal Review, August 2010
On a date I was asked what I thought the most important thing in life was. I struggle with questions that have over-arching, deeper meanings to them. I feel pressured, like I should be able to, in an instant, summarize our current state of existence, and to do it so effectively and with such cunning zeal that the questioner will be left speechless, and, quite possibly, in love with me. I might be over thinking this. What usually happens is I take too long to respond. And when I finally do, I produce a series of cliché-ridden drivel that makes me appear void of depth and lacking of serious insight. In this instance I told my date it was important to be "comfortable." I didn't offer anything after that. I just said, "Comfortable." One word.
I thought the evening had been going well. And then that happened. She said, "Sure. alright then," and we moved on. Given my chance to impress I uttered a word that could make any statement sound warm and rosy. "Yes, I am comfortable murdering children." "I find it comforting that you slaughter seals for a living." "I like being on hard drugs because it makes me feel, you know, so comfortable." Etc.
I walked home from the coffee shop convinced I had blown a chance at a relationship. It was a classic moment of regret where you realize the perfect thing to say well past the opportune time. In my head I had composed an essay on the topic of "quality of life" after four blocks. But there was no turning back. The damage was done.
When I got home I sat at the computer and typed in the word "comfortable." I came across a quote by Drew Barrymore. I would have preferred to find something by Mark Twain, or a contemporary, like Stephen Lewis. But that's not what I found. Drew Barrymore, the cute, cuddly girl from ET, the one who was hooked on drugs and booze by the age of thirteen, who now dates rock stars and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame said: "Being comfortable with people is incredibly important." It's not mind-altering stuff. It's actually kind of boring and shallow. However, it did make me think about myself, and, in particular, how others might perceive me despite the fact that until the age of thirty-one I was quite comfortable sleeping with the baby blanket I got the day I was born.
It no longer resembled a blanket, really. It had become more of a rag, something you'd consider washing your car with. Three decades of daily use had reduced it to a quarter of its original size. In the beginning it was white. But it had become more an off-white, a colour you might identify as "Hobo" if you were to go the hardware store looking for a shade of paint to spruce up a cardboard box with. It had retained no shape. It was oblong, twisted; strands stuck out everywhere. By the time I started growing facial hair, parts of it would stick to my chin. At the mirror in the morning I would wonder if worms were growing on my face. Linus, from the comic strip Peanuts, dragged his blanket through dirt and across floors. I did that with my blanket too. If you could imagine a ponytail on a decaying body then you could imagine what my baby blanket had come to look like.
I don't have babies, but standing over a crib repeating words is probably the most common way to teach them to talk. And my parents were no different. My initial efforts at speaking were "Apple" (ahhhhhll) and "Nuclear weapons testing" (naaaa waaa taaa)- it was the late seventies, the threat was "real," we had barrels of wheat in the basement just in case. Over time some words stuck, the first ones being "Dog" and "Shoe." Then I moved on to sentences like, "More juice" and "Where's Daddy? Where'd he go?" The decided on name for the baby blanket was Cozy- perhaps in the vain of a tea cozy- as I liked to wrap it around myself. Maybe it was a confidence issue, but when my mother tried to teach me to say "cozy" I couldn't. The resulting interpretation was gogy (go-gee). And that was that.
The wife of a man my parents knew made the gogy. She'd spent months knitting it. I like to envision this woman sitting by candlelight, in a rocking chair, listening to Mozart, a cup of herbal tea at her side, knitting a blanket for an unborn baby. A brilliant gesture and one that would surely melt hearts and sell Hallmark cards. But the truth is that she and her husband were from Sri Lanka and had met my parents at a protest march. It's not a common image one has, of Sri Lankan knitters. But, nonetheless, a Tamil liberation fighter made my gogy, with love.
My sister had one too. Hers was of a different material, yellow, and, as far as I was concerned, completely inferior to mine. As kids, we often held secret meetings to discuss the gogys purpose. I think we did this to make sure we were on the same page, to confirm we weren't insane. Safety in numbers as they say. The minutes of the meetings were always the same: the interference of any form of light made it difficult to sleep, therefore the gogy would be placed over the eyes to compensate; and it was our parent's fault for cursing us with baby blanket dependency.
There is a photo of us, age five and two, at our Aunt's house in Calgary, lying on a pullout couch, our gogys around our necks. In it we're both smiling, wearing pajamas. It's a cute family photo. If you saw the picture you'd say it's adorable. A few winters ago my sister asked me to stay with her at a friend's cottage while she recovered from a breakup. The friend ended up staying the night- unplanned- so we had to share a bed. We woke up in the morning, our heads wrapped up in gogys. We peeled them back when the alarm went off and looked at each other. We laughed, then joked at how "Some things just never change!" We got up, lit a fire, and acted like nothing was out of the ordinary. Had my sister's friend seen us I'm positive she would have said, "That's disturbing."
At the very least, I considered mine a secret, something I didn't tell anyone about. But my sister was quite "out" with hers. At her apartment it lies on her bed in plain view, no more hidden than her army of shoes and scarves. I questioned her on this one time. I said, "What if someone were to see it lying there? What would you say? What do you say?" She said she didn't care, that it made no difference to her and, "What's the big deal?" I thought about this, trying to convince myself there was nothing wrong with a divorced man of thirty sleeping with his baby blanket. I didn't get deep into thought. My sister is a girl. It's okay for girls to do that kind of thing, have keepsakes, special memories, like diaries, or deteriorating sleep-aids. Grown men cannot. That said, I still continued to sleep with it.
I met my wife when I was twenty-two. Sarah was aware of the gogy. Not at first, mind you. I'd managed to hide it when she came over, or stayed the night. As a substitute when I was not staying at home, or in a place where it would have been unacceptable to bring it, such as camping with the guys, I compensated with my t-shirt. Most people thought it was strange that I slept with a shirt around my head but I blamed the light as usual. And all discussion would cease after someone, inevitably, suggested that I buy one of those Sleep-Shade things you get on airplanes.
Eventually, Sarah and I moved in together, and, in my mind, if I were to ever sleep properly for more than a few nights at a time, she would have to know about the gogy. I imagine the first night I brought it out she immediately questioned her taste in men. I didn't say anything. I just put it on the bed and let nature take its course.
"What is that ?" she asked.
"Oh, that's my gogy. Had it since I was a kid. No big deal. I sleep with it sometimes. Problem?"
"Um. no," she said.
My planning had been more in-depth than that. I'd bought her seasons tickets to the ballet and made her dinner. I'd set her up. There wasn't much she could do other than accept the fact it was there. And slowly regret what would be the next five years of her life.
Occasionally, she would try and wash the gogy. If the way I brought the thing into the relationship was devious, then it was equally devious, and well played on her part, to try and make sure it was at least sanitary while it laid on a pillow inches from her head. I came back from the grocery store onetime and noticed it wasn't in the bedroom. I heard the laundry machine running. I noticed Sarah smiling contently. I ran down to the laundry room and flipped up the lid and saw it thrashing against towels and denim, slowly reducing it's size and texture in the process.
I always hated the smell of the freshly washed gogy. It just wasn't the same. It didn't have its familiar smell, the sweet, pungent aroma of comfort that I had spent the previous few years creating.
When we went to Europe to get married I was informed that I couldn't bring it with me. I conceded because we were going to numerous soccer matches for Euro 2004 in Portugal- my decision-, and, in some way, because I was twenty-five. I put on a brave face and acted like it was no big deal I would have to go the next two months cold turkey. I went out and bought the softest, thinnest cotton t-shirt I could find.
The first time I went to Europe it was at lot different. I was eighteen and with my best friend, Nigel. We'd known each other since we were four years old. I brought the gogy with me, stashing it in a secret part of my backpack so I could touch it every once in awhile.
I got through the trip fine.
Eventually, my wife and I separated, and while I'm sure she never told anyone of my disgusting habit while we were together, I'm now afraid to talk to any of her friends in the off chance- the certain likely hood- that she told them.
"And you know what's really fucked-up? He had this blanket he slept with he got as a baby. He called it, get this guys, he called it his."
The night we split-up I came prepared with a long-winded essay about how and why we should stay together. It included passages about "starting anew," and, "really making a go at it this time." In the essay there was a line declaring the gogy would be retired, like that would have cinched the deal, saved the marriage, and when telling her family years down the line, she could say, "We went through some rough times, but when he said he would give up the failing piece of fabric he used to cover his face while sleeping, well, I just knew it was meant to be."
The essay failed. The gogy remained on my face at night.
I settled into post-married life quite well. I thought of myself as somewhat charming. I attracted nice girls. And in the event they spent the night, I would have planned ahead and stashed the blanket in a drawer. If found, as they looked for, say, a sweater, I would have merely said, "Oh, that thing. Keep meaning to get it bronzed like my cousin Neal did to his." And it's true. Neal did get his bronzed. But it was done when his was the size of an average hand and his mother did it for him when he was eleven.
Shortly after my thirty-first birthday I announced to my parents that I was moving to Ottawa. I had met a girl there on a trip the previous year and we had stayed in contact. I'd been flying out there for a few months and decided to give it a shot and move in with her and her seven year old son. On my trips out there I was only ever gone three or four days, so I slipped into t-shirt-over-the-face-mode. Hannah mentioned it was odd. But, like all t-shirt-over-the-face confrontations, it was quickly passed over. Hannah never knew about the gogy.
I told my parents that moving was a chance to "mix things up," a new chapter, and as such, the gogy would be "put down," that I wouldn't be bringing it. I told them over dinner. My father looked at me in horror.
"You still have that god damn fucking thing?" he said, "I thought you got rid of it fifteen years ago?"
"Terry," my mother said, "The point is he's starting fresh, getting rid of old habits, moving on."
"I'll show him old habits and moving on," my father said.
A few days before I moved I brought out several boxes to store at my parent's house. I'd sublet my apartment for six months, just in case things didn't work out, a decision that everyone agreed was wise and very mature, and much in line with my new directive of "change." In one of the boxes, at the bottom, beneath my Anthropology textbooks, was the gogy. If my father ever got any ideas, like opening a box, he would only see books. Not finding anything, he'd think I'd actually got rid of it. This seemed like a decent plan.
I lived in Ottawa for seven weeks. The relationship didn't take. Change was tough. The new chapter just happened to be a very short one. I emailed my sublet and gave her two weeks to move out, a little cold, yes, but it was my place and my things she was living with. I arranged to stay with my parents until then, planning to leave on New Years day for my apartment.
My mother picked me up from the airport when I got back from Ottawa. It was seven thirty in the morning. On the way home we discussed went wrong "over there," the general consensus being, "moving and failing is better than not trying at all." I still agree with that and hold no regrets or grudges about the experience even though I'd gone traveling for longer periods of time than I did relocating across the country.
When we arrived at the house my mother made me bacon and eggs, toast, and a pot of tea. I sat at the kitchen table and read the paper. My father came in and we talked a little, and, as it was Friday, he reminded me that at four he would be heading to the pub for his pint of Kilkenny. I could join him if I wanted. I said I would and took my cup of tea out to the patio where I had a cigarette.
I was tired after the long flight. I went to the storage room downstairs and opened the box with the "books" in it. Making sure no one had followed me, I grabbed my gogy and went to my old bedroom and slept like a baby, without a care in the world.
I put the gogy back in the box of books after that. But it bothered me that it was still available. If I ever had a "gogy fit" I could hop on a bus and a couple hours later be at my parent's house. I could say I just wanted to see them, to have dinner, stay the night. I've done this often over the years. I'm fairly certain they enjoy my company. But, it'd be like quitting drugs and having a secret stash around. It just wasn't healthy. I decided it was time to be a grown-up and deal with the situation properly.
A few months later I went out for my mother's birthday. I got there early in the afternoon. We had a round of diet cokes and listened to my father's new mix CD of fast paced techno tracks he made for his geriatrics spinning class. Afterward, my parents and sister decided to go for a walk with the dog. I told them I wanted to stay and read for a while. When they left, I retrieved the gogy. I cut off a corner for safekeeping and put it in my pocket- I'm sentimental. Then I had a few words with the gogy. I kept it short; it wasn't a real live gogy after all. Still, I had to resist the urge to show emotion. Composed, I told myself I was an adult, that if it came down to it, I could be someone's power of attorney if necessary.
That concluded the memorial service so I moved on to the burial. In the kitchen I wrapped the blanket in saran wrap. I found an Adidas shoebox in the hall closet and put the gogy in it. I walked up to the wild part, the area of the property that is overgrown and unkempt and where we bury dead pets. There was a pile of potted plants sitting in the driveway so I picked one up on the way. I dug a hole, buried the box, and planted a Marigold on top. Then, in practice with the family ritual of pet burial, I took a slug of the whiskey I'd grabbed from the liquor cabinet. My father's reaction to pilfering his booze would have been something like "If you ever do that again I'll put your fucking nuts in a sling." But the potential of his verbal assaults had no effect on me in this moment.
It was a pleasant day, a little chilly. I could see the sun poking through the large cedar and oak trees in the wild part, the windows of my father's tool shed gleaning with light. I walked back to the house comforted by the fact I had put an end to my childhood.
William Farrant's writing has appeared online and in print throughout North America and Europe, most recently in Geist, Boulevard, and Branch Magazine. He lives in Victoria, BC.
Illustration: "DON'T GET COMFORTABLE" by Svetoslav Tatchev, 2011