“Red Satin Comfort”

Memoir by Linda Blaikie Ayres

I came of age with Bob Dylan’s lyrics seeping into my 1960s consciousness, so it was no surprise that when I rented my first apartment on New York’s progressive Upper West Side that I used my somewhat meager nurse’s wages to buy a “big brass bed.” And what better sheets to make the polished old brass bed frame pop than red satin sheets? It hadn’t occurred to my 22-year-old self that the feel of sheets might be more significant than their visual appeal.

Working different shifts at New York University’s neurosurgical intensive care unit certainly didn’t promote restful sleep, but I had always struggled with severe insomnia, and satin sheets completely aggravated me as I tossed and turned. I might have slept on them twice before acknowledging that the purchase was a complete waste of my money and tossing them in some bottom drawer. 

Time passed, I moved to a bigger apartment, sold the brass bed, and bought a platform bed and 400-thread-count Egyptian cotton sheets on which I could at least lie awake more comfortably, but the red satin sheets came with me. I used them to wrap around the bottom of my Christmas tree. I liked the repurposing of them, and I preferred their sensuality to one of those stiff red velvet tree skirts. 

As many Christmases passed and the top sheet became ragged I traded down to the fitted bottom sheet.

At age 36 I married and moved to a cozy house in the exurbs with lots of stairs and, as it turned out, a perfect spot for a large Christmas tree. At age 40 my then-husband and I adopted a month-old baby boy . . . sweet and beautiful, brilliant and anxious. 

When our son, Dana, was 3, we divorced and Dana began preschool.  Born in January, Dana began walking right before his first Christmas. When we dismantled the tree he somehow latched onto the red satin sheet under it and proceeded to waddle around dragging this frayed sheet wherever he ventured.

Soon he began going up and down the many stairs with the red satin sheet trailing behind him.

And yes, when he went to preschool he brought the sheet, the entire raggedy red satin sheet with him. Maggie, his lovely and wise Irish teacher, appropriately suggested perhaps I could cut a piece of his blankie off and that would work as his transitional security object. But no substitutes, no reduction in size . . . this entire red satin sheet was the only balm to Dana’s extreme anxiety.

I finally accepted it, the school accepted it, the dog put up with it, and amazingly enough Dana never tripped on it.

As he got a little older he paid less and less attention to this piece of red satin comfort, and by the time he went to grammar school I put it away and told him when he fell in love I would have a nightgown made from it so that when life felt frightening his love could slip into it, and he could snuggle against her and perhaps feel at least a little less scared. That was 25 years ago.

Girlfriends have come and gone, but it wasn’t until he was 30 that I first saw him fall in love. Not knowing if he would remember my promise or even his blankie, I asked him if it was time for me to take the red satin sheet to a seamstress. “Yes,” he said, without hesitation. 

Sadly, while the sheet was at the seamstress but before the redesign actually happened, Dana’s girlfriend abruptly left him. Dana’s stepfather and I jumped in the car, drove from East Hampton to Southampton, and retrieved his blankie untouched. I texted him what we had done and he immediately texted back a single red heart in response. 

Dana lives in Las Vegas and will be spending Christmas alone. This breaks my heart, but his preference was for us to come out two weeks later for his birthday instead. I don’t know what my beautiful son will be doing on Christmas Eve, but I do know that he will be sleeping alone in his queen-size bed . . . on his almost threadbare black satin sheets.

Linda Blaikie Ayres, a retired psychotherapist, is the co-author of “Godless Grace: How Nonbelievers are Making the World Safer, Richer, and Kinder.”