All photos by José Mandojana
On the hot August day that Ian and I purchased the blanket at a store in Culver City, California, we were on our way to Zuma Beach in Malibu. We were outdoor kids living uneasily in Los Angeles because that’s where we could make a decent living. We had been cautiously, optimistically, dating for a few months. “The Blanket” was the first thing we shared ownership of. Made of thick, coarsely woven cotton, this blanket was meant to be a queen-sized bed spread, but we had no intention of sleeping underneath it. Instead, we saw campsites, parks, mountains, beaches—like Zuma! It was an “anywhere” blanket, big enough for both of us to sprawl on.
That winter, we took the long way to visit Ian’s family for the holidays: LA to Sacramento by way of Santa Barbara and Big Sur. We both spent the same four years in college in Santa Barbara, so we spread The Blanket on a beach that brought back memories for both of us and tried to determine if we’d met somewhere before we were introduced at a mutual friend’s birthday party a few months prior. It felt more like a reunion than the beginning of a new union. The Blanket was fast becoming a place for confidences and dreams, a place we could find each other again.
The following summer, we unfurled The Blanket in a public park, an audacious patch of green in the middle of our unwieldy desert metropolis to celebrate our close-in-date birthdays. Our Blanket became a damp, crumb-covered banquet table—like our teeth, it was stained with red wine.
Left: Ian Ryan and Erna share a moment.
Right: The Blanket earns its characteristic grass stains—and charm.
Our first home together was a small duplex in the middle of Los Angeles with only a sliver of grass facing a sidewalk always busy with cars and dogs and passersby. We’d lie outside on The Blanket anyway, listening to the constant rumble of the freeway. One day, we said, we would live somewhere where you couldn’t hear traffic. We’d have a truck for hauling and driving long distances and an electric vehicle for in-town errands. We’d have two cats, a dog and, for me, a horse. We would have to live somewhere rural. The Blanket, a magic carpet spiriting us toward our future, smelled like fresh grass and zinc.
We took The Blanket with us from LA to Santa Barbara the following fall where, over a picnic of burritos and chocolate cake on the courthouse lawn, we decided to get married.
When the pandemic took hold, The Blanket lived in the trunk of my car, which sat virtually unused in our Los Angeles driveway for six months, until our frustration at being isolated overcame our fear of venturing out again. We piled our gear on top of The Blanket and escaped to Santa Cruz, where we camped for a week at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park at a site surrounded by massive, jagged, old-growth redwoods. We slept under The Blanket for the first time—it got dusty and muddy, and we were streaked with dirt. I was pregnant and starting to ache where the baby pressed against my spine, but still, The Blanket under the stars was the perfect antidote to being cooped up, sterilized, afraid of everything.
The best seat in the house for story time. Ian, Erna and their son Marty sit buried in books in their backyard.
While on maternity leave, I was often alone with Marty, our pandemic baby. His presence, his neediness, his preciousness was overwhelming. The busy roadway so close to our front door was intolerable, the duplex suffocating. The anxiety attacks and breakdowns brought on by my postpartum depression were easier to manage when I was moving, when I could see the sky, so I took the baby outside a lot. I nursed Marty, changed him and napped with him on The Blanket—it was grass-stained and often smeared with butt cream.
We frequented LA’s Kenneth Hahn Park, where I made camp on The Blanket and watched other mothers push strollers past us, unsure of how to approach them. We were all supposed to isolate from each other. For better or for worse, The Blanket created safe borders around us. The steadfast Blanket became our own country, our place in the world.
When Mar Mar, Martoodles, our little Martian was six weeks old, Ian and I took him on his first trip to Spooner’s Cove, the idyllic beach at Montaña de Oro State Park—one of our favorite places to visit. With its wide, flat trails and kid-friendly tide pools, we knew we would feel welcome there in our raw state of early parenthood. We unfolded The Blanket, the flag of our tiny nation, and stayed until the sun went down.
Since then, The Blanket has lived permanently in one of our vehicles, often wrinkled, damp and sandy, bearing the stains, smells and wear from our latest excursion. Most people would replace it at this point, but I could never—The Blanket is a constant reminder of where we’ve been and in perfect condition for the next trip.
Erna takes care when folding The Blanket and stashing it safely away until the next time.