I recently flew home to the East Coast to celebrate my 29th birthday, the start to my last year as a kid. When I returned to my apartment in Chicago I realized my infinity scarf (aka my security blanket) was missing. My mom, in an effort to get me out the door and to the airport on time, assured me I most likely packed it in my suitcase. This seemed plausible; I misplace things all the time. But when I unpacked my suitcase back in Chicago, the scarf was not there.
This is because I forgot it in the booth at the pizza place we ate in the night before. I called the restaurant, and they confirmed. It’s all black and easy to overlook in a dimly lit pizza joint. My mom returned to the restaurant to get my scarf and mail it to me. When it finally came, I tore open the cardboard and was overwhelmed by the scent. I plunged my face into the scarf and slipped it on over my head, swaddling my body in the home comfort of her Clinique Aromatics Elixir. It’s the fragrance my mom wears and it was also the fragrance her mom wore. My mom used to douse my childhood blankie in it when she was going away and I missed her so much it hurt. Without me asking, my mom had sprayed perfume on my current scarf. It’s been over three weeks since she mailed it to me and the scent still lingers. When that scarf is around my neck, I feel safe and warm and protected.
From the beginning, my infinity scarf has been more than a cut of fabric, a thick jersey cotton with the alleged power to transform into 8 different looks. I have only ever worn it two ways: double-wrapped, or hung over my neck just once with the back pulled down over me, like some sort of a power cloak. Both ways allow me to be swaddled like a newborn. I can retreat down into the fabric folds in a matter of seconds and disappear for a while. It’s doing all the same work my blankie did as a kid, except it’s more discreet — which is great, because I’ll be 30 in a year and I’m supposed to not need a security blanket anymore.
My childhood blankie was called “Raggie,” a practical name given to the never-worn cloth diaper I dragged with me everywhere. I was an anxious and fearful kid, and I depended on tethers linking me back to something familiar. For a while I sucked my pointer finger and my middle finger and I used Raggie as a protective curtain that stood between my gross habit and the public. It allowed me to keep the world at bay. When I was around 6 or 7 years old, Raggie began to disintegrate and it no longer became charming to carry around an aging diaper.
In middle school and high school, I traded in the safety of the blankie for hoodies. In college it was over-sized sweaters. The extra fabric did not stop my obsessive thoughts, my certainty that my parents would die while I was away at college and it would be my fault, but it gave me something to hold on to. It created extra space between the world and me. It was like a wearable fort you could dip in and out of.
Then, in 2011, I bought my first infinity scarf. I paid $30, which at the time seemed steep, but now seems like a low cost to pay for something that has given me so much. I’ve only recently had reliable health insurance, so in lieu of paying a therapist, the scarf has helped temper my anxiety for many years.
I got my first full-time, real-deal office job when I was 28 years old. To the interview I wore the infinity scarf, untwisting it from around my neck and letting it drape over the side of my chair, trying my best to appear cool and collected. All the while, my hand was never far from the looping piece of fabric.
Over the past two years I’ve had three grandparents pass away, and the scarf has accompanied me on last-minute flights home for the funerals. I’ve cried into it, wiped my snot on to it, waited too long to wash it, and occasionally screamed a muted scream into it out of frustration.
At my desk at work I routinely wear my infinity scarf, as do several other women in my office. I don’t know their connection to their scarves; I feel it’s too personal to ask. I wonder if theirs are serving anything more than a superficial or a practical function. Or if, like me, their attachment to the fabric, the familiar scent, and the way it cocoons you, is something deeper, a carry-over from a time when they were small and the world was big.
Just because I’m almost 30 does not mean the world is any less scary. It is scary, in ways I couldn’t even conceive as a kid, but at my age I am expected to pretend everything is ok. When I don’t do a great job faking it, which is often the case, I rely on my infinity scarf, my security blanket, to calm me for a brief moment while I take a deep breath in.