Coming into the Closet

As a child, my walk-in closet was a refuge for idle thoughts and possessions. It was the largest closet among my siblings and the only one with a window. Even though I would cloister myself in it for hours on end, I could still look out on the street and have a connection to the world. I can imagine myself around age 11, going through old letters (almost every one I’ve kept) and trinkets kept from an even earlier childhood. As the realm of current clothing and after thoughts, organizers and can’t-figure-what-to-do-with-its, my childhood closet was full of present needs and past memories.

After a few years of unscrupulous hoarding, the closet’s manila particleboard and aluminum-braced shelves where hammocked under the weight of misorganized models and pitiful pinchpots that I somehow couldn’t bear to liberate from neglect. In a clandestine raid of guerilla goodness, my parents hired professionals to redesign and reorganize the closets of my older sister, younger brother, and myself while we were away at summer camp. Gone were the sad, saggy shelves; in their places were sleek white spaces with hanging crates for undies and laundry, drawers for everyday clothes, and dowels for the stiff suits and sweaters that I’d have to wear to Grandma’s.

My closet could be organized to the hilt on days right after my usually messy mom threw down the cleaning hammer. But most other times it was cluttered with my daydream escapades into yesteryear’s trophies and treasures. There was the green and grey fighter jet I made out of chunky 2x2 wood blocks at camp. It only collected dust in its hangar shelf until I finally sent it on one last mission to the trash bin. As a lover of maps, I kept shoeboxes full of exotic locations like Madagascar and USSR from National Geographic, as well as rest stop freebies of the Midwest highways and backwater towns that my family would visit on weekend trips in our 1989 Ford conversion van. The closet was mission control for a weekend afternoon of mental voyages outside of the actually shy childhood that I led.

In my high school years, I’d won my bout with nostalgia and excised a great deal of the cumbersome wood funny awards and the paper trees of old tests and essays. Now thrift store corduroys and an Illinoisans’ idea of Aloha shirts hung from the racks – further evidence that the closet was the only safe place for my kind of fashion. It was also the last time when all siblings would be living at home. As a fully equipped a fallout shelter, the closet could sustain me against a sister-and-brother tickle raid. I could hole up there for minutes with a stashed soda pop and Doritos until brother scrounged up a Q-tip to pick the locking mechanism on the door. No closet is impenetrable.

Eventually we all have to come out of the closet that is our childhood and face a world that scoffs at daydreamers and story collectors. But there’s nothing to keep us from coming into the closet for a memory or a moment to rekindles that place of safety.

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