It was dark and cramped in the tiny closet space, even for an emaciated, five-year-old. I squeezed myself between old records sloppily stacked and the surprisingly sharp corner of a container full of crisply folded tear-stained baby clothes.
I was fond of that little place. There were costume-like clothes dangling above my head, willowy branches of a protective forest, and the walls formed an impenetrable edifice, bumpy and cold like Rapunzel’s tower. The clothes smelled of starch and my mother’s youth.
I stretched a lonely smile, my cheeks stained with tears. My bare feet, cold and boney, began to fall asleep under the weight of my hunched hidden body, and I yearned for soft carpeting over the slick tile floors.
The closet was hauntingly dark, and my nostalgic apparitions of happiness curled in the corners as I strained to make my eyes adjust. I didn’t need to see what was in there to intimately know the confines of the little safe space I had created for myself. I could see a magical light under the large gap at the bottom of the door, hinting at a fantasy, a magical place—if I only had the courage to dream it.
Still, once I closed the door, I knew it was eternal; the doorknob was an old worn copper ball that slipped in my fragile, frigid hand as I struggled to twist it open. It was a heavy door, made of solid wood, whispering horrible tales of children’s fingers getting amputated in the jams, just like mother said would happen.
My tailbone was beginning to ache terribly, and I finally got up the courage to quietly remove the fancy high heel under my butt that my mother had retired from her days of dancing. She loved reminiscing over those high heels and dancing with my father, especially the nights she downed in vodka.
My father was a gentle, handsome man, with facial stubble, a worn look probably from the gravity of his marriage to my mother. Curiously, he hung his spindly cane fishing poles safely in the corner of that closet. Maybe he put them there to smell her lovely, retired, movie star dresses—and maybe that is why I was in there too.
It was savagely quiet in that closet, so quiet it made you feel as if the apocalypse was near, the cinder block walls creating my soundproof cellblock. It was when that satisfying quiet was interrupted that I knew she might find me. Sometimes I would get an eerie feeling that my mother was coming, probably because I could hear her hauntingly sloppy shuffle drag through the hallway, her Southern drawl screeching my name with such vitriol that ripples of fear tickled my ribcage.
I knew my closet was safest. I had other hiding places, some with less air to breathe, threatening asphyxiation, but this closet felt most comfortable even if her smoke-stained hands would, as threatened, wrap viciously around my throat.
I wasn’t afraid. I was sated with the memory of that beautiful starch smell; it was enough to cradle me deep into my grave. Maybe then I would see her as she was before the day that they draped the gauze over her little blue lips, before those horrible shiny polaroid pictures were taken that are now scattered and sliding under my feet. Maybe then, in the end, I could forget that tiny haunting casket, the one mommy wished had been for me instead.