Flash in the Pan

A Quarterly Posting at Tiny Lights

Closet Door

by Carol Howard

I closed the closet door, closed it tight and made sure the latch was secure. Then I stopped and realized what I'd done. How long had it been since I'd felt that familiar compulsion? For years I couldn't go to sleep at night without making sure the closet door was closed and latched. That had been my bedtime ritual, my evening prayer-

Now I lay me down to sleep

I pray the closet its secrets to keep.

Not that the simple latch would withstand anything or anyone pushing out from the inside. And I never had a clear image of just what it was that awaited me beyond that closed, latched closet door. Certainly nothing so concrete, so corporeal as monsters or the bogeyman.

I always associated my close-and-latch compulsion with a play I'd gone to when I was maybe 6 or 7, with my friend Joey's family, at the neighborhood Catholic church. I don't remember what the play was about-I'm not sure I ever really knew. Perhaps the play was all the more terrifying because I really didn't understand it. All I know is that there was a lantern in the cupboard, a lantern that came on all by itself when someone was about to die.

Was that it, then? If I religiously closed and latched the closet door at night, somehow I could keep that death-light from shining? I don't know. I knew almost nothing of death at that point. But I continued the practice all through grade school, junior high, and high school-though I think in later years it was largely a matter of habit. I simply gave it up, almost without noticing, when I went away to college and lived in a dorm room, where the closet "door" was just a curtain, unlatchable.

But then there I was, 28 years old, again overwhelmed by the urge to close and latch the closet door. I had just left my husband of 7 years, my high school sweetheart, the first and only man I'd ever slept with. I'd moved out into my own apartment-the first time I'd ever lived alone. Alone.

I looked down at the bed just a mattress on the floor, actually. No one to share it with. Even though I no longer wanted the body I'd been sharing a bed with, even though for the past several months I'd been sneaking into bed after he was asleep and getting up before he awoke-at least I hadn't slept alone... I closed and latched not only the bedroom closet but the front hall closet as well.

If I should die before I wake

Who the hell would know, who the hell would know?

Carol Howard is the author of "Dolphin Chronicles" (Bantam Books, 1996). Her personal essays have been published in "The Philosophical Mother" (www.philosophicalmother.com/callmemama.html), "Tiny Lights," "Psychology Today," and "Readers' Digest." She lives in Baltimore with her husband (2nd) and daughter (1st & only). Her closet door is ajar.

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