The Closet Under The Stairs

February 8, 2010
The closet under the stairs. The perfect place to tell ghost stories, an escape from the rest of the house, the craziness and the chaos. Throughout the years, cardboard shelves, books, and old flashlights all made themselves at home in the closet. All the extra pillows hid under the stairs, with the blankets and towels and everything else. It had a different meaning for each of my sisters and I, whether a place to escape the sound and light of the lightning and thunder, a place to hide and avoid trouble, a place that held the perfect spot for hide-and-seek, or a place to do homework with a flashlight. According to the contractor who designed the house, it had no ventilation or lights whatsoever; you could not hear anything in there from the outside world, could not smell anything when something burned on the stove, and it appeared pitch black other than the little crack under the door that we covered with a towel whenever we sat in there, which, when in position, made it nearly impossible for people to open the door from the outside. This closet remained a fixture throughout the first ten years of my life, until we remodeled the house and the crawlspace behind the closet, my personal safe haven, disappeared.

During one night in the middle of my first grade year, a thunderstorm shook the house, with lightning and pounding rain. I remember it vividly, as if it happened two minutes ago. At dinnertime, the house felt cozy to the sound of a light drizzle of rain down the windowpanes. I retire to my bed feeling warm, content, and extremely tired.

I jolted awake to the sound of wind whipping past my windows, the shaking of glass, and the thunder and lightning drawing veins through the night sky. The thunder mixed with the crash of cymbals and the roaring of lions. It terrified me. With each flash of lightning through the blinds on my window, I squeezed my eyes closer and closer shut, which caused in each burst of light a skeleton to appear behind my eyes. With each bang of the thunder, I imagined that the angry lion and the marching band stomped closer and closer outside my window ledge. By this point, I hid under my covers, clutching my stuffed rabbit and angel blanket as if they could protect me. I hid under the covers for only five minutes, but it felt like hours. I started to relax. The thunder stopped, or so it seemed. I pulled my head out of the blankets, like a turtle sticking its head out of its shell. At around this time that I realized I needed a drink of water. I slunk down the stairs holding on to the paw of my stuffed rabbit and the corner of my blanket, gripping the banister and eying the window, keeping a watch out for any marching bands or lions that might come my way. I quickly crept into the kitchen, flicking on the lights and standing on my tippy-toes to press the button on the refrigerator that dispensed the water into my little green plastic cup. Since mom did not let me bring food or drinks upstairs, I had no choice but to reluctantly plop myself down at the table and glue my eyes to the window.
I saw the lightning before I hear the thunder. With a screech, I ran down the hall. I yanked open the door to the closet and hurled myself past the jackets that lined the front of the closet towards the cushions, blankets, and pillows that served as a bed on many occasions. I reached past the many coats from the back of the closet and grasped the underside of the door to pull it shut, scraping my knuckles against the hardwood floor in the process. As soon as the door shut and the towel that covered the small crack under the door eliminated the flashing lights, everything calmed. The cymbals and roaring lions magically dissipated like a bad dream. The lightning stopped. I clicked on the flashlight that hung from the ceiling, which immediately bathed the room in a cozy glow. A long time ago it lay in the possession of my dad, with a big black switch and a green handle that took two hands to carry. The light did not shine super brightly because the battery needed to be changed, but it lit up the room enough that I felt comfortable, not flickering, but not fluorescent.
I quickly snuggled up, clutching my bunny rabbit “Carrot” and my angel blanket, and pulled the blankets and towels over me. The closet fit me perfectly, just large enough so that I could stretch out my six-year-old body completely. The cushions looked deep purple, filled with plushy stuffing that enveloped me in the warmth and comfort of a steaming mug of hot chocolate. My eyelids flickered, as my mind walked directly into the dreamland that awaited me. Thirty seconds, later, I slept soundly.

My eyes fluttered open to the sound of the closet door opening. I peeked my head around the bulky coats, blinking back the yawn that tried to escape my throat. I peered around the closet door, yawning as the face of my mom came into focus. “Hi, momma. Did you see the lightning?” She proceeded to plant me in front of the TV and try to figure out how to get it running after the power went off at about two in the morning and just came back on. I ran to the drawer, grabbed two D batteries for the flashlight that finally went dead during the night, and threw them into the closet before my mom noticed. I could fix that later.
The thunder ended during the night, and the lightning disappeared, but I still knew that I had a place to go when I needed to cry, a place to hide when playing tag with my friends, and a place to sleep when I looked for somewhere cozy and warm, away from the outside world. The closet under the stairs remained, a small prize, yet all the more special to me.

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