In the process of designing our house before it was built, we amended the walk-in closet that runs along one side of the master bedroom to afford 40% to his space and 60% to my space, with a wall in between and separate doors on either end. I used to love my generously-portioned closet: the only space in the house that was ALL MINE. It was a place where I didn’t just keep my clothing but also hid gifts and stored special things that just didn’t have a sensible home, like the Ray-Ban sunglasses I don’t wear because I’m afraid of losing or damaging them and that decorative box with a magnetic lid that will surely be perfect for keeping something someday.
These past months, however, that little room has become an overwhelming place. I know I’m not alone in feeling a wave of emotions every time I walk inside my closet: uncertainty, sadness, frustration, and anxiety all bound and gagged and chained to the walls. I think about things I used to do in there, like take four dresses, still dangling from their hangers, and lay them on the bed while I tried on one after the other to see which I liked best for a certain occasion, and I’m stupefied. I used to open that wicker hamper and look through it to choose a shirt that would be just right for the kind of day I was going to have. Once upon a time I pulled a pair of jeans from the bottom of the stack to ensure that I didn’t rewear the same one I’d worn the last time I saw the people I was preparing to see. I actually used to touch the rows of skirts and dressy shirts hanging on the right wall and the fancier-than-everyday shoes in the organizer hanging over the door. The idea of doing these things again is bewildering.
Now, when I walk in the closet, I see the dresses and think: when will I? Will I even? What will that feel like? I see the pile of jeans and wonder at the number. There: the neatly-folded bathing suit cover-ups for the beach that I won’t need again this summer. There: the cornflower blue maid-of-honor dress I spent as much to have altered as I did on its purchase, a beautiful gossamer-to-the-ankle number with the strappy Jacob’s ladder crossback I was supposed to wear to watch my sister get married on May 2, 2020. There: Summerly’s flower girl dress that might not fit her when (if?) her aunt ever has the big wedding, and her never-worn jelly shoes I bought to complete the bridal-aisle ensemble, clear plastic with silver glitter and a kitten heel that can be set to light up upon footfall (fun for the after-dark dance floor!) that she’s probably already outgrown. There: a shapely glass bottle of perfume (Shalimar, a gift from my mother) that I’m afraid to even smell lest it cause me to weep with nostalgia; there: a vial of mascara so long unused it might as well be the slim femur of a very small dinosaur. The space is filled with ghosts, past ghosts and present ghosts and future ghosts, ghosts of a life that used to be and a life that isn’t now and a life to come that we can’t even conceptualize. It’s a museum full of exhibits, period pieces, items that remind us of how things were, of canceled plans, annulled events, missed opportunities. It’s a time capsule stamped with a boldfaced question mark begging, “Will these things belong in the afterworld? Will they stand this incredibly trying test of time? Will they once again be useful, phoenixes shaking the ashes of dust off their wingtips? Will they fit a way of life we can’t even imagine and yet know we’ll live to see? Or is this just a holding area, a lily-filled mortuary, embalmment before the tomb?”
Maybe I don’t like being in my closet anymore because it feels a little like a hospice, a little like a hostage situation, and a little like limbo in stark relief. Whoever coined the phrase “skeletons in the closet”, despite the idiom’s original meaning, couldn’t have known how accurately it represents this feeling. Perhaps these skeletons will become reanimated some day; perhaps they’ll regain sinew and skin, hearts once again tasting oxygen, faces exposed to sun and wind, light and sound, no longer inhabited by hollow hangers or inhabiting the claustrophobia of closeted neglect. Perhaps they’ll be liberated from a long hibernation, happily reunited with a life they recognize and are glad to see again. Time, that old friend tucked into every corner of the tiny room, will tell.
A note on the text: I wrote this two months ago. My first dose of the Pfizer vaccine is scheduled for tomorrow. So MANY THOUGHTS.