By Sharon Lynch

He knew they were in there. The bad things, the monsters. Even after his mother checked his bedroom closet and declared it empty of anything but clothes, Jeffrey remained skeptical.

Eventually, he realized there was indeed nothing to be feared from his closet. In fact he grew to like standing in it, just behind the door, peeking through the slats.

He felt invisible. It was even more fun hiding in other people’s closets. He could watch his little sister talking to her dolls, his bigger sister talking on her phone or his dad fixing his tie before going downstairs for breakfast.

Closets smelled like the people, their clothes reminding him of what it was like getting a hug or sitting squished in the backseat on the way to the cottage.

One day when he was older, about 12, he visited his grandparents’ farm. They had lived in a very old house made of logs. For Jeffrey it was like being in another world. There were coal oil lamps and a big kitchen range that his grandmother fired up with wooden matches.

But the biggest surprise for Jeffrey, was the complete lack of closets. Nowhere to hide, unless he wanted to go up to the spooky attic. But that was no good because no one ever went there.

The old house’s two bedrooms had hooks on the back of their doors, and that was where Jeffrey saw clothes hanging. There was a set of rough-looking work clothes and dressier outfits for wearing to church.

Jeffrey’s mom explained that his grandparents kept their other clothes up in the attic because they didn’t need them on a daily basis. There were also hooks on the kitchen wall by the door. These were for jackets and hats. Jeffrey couldn’t help but feel sad for his grandparents in their closet-less lives.

Years piled up on top of one another, and one day Jeff found himself near retirement age. He still had an interest in closets. Sometimes he saw pictures advertising closet organizers or the homes of rich and famous people. It was these closets that confounded him.

Walk-in closets. Closets that were rooms onto themselves with row upon row of shoes and clothing. The shoes looked like soldiers lined up for inspection, the clothes spaced evenly for easy browsing. Sort of like a store, he thought. Imagine trying to decide what to wear, something his grandparents didn’t have to worry about.

Jeff’s mother was now on her own in a retirement home. When he went to visit her in her room, he almost needed to turn sideways in the little hallway in order to get past her clothes closet.

Its door was always open, and there was so much stuffed in the closet confines that Jeff doubted he could even fit his hand between items. Over the years, every Christmas, birthday and Mothers’ Day gift had been kept. Jeff doubted she had worn most of the clothes for decades. 

When she was still living in Jeff’s childhood home, his mother had sent him upstairs one day to get a shawl hanging in her bedroom closet. As he searched through its contents, he kept coming across virtually new outfits he couldn’t recall ever having seen on her.

They were fancy clothes given to her by Jeff’s dad every Christmas. Guilt gifts. While lovely to look at, she had nowhere to wear such apparel, unless she had wanted to dress up to buy groceries.

Still, every year she made a big fuss when she opened those boxes under the tree. As an adult, Jeff realized she probably would have considered her husband’s loyalty to their marriage a preferred gift but one she had been denied.

He often found himself wondering what other people kept in their closets. Invisible monsters, unworn clothes or special hiding places. Closets could tell a great deal about the people who stored their possessions there. Priorities and secrets.

Those were much more interesting to him than micro stores for people with too much money and not enough gratitude.