2000 Anne Horton Writing Award
"A Small Creaking Closet"
When I was five, my parents were the house parents for Illini Christian Children's Home. I went from being the only child to having many older, very troubled "brothers" and "sisters." Although I had my own room in which I could escape from the oddities of my environment, a small closet in the corridor nearest my room became my favorite place to be alone.
My closet could in no way be considered elegant. Each time I shifted my weight, the floor creaked and groaned in pain. The walls were covered with dark paneling that smelled faintly of dust and artificial wood. The textured ceiling sloped downward and hung just inches away from the floor in the back of the closet. Pieces of the bumpy, ivory-colored ceiling fell into my hair and clothes if I so much as brushed against the ceiling. Covering the floor was the same 70's-style green shag carpet that was in the hallway. The carpet boasted almost no padding, and the despicable color resembled nine-day-old split-pea soup. Yet, despite its faults, my closet was homey and welcoming. Even more importantly, it offered a respite from the world around me and provided a place for some of my deepest thoughts and dreams to sprout.
One of my most cherished possessions was kept in the closet. From the outside, this possession was a normal cardboard box. Yet inside was everything from my childhood. My birth certificate, first tooth, locks of hair, and thousands of pieces of childish artwork were all buried within. Often I would scoot across the creaky floor to the corner where my box was kept, paw through it, and reminisce over certain drawings or memorabilia from previous times in my life.
As I delved into my box to retrieve objects from my past, I could replay all of the happy moments that were stored in my memory. A paper sheep covered with soft cotton balls brought back memories of preschool days. Even the small tooth in a tiny ziplock bag reminded me of sitting on my Grandma's bed and listening to her tell me the best way to pull out a loose tooth.
My other most cherished possession, a thick, crimson, and imaginary book was also stashed away in the closet. It didn't matter that the beautiful leather-bound journal was only a figment of my imagination. It didn't even matter that nobody else could see the book. In my mind, it was a reality. I would sit in the depths of my closet with a fictitious book resting upon my bent legs and an imagined feather plume pen in my fingers. Then, in bold sprawling letters, I would "write" elaborate stories about my day although I had not yet even learned to read. When frustrations threatened to overcome me, I wrote in my book. When I felt ecstatic about something, I also wrote in my book. My book was my partner, my friend, albeit imaginary, throughout kindergarten and part of first grade.
When in my closet, I was part of a world in which only I existed. I did not have to share my parents with other people who weren't even family. I wasn't expected to be nice. I could simply sit, the floor creaking beneath me, and release my deepest emotions.
Many of my current beliefs and attitudes were shaped by time spent in my closet. I considered peopleÃƒÂ•s actions and formed an opinion about them. I thought about the qualities that I wished to possess and those that I wanted to avoid and then tried to model my life based on those decisions. As I sat in the semi-darkness on the creaking floor, I examined values such as honesty, loyalty, and the Christian beliefs that had been passed down to me by my family and either rejected or accepted them as part of my life.
Besides cementing my beliefs, the closet helped me learn the skill of entertaining myself. Rather than relying on TV or video games to prevent boredom, I was content to create my own entertainment by writing and imagining. I also learned how to solve problems without angry confrontation. When I was upset with someone, I would retreat to the closet and consider both sides of the debate. Then, after coming to a conclusion in my mind and listening to the calming sound of the gently creaking floor, I would be better able to peacefully resolve my problems.
As I look back at my secret world in the closet, I have to smile. So many of my attitudes were shaped during the year that I claimed the closet as my place. I learned how to objectively evaluate the actions, attitudes, and beliefs that later became part of my life. I exposed all my feelings while "writing" in the book in the closet. My life was changed because of the time that I spent curled away in a creaking closet.
Although it was dark and dusty, the closet turned into a magical place when the door was shut. Faults such as the carpet, low ceiling, and dusty paneling became charming when it was claimed as a special hideaway. Even the annoying sound of creaking transformed into calming music as the closet turned into a friend. I hope that other children someday claim the small, creaking closet as their private place where dreams can be cultivated without hindrance. I hope that they learn to appreciate the possibilities that the closet offers. Finally, I hope that the creaking of the floor boards can develop into the same calming music that I found them to be.