Tuesday, June 03, 2008


Although my mother was claustrophobic, I never really understood the fear of small, enclosed spaces. When I was twelve, my favorite hiding place was in my closet, on the side where I'd pushed away the old shoes and hung all the sweaters and sweatshirts so none of the skirts and dresses could reach down to strangle me in the unrelenting darkness.  My closet cave was too small for anyone other than me, and much too dark for any activity other than sitting and being surrounded by my secrets.
I can only guess at my motives for designating those few cubic feet of closet space as a hideaway.  Who or what was I hiding from?  Was the blackness of my cave just another layer of security for my precious secrets?  I remember some of those secrets, those nascent sexual fantasies faithfully penned in locked diaries. I can recall my fictional accounts of eroticized corporal punishment, which turned into rescues and romances and things that I knew the mechanics of but never thought I'd actually have an opportunity to try. Did I know even then that society would have looked down upon my impetuousness?  Or was I simply taking the space and time to learn how my most powerful sexual organ---my mind---really worked?
There were other secrets too: I'd gotten extremely bored of Barbie dolls; I wanted to live in a  spacious New England farmhouse and write for a living; I thought the Gap was the be-all and end-all of designer clothes, and resented every girl in my class who could afford to shop there even though nothing in the store fit my precociously curvy figure particularly well. Those were equally worthy of guarding from everyone and everything. Perhaps my body had started to take up more space than I was used to, and I wanted to reassure myself that I could still fit in something that resembled a womb.
In hindsight, my attraction to the inner sanctum of my already private sanctuary was probably just a symptom of my larger-scale malaise. I was afraid of the big, wide world and all the people in it.  Certain people scared me more than others: "strangers" of all stripes; people who gave out stickers at Halloween; garbagemen; the teenager who lived a few doors down; and people who drove unmarked vans, to name a few.  The very idea of talking to a store clerk was akin to facing a firing squad. Traveling anywhere alone was like setting out on the Oregon Trail with an empty wagon and a cannibal. 
Every adult I had ever dared to trust (my parents, my teachers, and the police officer who lectured at my school) had imprinted upon me a distinct fear of the unknown.  The idea that a predator lurked around every corner with a piece of candy in one hand and a rope in the other was a common meme in that era. That picture of the stranger with candy pounded itself firmly into my innocence.  When horror stories of rohypnol started filtering down from the college scene, I swore to myself that I'd never drink anything at a party unless it was from a sealed container, which would be promptly reclosed after every sip and would never leave my hand or my sight.  I learned early on that people simply could not be trusted.  Every person in the world was a facade of friendliness with a heart of evil intent, paving the road to kidnapping with a smile and a cleverly disguised bottle of alcohol.  My overprotective trusted adults had unknowingly raised a misanthrope in their midst.     
Perhaps that is why I recognized my fantasies as just that: flights of fancy that never had a chance in hell of reaching fulfillment.  In order for me to have sex, I'd have to meet some people to do it with.  And I'd have to trust them enough to let them into my smallest spaces.  Maybe my closet was the only place I could hide from the cognitive dissonance of it all.     

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