It Keeps the Monsters in the Closet

As a child I wasn’t afraid of much. There was a small list of things that bothered me to the point of fear. Snakes were at the top of that list while spiders were nowhere near it. Darkness was somewhere in the middle, but not all darkness. I wasn’t afraid of being outside at night with no lights to show what was out there with me. Being inside the house with no lights on wasn’t too bad either. But, while I lay in bed in my room, alone with no night-light and the door closed, my mind roamed. The only light in the room came from outside either from the moon or the street lamp. The moon was more consistent… The sparse glow from beyond the window would cast shadows along the walls and seemingly innocent objects became menacing monsters.

I’m sure I’m not alone here. I’m sure most people, maybe even you, were afraid of the dark as a youngster. It’s natural to be afraid of the dark. Even the Bible mentions how God separated the light from the dark, that He saw light as good and He called it day and He called the dark night. It’s no wonder that most horror stories and movies have major events unfold at night, when it is perceived as a more dangerous period of time.

Each night I would lie down and pull my blankets to my chin. Sometimes I would rap the blanket around my head so the only things showing were my eyes. Closing my eyes was the hardest thing to do. I would stare out from my blanket-made turban, focusing on the ceiling and trying not to look at anything else.

Wait! What was that? Something moved over there. I just knew it. My eyes would shift ever so slightly to the far corner where the shadows seemed to taunt me. There it sat, the monster in my room; the monster that only visited me. This I was sure of. Sometimes the beast sat quietly on his haunches. Other times he stood, his hulking frame hid only by the darkness of the corner.

My body would become rigid. Blinking petrified me. I hoped that my blanket, my salvation as it was, would protect me from the beast if it leapt from its perch to grab me. I always held onto the false notion that as long as I was in my bed and beneath the covers then he couldn’t get me. It was as if there was a force field around it so if the monster tried to grab me then it would be pushed away.

Since my bed sat next to a wall I would squeeze myself as close to the wall as I could, trying to blend in, so the monster couldn’t see me. I don’t know if it worked, but each morning when I would wake I was relieved that it didn’t eat me during the night.

The false securities of childhood can be a wonderful thing. It was the one thing that allowed me to sleep.

I only yelled for my parents once and got the “there’s nothing there” speech and decided they couldn’t see my beast in the corner.

Then one evening it occurred to me—turn on the light, you dummy. After all, it was just above my bed. All I had to do was stand on the mattress, reach up and pull the chord and the monster would be gone. Or it would be standing there and I would die from fright of actually seeing the creature for what it was. For several nights more the creature remained in my corner, though it seemed he was in a different position each night. And each night I tried to convince myself to reach up, to pull the chord and expose the monster.

It wasn’t until I awoke suddenly one night that things changed. I thought something had touched my foot. I saw the monster in the corner, looming large in the shadows cast by the moon. Without thinking I screamed and jumped up, my hand grabbing the chord and yanking it. The light flooded the room and the monster was… gone. In its place was a coat rack—the same one that sat in that corner for as long as I could remember.

My heart thump-thumped, my brow was sweaty and my pillow was soaked with perspiration; I shivered. And felt totally stupid. It was a coat rack. All that time my monster was a coat rack and it terrified me.

The next day I removed the coat rack from the corner and put an old chair in its place. That night my monster was replaced by a smaller creature, one that was about the size of the chair I had placed in the corner. Funny, what the mind can conjure up isn’t it?

Now, I have a daughter who at age five–right around the same age I was when I discovered the monster in my room–was afraid of the dark. She’d cry out in the night and I’d run in to her room thinking something was terribly wrong with her. ‘There’s a monster in the corner,’ she would say to me most every time. Or, ‘there is a monster by the closet door.’ This was always followed by ‘I’m scared.’

I would sit on her bed and stroke her light red hair and would give her a kiss on the cheek. Then I would tell her it’s okay, but just to make sure I turned the light on and ask her where the monster is.

‘It’s gone,’ Chloe usually said.

After a glass of water and a visit to the potty she huddled back down in her blankets and felt better about the world in which she lived in—at least about the monsters in her room. Then, she would fall asleep in no time, back into dream world where she dreamed of fairies and Barbie’s and lots of candy. Most of the time she was fine the rest of the night.

One morning after a particularly rough night of visits from the monsters in her room, I went to check on her before I went to work. Chloe was sleeping peacefully, her teddy bear clutched in her arms. I smiled and went to close the door when I noticed what she had done. In front of her closet, where she said one particular monster was hiding, she had placed a row of shoes along the door. There were seven shoes total, from one end of the door to the other. I chuckled softly and left for work.

The very next morning the shoes were in front of the door again. My daughter had slept through the night for the first time in a long while. For several more days I noticed the shoes blocking the door to her closet. Then, one night, shortly after tucking her in, I opened the door enough to peek in. She was placing the shoes neatly along the doorway. Chloe jumped and let out a little scream when she saw me. I asked her about the shoes.

‘It keeps the monster in the closet,’ she whispered to me.

‘Okay,’ I responded and helped her place the shoes in front of the door. She slept very well that night and did so for a while.

Like I said earlier, it’s funny what the mind can conjure up. It was her belief that her shoes protected her from the monster by binding it to the closet. It was her security blanket against the fear of the dark and what may have been in it.

Chloe is soon to turn ten. She no longer puts shoes in front of the closet door. She no longer sleeps in that room either. My wife and I do.

A few nights ago, I crawled into bed, kissed my wife goodnight and closed my eyes. A soft creak of hinges caught my attention. My eyes snapped open and I listened, trying to decipher where that sound came from. For me, that’s hard to do. Being completely deaf in one ear will do that to you.

‘Did you hear that?’ I asked my wife.

‘Yes,’ she said.

‘What was it?’

‘I think it was the closet door.’

My mind went back all those years earlier, to Chloe bending down at that same door, placing her shoes across the edge of it. I stood from the bed and flipped on the lamp on my desk. The door sat slightly open. I could have sworn I had closed it.

I had put a lock on the closet door a couple of years earlier, partially to alleviate Chloe’s fears of the monsters in there. I shut the door and slid the lock in place. My wife laughed at me.

‘What?’ I asked.

‘You’re just funny.’

‘Laugh all you want, but you’ll sleep better with the door locked.’

It is kind of funny. Why? Every night since then, I’ve closed that door and locked it before going to bed, kind of like a security blanket.

Maybe Chloe was on to something back then…