When I was a small child, I had a wardrobe. It had four narrow drawers down one side, a closet-cabinet-bit on the other, and a broad drawer stretching all the way across the bottom. This is not a story about that wardrobe, which was eventually handed down to my little sister and which I believe my mother now keeps art supplies in, if it survived the purge when my parents built a new home on the site where our old doublewide once moldered.
This is a story about the dresser that replaced my wardrobe. It was made out of really nice heavy wood that at some point had been stained black by a well-meaning idiot. It may have come from the dump, as a lot of our furniture did at the time; I was really too young to know. It may not, in point of fact, have been originally intended to be a dresser; certainly I cannot find an image of anything similar by searching “dresser” although “sideboard” returns a few plausible images.
The important thing about this dresser, though, is that it had two narrow drawers at the top, a boad one beneath, and then three cabinets at the bottom. And the really, really important thing is that for most of my childhood I fit neatly into one of those cabinets.
I discovered this trick during a family game of hide-and-seek. Which I won handily. In fact, I refused to emerge until long after the game was done and the seekers were hunting through the rest of the house to discover where I had fallen asleep. I slipped out of the cabinet, closed the door, and went about my business, feigning ignorance when my parents asked where I’d been. At some point I must have told them the truth, because I distinctly remember having to prove that I could fit into the cabinet.
From then on, it was my secret place. The one place in my room that was always clean. I would go there when I was having a bad day. Or a good one. Or when I just needed some fucking space, which in a house made of cardboard with a partly deaf adult and a younger sibling was basically always.
In the dark, there were no other people. No lions, no witches. In the dark, if I opened my eyes, I could see the shapes of my own imagination. I would spend hours in there, watching the dark. Telling stories in my head or just listening to the voices tell me stories. Honing and refining little tales that I think if I’d been born a little later would have been written out as fanfic; at the time, I called it talking to my invisibles. The invisibles were good company, and I could see them better in the dark.
For some reason, my parents apparently never wondered why I spent so much of my time crammed into a bureau. I suppose now I would be examined for autism spectrum disorders, migraines, or possibly sociopathy. At the time, though, I just remember finally having a place inside the house to be as alone as I liked to be outside.
When I started to outgrow the cabinet, I discovered another neat trick; if I pushed the bottom drawer out just a bit, I could press my head up inside the space where the drawer normally was. Mom, if you’re reading this, I really did close my dresser drawers most of the time. If they were partly open and clothes were artfully spilling out it was to make you think I wasn’t in the cabinet.
I was in the cabinet.
And I could still hear everything anyone said.