The Closet
Emily Hayes

If her mom knew to the extent that she procrastinated cleaning out her closet, she would’ve been grounded months ago. The closet in the corner of her room was a mess in every sense of the word; with clothes and items she hadn’t worn since early childhood and pieces she had forgotten to return from various stores years ago. If asked why she detested the simple task of cleaning out her closet in preparation for her to go to college in the next week, she wouldn’t be able to answer. It could just be that she didn’t want to do mind-numbing chores when she could enjoy her warm days of summer lounging by the pool with her friends, all of whom were soon to be parting ways for schools across the country. Or it could be that she wanted to spend her days romanticizing the next four years of her life, pinning Pinterest boards with dorm room inspiration and daydreaming going to parties, attending football games in the fall, and experiencing freedom from under her parents’ keen eyes for the first time in her short life. Whatever the reason was, she just knew she was not ready for whatever she would find in her closet.

On an early August afternoon, she knew she could not put off the daunting task any longer. The closet was staring her in the face, daring her to finally bring out her trash bags and suitcases to decide once and for all, what she wanted to bring with her to college, to leave here in her childhood home, or to donate to her local woman’s shelter. After all, in two short weeks she would leave for college, and she already packed everything else she could without having to step foot inside the four small walls of her closet. It was finally time, whether she liked it or not.

With the trash bags and suitcases gathered, she stepped foot into the small room and turned on the light. She eyed the dust that settled on the shelves throughout her life-long stay in this room. With her game plan intact, the only way she figured she could get this grueling task done within a few short hours, she glanced across the many items within the closet, all artifacts and mementos of her growing years within this house. She began on the shelves at the top of her closet. On it sat many bins and containers, filled to the brim. Many of the items she had only seem in photos of her as a baby, the shoes and hair bows she had not remembered her mother fawning over as they were placed with delicacy upon her. Out of curiosity, she opened one of the containers and found a dress with embroidered flowers and a smiley frog sewn on the bottom of the cloth. At the bottom of the container, she found a picture of herself as a baby, taken presumably by her mother. In the picture she was smiling the way only a baby could, with chubby cheeks and a gleam in her eye at seeing her mother happy. On the back of the picture, she read her mother’s careful cursive-

Today was a monumental day for you. It was your first birthday! We spent the day reading your favorite book, the one where the puppy and the duck become best friends. Then, we walked to the park, and you smiled so wide when you saw the real ducks in the pond, that’s when I was able to take a picture of your beautiful smile. We fed them bread till you were sleepy and had birthday cake for dinner.

Love, Mom

Upon finding the message on the back of the picture, tears welled in her eyes. She suddenly felt so selfish for her excitement of being ‘free’ from her parents. Without any effort of her own, the memories of the sacrifices that her parents made for her piled in her mind like the clothing on her chair: the tiring overtime to send her to dance classes, taking care of her when she was sick, which would only get them sick as well, and the endless patience they had with her, always forgiving her when she said hurtful things in anger. The weight of her moving out suddenly sat on her chest, what it truly meant to be without their help and watchful eyes over her. She made a note in her mind then, to make the time she had left with them in this house worth it, to hug them a bit tighter, and to call more when she finally moved out in the fall. She couldn’t bear to part with the dress, even if she could no longer remember the day it represented. She placed the container carefully back on the shelf and moved on.

She then began going through the clothes hanging on the racks first, some she still wore today, others from her embarrassing time between child and young woman, and some that still somehow lingered from elementary school. Her first pause from the quick decision-making was over a skirt, silver and shiny in fashion, with ruffles and the piece that made her fall in love with it from that first moment in the store- the bow on the left hip. She remembered it like it just yesterday, coming home from school to tell her mom she needed the perfect outfit for her school’s picture day. Her plan crafted with her middle-school best friend during that recess was to wear skirts. “If you wear one, I’ll wear one. I promise,” The girl said to her, with them linking pinkies to bind the oath. This promise was taken seriously, since if only one girl wore a skirt, she would be seen as something all young girls feared becoming- a “girly girl.” However, if both girls wore it together, they would show the strength of their friendship to the entire grade, and maybe even attract the attention of some of the boys in the meantime.

That morning, she woke up exceptionally early and chose a shirt that would both match the skirt to perfection and be just short enough to show the bow on the skirt without going against her school’s dress code. With her confidence the highest it had been since her arrival to middle school, she walked into first period with a bright smile on her face. This sublime and simple happiness only a child could reach would be quickly crushed when she saw her friend walk in the door- and not wear a skirt. Instead, she was wearing new leggings from a brand every girl would envy, and one that she herself couldn’t even afford. She was so angry that tears dwelled in her eyes and her confidence was ruined as quickly as it sprouted. All she now remembered was vowing to never speak to the girl again- a vow she kept, and how mean middle school (or maybe all) boys could be, especially when the crime was just wanting to feel pretty for a day.

The silver skirt with the bow was immediately thrown in the donation bag and she pressed on, wondering why that day still burned her with humiliation, even when she rationally knew no one would even remember it today. The racks were finally cleared when the hour closed, and she moved on to her shoe rack in the corner of the closet. They were stacked on top of each other in no particular order. On the bottom left shelf under an old pair of sneakers, she found the high heels she wore for her older sister’s college graduation last year. She remembered how excited she was to wear the black heels with her dress, as she felt it unofficially marked a step into adulthood. No more frilly bows or sparkly shoes, instead replaced with high heels, makeup, and a couple generous sprays of perfume. She felt more mature, as if she somehow grew up just by putting on the outfit and attending the ceremony. The tearful hugs and claps of appreciation for the graduates made her look forward to a future outside of high school for the first time, for colleges and careers. She knew it would be her, soon, in the black gown, throwing her cap in the air with a graduating class. While she also knew her future would be scary and unknown, the prospect of having control over her future, for her choices and hard work to be the sole judge of what lay before her, excited the young woman. The shoes were carefully added to her suitcase for her to take to college. While she was increasingly excited for college every passing day, she also knew it would be a difficult adjustment and both the familiarity and confidence she felt in those shoes would be incredibly helpful. She would be completely on her own for the first time in her life, and the empowering feelings she cherished in those shoes during that ceremony could help her reach the goals she foresaw in them. While that thought felt silly to consider and even believe, sometimes a nice pair of heels makes all the difference.

Tying up the donation bag and closing her bulging suitcase, she looked around the familiar closet once more. With the task she was dreading for so long finally done, she had no idea what to do now. She could soak up the last rays of the summer sun and tan, or finally get to that book she always meant to read, or even binge-watch that show her friend suggested. Instead, though, she decided to keep digging through her closet despite the task already accomplished. She had to admit she would miss her room more than she thought and wanted to go through these childhood memories one last time before creating new ones as an adult. With a sigh, she wiped the dust off another box and revisited the memories of a girlhood now behind her, content to let the hours pass by.

Emily Hayes