Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Closet

My sister, Kathy, and I fought like cats when we were in our teens. Many of these altercations centered on issues involving begrudgingly sharing a rather small bedroom with a rather small closet in our rather small house on 25th Street. Because we shared a rather small full-sized bed and a dresser, there was really no good way to put a masking tape line of demarcation down the center of the room. My stuff leaked into her stuff and hers into mine. She was a tomboy, and I was a self-absorbed girly girl. This hormone-laced combination was at times lethal. Claws came out, and there was hissing.

When we weren’t shrieking at each other about things like my “stolen” tubes of Slicker lip gloss or Kathy’s open trombone case left flopped open in the middle of our bed, we were secretly planning devious ways to retaliate for sister-transgressions by scaring the pooty out of each other. Ha! You’ll pay for this My Pretty! Someday when you least expect it, I’ll make you howl like a monkey in a cage. Just you wait. Watch and wait. I’ll make you jump right into that trombone case with your trombone! Never turn your back on me. Ever.

We began with simple little tricks like jumping out from behind a door or suddenly letting loose a blood-curdling scream during a quiet moment on a Sunday afternoon. Then, there were the subtle mind tricks that sent chills down an unsuspecting sister’s spine. “Did you study for that test?!” "Ha! Ha! It’s only Thursday! The test is on Friday!" “Have you come up with an idea for the huge science project that all the 8th graders have to turn in before Christmas break?" "Ha! Ha! It’s really a social studies project!”

Kathy was the one who came up with the scariest of scary scares. It was so simple. It required almost no preparation other than intricate timing and the patience of Job. I remember the first time it happened. The memory still gives me cold chills. I’m shuddering now as I think of it. It was brilliant. One evening, I flounced into our room to get something out of the closet. Was it my rose-tinted, octagonal granny glasses or my polyester plaid bell bottoms with the sewn down cuff? I can’t quite remember. Anyhoo, I threw open the closet door, and there was Kathy. She must have been standing with her nose right against the back of the door. She stood there still as a stone without making a sound. Her eyes were open as wide as human eyes can possibly open. Her face was expressionless. She just stood there and said absolutely nothing. Terrifying. After my initial scream, she continued to stand there staring. And staring. In total silence. Her concentration and will power impress me to this day. My mind could not process Kathy’s corpselike appearance, so my staccato screams became louder and were accompanied with some jumping up and down. My arms and legs were quickly covered with goose bumps, and I’m pretty sure that my hair was standing on end.

Just about the time that Mother came racing down the hall to overpower the axe murderer who must be attacking her daughter, Kathy “broke character” and fell on the floor in hysteric laughter. “I thought you’d NEVER come open the door! I’ve been standing there FOREVER! It was totally worth it!” She got me. She got me good. I joined her on the floor violently laughing in an effort to release the terror from my body. From that day forward, I never opened any door without first locating Kathy’s whereabouts. I still cringe when I open a closet door. She was lucky that on that fateful day I wasn’t carrying a cup of hot chocolate or a set of hot rollers or a small, slightly warm kitten.

Fear reigned eternal in our peaceful home. There was a time when my mother kept a vintage lady mannequin in the back bedroom of our house on Rockview. She loved that brown-wigged plastic lady with her painted lips, glass eyes, and red fingernails. She liked to dress her up for each season and holiday. In October, the lady might be dressed in a black graduation gown and a witch’s hat. Mom carefully balanced a green and gold pompon in her hand and my Slime cap on her head in celebration of Baylor Homecoming. During the off-seasons Mother loved to adorn her little buddy with one of her vintage penoir sets. (She would want me to interject that the set was very modest as well as tasteful. “It’s the set that I wore in the hospital when you were born!” I was born in nineteen hundred and fifty seven.)

No matter how beautiful the penoir or how clever the seasonal attire, the mannequin scared the be-jeebers out of my then small children and most adults. During visits to Mimi’s house, Alan and I would drag the dummy into the closet at night before we went to bed. Tucking her out of site made trips to the bathroom in the middle of the night far less terrifying. However, opening the closet the next morning with barely focused sleepy eyes could make a grown man squeal like a little girl.

Kathy and I were both in our 20’s when the lady came to stand guard in the back bedroom. We both questioned our mother’s sanity and level of taste when we first laid eyes on the figure. Many were the derogatory remarks made within Mother’s hearing. “Do you think that Mom’s THAT lonely?” “Do you think that Mom talks to that lady when we’re not here?” Then, we began to have fun with the lady. We took turns hiding in the closet waiting for Mom to enter the room bringing extra pillows for the bed or searching for the ironing board. We became ventriloquists with silky, deep feminine voices. “Helen, are you lonely? Do you need a special friend? I’ll be your friend, Helen. I’ll be your very special secret friend.” “I want to wear your clothes, Helen. I want to be just like you.” Kathy and I could work ourselves into howling fits of laughter. We continued the monologue long after Mom’s indignant exit accompanied by a disgusted “Hmm!” “I’m lonely, Helen. Go to Dillards and find me a man, Helen! A tall, dark, handsome plastic hunk of a man! While you’re there, get one for yourself!”

I think it was the grandkids that convinced Mimi that sharing a house with a mannequin was shocking beyond belief. Or, perhaps the tears of a pre-school grand-daughter guided her to the decision to exorcise the lady from 2709 Rockview altogether. As mysteriously as she arrived, she disappeared. I must warn you. In the back of the closet of the back bedroom hiding behind the 300-pound Kirby vacuum cleaner with its 22 attachments is yet another human-like figure. It’s a bald child mannequin with one arm. Just ask my mother. She’ll tell you how cute the little boy looks in the front window dressed up for Halloween. Without fail, Mom changes the youth into green and gold garb for Baylor Homecoming. I know, I know. One person’s “cute” is another person’s heart attack waiting to happen.

Kathy went to heaven years ago. I rejoice at the thought of seeing her again. Oh, how we will laugh! I also cringe at the thought of her standing as still as a stone with her nose just touching the back of the pearly gates waiting for me to fling them open wide. (Hopefully, the wait will feel like an eternity to her.) I’m sure that when the gates fling open, I will scream in terror, jump up and down, and then, grab her up tight in my arms squealing with delight. You got me, Kathy! You got me good!

No comments: