A man lives in my bedroom closet. He is tall and bearded, with a middle-age paunch. He mostly keeps to himself. Lately, however, he has been rearranging my clothes. At night I hear him rattling hangers, and in the morning nothing is where I left it. He mixes the dresses with the blouses and the pants with the skirts. Everything was once carefully organized by color, but now the grays are mixed in with the blues and the greens, and let’s not even talk about the pinks and the reds!
It is morning and I am lying in bed, listening to him move around in my closet, tossing my shoes into the corners, rattling hangers, and heaping my t-shirts on the floor. I climb out of bed, take a deep breath, and knock on the closet door. It takes him a moment to answer. I know when he opens the door I must speak to him calmly, because he doesn’t always react well to anger. Once I yelled at him for ruining a pair of pants and came home at the end of the day to find a heap of my clothes in tatters on the floor. He wouldn’t let me into the closet for days.
He finally opens the closet door and then sits down heavily on the hamper, as if he is weary of me already. He is wearing my favorite baby blue sweater with pearl buttons down the front. I do my best to ignore how he has stretched out the neck and sleeves, and how his gut strains against the delicate buttons. He scratches his beard and stares at me blankly.
I take a deep breath and try to explain that it is important to me to have my clothes organized in a certain way, that all the self-help books say it will change my life, assure my success, unstick me and keep me unstuck, and fill me with joy. “You’re stealing my joy!” I cry when I see he isn’t listening. He shrugs and I sigh and he shuts the door in my face as I stand there. I rest my head on the closet door and think about how much I love that blue sweater.
Later, I have a brilliant idea: I’ll buy a dresser! For the next few days, I search and search for the perfect dresser with right-sized drawers and extra dividers to keep everything tidy. After I finally choose one and schedule delivery, I shift things around my bedroom to make space. I ignore the man, who is peeking out at me from the closet. I take measurements and hum to myself as if I don’t have a care in the world.
When two delivery men arrive with my dresser, the man pounds the walls inside the closet and makes an awful racket. The delivery men look alarmed, but I only smile and motion for them to push the dresser against the wall and slightly to the right. When they are gone, I laugh out loud and spin around my living room like a little girl. Is this what being happy feels like? I eventually have to cup my hands tightly over my mouth when I can’t stop laughing.
That night, I stand outside my bedroom, agonizing over what I will do and say because I’ve never liked conflict. Finally, I charge into my closet without warning. The man is sitting, bare-chested, on a pile of my summer dresses. He is wearing my best red silk sundress like a scarf around his neck. He already looks so defeated that I feel a little sorry for him and decide to quietly gather my clothes and leave him alone. But then I see my beautiful blue sweater crumpled on the floor and covered in what looks like dried clots of mustard. I snatch it up and shake it at him. “It didn’t have to be this way!” He flinches a little but just stares into the corner while I gather the rest of my clothes in a fury.
The next morning I wake feeling refreshed and realize that my closet, for the first time in a long time, has been quiet all night. I sit up and see that the closet door is standing open. I’m afraid to look inside, but when I do I see that it’s empty except for the pile of my dresses sitting like an abandoned nest in the corner. I did it, I think. I’ve won! I take my time getting dressed, savoring my new dresser. It is made from certified-sustainable reclaimed wood in a dark walnut finish. I run my hands over its perfectly imperfect surface, softly opening and closing every drawer, enjoying the sight of my neatly folded clothes.
When I finally step out of my bedroom, I hear a faint rustling in the kitchen. Mice, I tell myself; it’s only mice. As I walk toward the kitchen I see there is cereal — the expensive organic granola I splurged on last week — all over the floor. It looks like some of it’s been chewed and spit out. There are other things strewn across the floor, like empty cracker boxes and broken twigs of pasta.
The pantry door is slightly ajar. I open it wide and see the man from my closet on the floor of my pantry, surrounded by my groceries, most of which he has consumed or destroyed. He grins up at me, happier than I’ve ever seen him, his face smeared with expensive all-natural peanut butter. As I stare, he wipes his mouth with the sleeve of my blue sweater.
Amy Clark writes in Chicago, Illinois, where she hopes to one day figure out what she wants to do with her life.