Well...not so much closets themselves, that would just be silly.
No, I am afraid of what closets become when the lights are off.
I've had this affliction for as long as I can remember, but I'm not entirely sure of it's origins. I do have a theory, however.
I suspect it's due to the fact that something lives in the closet of the front bedroom in my parents home; a bedroom that was mine once upon a time. I've never seen it. But I've felt it. Even today I am at a loss as to how describe that feeling of thereness. It's just a stone cold awareness that makes the hair on the back of my neck stand on end and my bladder tingle with icy dread.
When I lived in that room, my bed was in the farthest corner possible from that closet and positioned in such a way that I could sleep without having to turn my back to the closet. One day, I returned home from school to find that my mother had rearranged my furniture to accomodate the new desk I had gotten for my birthday.
She put the bed right next to the closet.
I was too ashamed to tell my mother how much this horrified me, and so, for months, I slept poorly, on one side, facing the closet so that I could flee the moment that the thing chose to manifest itself into something corporeal and horrible enough to do me bodily harm.
It never did.
That room is now a guest bedroom and for many years, the small double bed remained next to the closet. When we visited, I used to make husband sleep on the side closest to it as a buffer between me and the thing that lurks there.
I finally told my mother about it, and without a word, she moved the bed back to the corner farthest from the closet. She asked me why I had never said anything all those years ago and I told her of my shame.
"Well now I feel bad." she said.
She accepts guilt without question; considering it part of the penance that all mothers must do in exchange for the joy and privilege of raising children.
I still feel that presence, though now, it feels less sinister. It's just there; as much a part of the house as the 100 year old plaster and lathe.
There are other somethings in that house. It has stood a very long time, so it's not unreasonable to suppose that traces of it's former occupants linger there. Though ancient, it has only had a handful of owners, which means those that lived there, stayed a long time, as my parents have; building a life, raising children, and then growing old and dying there.
My children are uneasy in my childhood home; unaccustomed to it's creaks and sighs, uncomfortable with the idea of things they can't see hovering over them. They don't tell me, but I see it. When we are there, they always seem to be listening for something.
I've never hidden my closet fear from my children. They know I can't sleep next to a closet, nor can I sleep in a room where a closet door has been left open. Can't. Won't. Period. The End.
My oldest son asked me once why I had to have the closet door closed.
"Because it's the gateway to hell." I said matter of factly.
That's how it seems to me in the dark; the doorway a gaping black maw of infinite depth and darkness from which creatures might creep, crawl or slither.
He laughed then and they tease, but a part of them is respectful of this fear as well. In a strange way, my fear is a comfort to them. It humanizes me in their eyes.
Often, when I am preparing for bed, they will ask, "Would you like me to close the gateway to hell, Mom?" knowing full well that the answer is always an emphatic "yes".
Sometimes, just because they can, they pull it almost all the way shut and then look at me grinning expectantly, knowing I will demand that it be shut and latched firmly. They never walk away without doing so. They wouldn't dream of it. Though they make light, they appreciate the gravity of nighttime fears.
Recently, the issue came up at the dinner table and they asked about how my fear started. I was hesitant to explain about the presence in the closet at my parents' home, not wishing to add to their uneasiness at being in the house. Nevertheless, I felt compelled to be honest with them.
"Well, you see, when I was a little girl, I slept in that front bedroom at Grandma and Grandpa's house. And I always thought that...
"....there's something in the closet. Yeah." finished Pubescent One.
Diminutive One nodded gravely in agreement. All this time I had been protecting them from something they already knew; had sensed themselves and accepted with the unquestioning equanimity that children possess.
"So, there you go. I think that's why I am afraid of closets. That, and watching one too many episodes of In Search Of."
My children didn't laugh at me. They didn't scoff. They just nodded in understanding.
I hope that sharing my fears with my boys will help them relate to me better as both a person and a mother. I hope it help them understand that whatever it is they fear, they can tell me. I won't laugh and I won't dismiss.
Because everybody has something that scares the pants off of them, and everybody needs someone to tell. And unfortunately, scary monsters are just the beginning.
If they can tell me about scary monsters, maybe they can tell me anything.
A Mom can hope.