When he was young, on those all too frequent occasions when they decided that he had misbehaved, they locked him in the cupboard under the stairs.
It was not the punishment they thought. Dark, certainly. Silent. blessedly. Comforting, certainly. The sounds of quarrels diminished in that space, voices muted in the embracing darkness. There were no monsters hiding in that cupboard yet. As far as he was concerned, they were all outside, in plain view. He sits down and waits patiently for release.
This began to happen regularly. Regularly enough that he began to predict it, make the necessary preparations. A book here, a bar of chocolate there. Hidden behind and beneath coats that were never worn, boxes of tat were never opened. It became his space, with different monsters than the outside world. His monsters. His rules.
He lit a torch. The monster looked up from the cover of the book, beckoning him forward to a dangerous adventure, but this time one of his own choosing. Turning the page, different worlds beckoned as the creatures therein came to life. The only life he ever really cared for. He lived for those moments, those precious hours of solitude and silence where he was master of his own fates.
When he was older, once he had left, there were few opportunities for reflection, let alone reconciliation. Cordial relationships were somehow maintained, but beneath the surface were dark words and darker deeds that went unspoken. In the rare conversation with his parents, nothing was said. Nothing was sought. Nothing was all he found. Many times he found himself dreaming, wondering if his memory had been playing tricks. These questions barely came to his lips and never managed to find their way into words. The monster in the closet now was silent. Silence was the monster. To break that silence would be to unleash something much, much worse.
He ambled through life. No direction had been put forward and he sought none for himself. Devoid of ambition, of connection, of compassion. Most of all he craved the comfort of isolation, those splendid times alone when he could meditate on different worlds, different circumstances. On choices made and roads not taken. Drifting. Worrying. Thinking…
He hears news from ‘home’ less now, visits even less frequently. The word ‘home’ means little to him in this regard. It is no longer - and perhaps never has been - where the heart is. The difficulty is knowing where that heart actually belongs. He spends his whole life looking and never finds a space for it in this world, only in the others which he still visits when time permits.
As time marches on, hands are occasionally outstretched. Usually he ignores them. Do they not recall the pain and misery? Why do they seek him now? Fleeting moments, perhaps once a year on birthdays, he lets his guard down and allows himself to be surprised when the offer is reciprocated. And still, nothing is spoken. Increasingly, he wonders which is the dream and which is reality. How can he forgive when they have forgotten? How can he recall when his own memories are so fragmented, so full of stinging pain and bitter aftertastes which still linger on his palate?
Eventually, he seeks help. Not from the worlds he still frequents, not from their inhabitants. Contact, real physical contact of the sort he has always denied himself. Has he been the monster all this time, hiding in a cupboard of his own making, seeking solace in solitude and comfort without connection?
As the appointment beckons, he experiences frights and feelings which had never been fully made whole but left to fester in the imagination. As they continue, the pain washes over in waves of confusion. He almost drowns. This time, however, there is a stranger on the shore who can save him. Then they are no longer strangers. He no longer walks alone. He has never been afraid of the dark, only of the light that shines in unwanted places and blinds him to the truth.
It was never him. He was never the monster. Yet he never takes that last step, never reaches a hand back to the past, never confronts that which he has known from those early days - that the monster was in plain view, but only to him. What he doesn’t yet know is why it remained invisible to everyone else around him. Or perhaps it didn’t. Perhaps they are all going through - or avoiding - the same as him. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps...
When he is much older, the sad news comes to him over the Christmas holidays.. Of all the times to feel the pangs of loss! Yet even then, the estrangement of a lifetime dulls the senses, makes the feeling unreal. Words repeat in his head over and over each minute, each hour, each day. “We’re sorry for your loss.” If only they knew. The loss he feels is not the loss that concerns them.
He returns ‘home’ to deal with affairs. The funeral is muted yet still stifling, like a half-remembered dream swimming in fog and shadow. He allows himself a single tear. No ill shall be spoken of the dead. Forever, now, it will be his secret and his alone. Afterwards, he opens the door to the old residence for the last time. It stands empty now, deprived of the cacophony of raised voices he believes he still recalls from younger days here. The scene of the crime. The lost connections, a lifetime alone.
No, not alone. The cupboard calls to him softly. When he opens it, everything comes back in floods of tears and regret, of pain and loss. He lights a torch. One last time. His hand reaches up, but this time he closes the door himself. The book is still there and he opens it on his lap and turns the page. He allows himself one last thought - that perhaps, just perhaps, that first time he had closed the door himself as well. Then he loses himself again in other worlds.