The Haunted Closet and the Bathroom

Transcribing a dream days after the fact is never an easy task. I remember only that this dream seemed important enough for me to recollect, except now it stretches and permutates, as if it’s trying to fit the changing landscape of my thoughts, which will never fail to prioritize new distractions.

This dream is a wraith that used to be a human, or at least some kind of biped. Now it’s made of shapeshifting molecules that refuse to settle into anything discernible. It is an inorganic stamp of matter that persists beneath the surface of my biological limitations—memory being the most significant.

In the dream, there is a closet that reminds me of the private enclosure that meandered to the lands of Narnia through walls of coats and cloaks and moth balls. Aside from silk dresses that drip off their hangers and folded trousers that threaten to topple from the high shelves, it’s filled with bubble-wrapped boxes of unopened shoes (mostly winter boots) and dirty laundry strewn on the beige carpeted floors, almost as if the offender had tried and failed to shoot for the hamper. Clothes are askew, multiple items heaped onto weighted-down hangers that bulge at the center, threatening to break.

This is the closet of an obsessive compulsive shopper, a sentimentalist, a hoarder, someone who can’t pass up cheap Forever 21 frocks or pretentious Eurotrash designer wear. It is the closet of someone who cannot quite identify her fashion raison d’être, or her class proclivities, or who she wants the world to see. She changes friend groups like a pair of worn-down Lululemon leggings, purportedly built to last but falling apart after too many hot yoga classes. Every few months, seasonally appropriate items—scarves, thick socks, flimsy see-through summer dresses—rotate to the front of the line, reminding her of the things she’s yet to wear or experience. Reminding her to pay attention and put the rich contents of her inner life to use.

On days when the weather is just right—frigidly cold, blazing hot, or dark and fertile with monsoon clouds—she invites people over. Not to the house but to her closet. People slouch against the uneven rows of garments, nursing red plastic cups of unidentifiable liquor mixed with melted ice, nodding their heads in rhythm to the bass, their low voices hypnotically evaporating into the sound, their eyes glowing in the dark.

Secret parties are the best kind. They haven’t been sworn to secrecy, or to quiet, but they like it best this way. The world beyond the closet is strange and unpredictable. Unmoored ghosts and histories sail through the hallways of the closet owner’s house, buffeting the walls like reverse curtains, whipping into the pipes and foundation to seed their formidable knowings. The house is full of them, and as people make their way, teetering in spiky heels and inebriation toward the closet, a deadening hush sweeps over them. Only to break into relieved giggles when they collapse into one another and their feet scuff up against piles of dirty underwear that sends its sweet noxious scent upward. This sacred enclosure is the place they want to be.

“I have to go to the bathroom,” someone says at some point. The music seems to slow down to a whimper and everyone goes momentarily silent, because they know what this means. He’ll have to open one of the doors (in this closet, there are many) and stumble out into one of the cavernous rooms that holds nothing except a solitary toilet hunkered in a far corner. The closet owner shoves a roll of toilet paper into his hands and grabs his drink. “I’ll refill it for you,” she says with a wan smile. It’s the witching hour, and who knows what apparition or odor will curl out of the wall or toilet bowl and fill up the space with some ancient bane or poisoned curse?

It’s funny, in retrospect, that in many of my dreams, I am not the mistress of my own domain. I might have an enormous house but there is usually one single holed-out grotto or safe haven surrounded by a maze of nefarious rooms, full of staticky orbs and pairs of unwelcoming floating eyes, as well as invisible feet that won’t hesitate to trip you and do a victory shuffle as you go flying.

I don’t know what happens to the boy who waddles out into the giant empty bathroom, next to a single faucet that won’t stop running. Any attempt to hold on to the dream was lost, just as the giant mansion on the hill was conquered by itinerant ghosts. This dream, this act of writing, is a ghost. I haunt myself in a persistent attempt to understand what I have lived and experienced, although the memories and yearnings continue to pile up like so many articles of clothing with tags still on. I wonder now if the dream girl with the excessive closet was living in a house full of varied versions of herself. Transparent wraiths yawning into the darkness, having quite forgotten themselves. Colliding with each other and those who dare to remain human, hurling their silent invectives like projectile vomit against the peeling wallpaper, bumping against the limits of their own knowing.

I’m Nirmala Nataraj, a New York–based writer, editor, book midwife, theater artist, and mythmaker.

As someone who has woven in and out of a number of different word realms—nonprofit communications, advertising, theatre, publishing, and community arts, to name a few—I know that liberation is possible through the stories we choose to tell. As a first-generation South Asian American, I myself exist in the liminal spaces between cultures, art forms, and languages—and it is this multiplicity of narratives that informs my personal and professional approach.

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