In my dream, my mother asks my husband James, “Would you set the table?” In my dream, he moves towards the pantry to get plates. “Oh, don’t go in there,” she says. “We never go in there. The plates are over here.” She gestures towards the cabinets hanging above her head.
He pivots and heads towards the cabinets instead. “What’s in the closet?” he asks. She takes the muffin tin out of the oven and begins spooning cornbread mix over the hot oil that lies waiting at the bottom of each gaping hole. “Oh, that’s where we keep the people. You know, the People in the Closet.” The mix of cornmeal, egg and milk drops down the sides of the bowl. She wipes it clean with a wet cloth. “We don’t ever open that door.”
James stops mid-reach. “What do you mean the ‘People in the Closet?’”
My dream mom wraps a hot pad around the filled muffin tin, puts it back in the oven, closes the door, wipes her hands on a nearby towel and turns to look at him. She takes a deep breath and speaks slowly, so he’ll understand. “You know, the People. The People in the Closet.” Conversation over, she sets the oven timer and walks out of the room. “We’ll be eating in about 20 minutes,” she announces to the family. It is an ordinary day blessed with an ordinary family meal.
Later in my dream, James and I continue this conversation back at home. He is outraged.“What did your mother mean?” he demands. “Is your family really keeping people in the closet?” I shrug dismissively. It’s no big deal. I don’t understand why he is so upset. They are just the People in the Closet. They don’t deserve to be treated like real people.
“Don’t you ever let them out? Do you ever feed them?” He is livid. And it doesn’t stop. Weeks pass and he is ranting and raving and carrying on and I am tired of it. “Allison, this is criminal!” he says. “It needs to stop!”
“Okay, okay,” I finally relent. “I’ll let them out, but not now. I’m too busy right now.” I realize how much time and energy they are going to need once they’re released. Between the kids and my job, I just don’t have time to deal with them right now.
But he doesn’t let up. “When are you going to let the people out of the closet?” he asks me while I am washing dishes, running the kids’ bath, folding clothes. I come in from work and instead of “Hello, how was your day?” he says, “When are you going to let the people out of the closet?” I sit down with a book and he interrupts my few rare, sacred minutes of quiet. “When are you going to let the people out of the closet?”
Finally, I’ve had enough. “You want me to let those people out of the closet?” I yell. “Fine!” I march over to the closet that is strangely now in my house and not my mother’s. I open the door and the people fall out. They lay in the middle of the floor: a starved, dirty little girl underneath an old man drooling tobacco juice. “There. They are now out of the closet! Are you happy? And now I have to go to work.” I step over them, grab my briefcase and purse and head out the door. I step over them when I return home. I walk around them when I am talking on the phone and cooking dinner. I continue stepping over and around until James’ mantra changes.
“When are you going to deal with these people on the floor?” he starts asking.
“When I have time,” I say, avoiding the look in the little girl’s eyes. Enough already.
I wake up with the dream echoing through my head like a muffled scream. I am terrified. My fear devours me slowly, but not completely. I have not yet disappeared. I am still here to feel every agonizing moment. The terror straitjackets my heart and my blood runs cold. I am frozen. Literally, I cannot move. Not arms or my legs; not a single finger can I even twitch. Only my eyes can move. I throw my focus frantically around the room. My wild mind is searching for an escape route, a safe place to land so I can stop free falling through space and time. James is sleeping beside me. I want to wake him up. If I can just wake him up, I’ll be safe. There is safety in numbers, isn’t there? This terror can’t stand true before a witness.
I try to move my hand to shake him awake, but it is glued to the bed. I try to call to him, but my voice is silent, my breathing quick and shallow. Something is dragging me to a place where everything is dark and cold. A closet. A demon is dragging me into the closet saying, “I’m here to take your soul.” I am desperate. Helpless. Frantically clawing inside, frozen outside, I am alone. Except for a small voice that calls to me from beyond. Barely discernible, it whispers, “It can’t control your breath. Breathe. It can’t control your thoughts. Surround yourself with light.”
In a last-ditch effort to claim sanity, I force myself to breathe. Slowly. Deeply. This is Custer’s last stand. With every ounce of energy, focus and courage I can summon, I visualize light all around me, inside and out. I breathe light into every cell. Open the closet door. Open all the closet doors. I breathe light into every crack and corner and crevice of my mind and heart and soul and house. I breathe light into the people I love and the people I don’t. If light is everywhere, there is no room for darkness. I breathe light until I am a bright, shimmering ball free to move and feel and be as I choose.
The demon flees. My breath continues, slow and deep and I begin to relax and go back to sleep. In that halfway place between the everyday and the ethereal, the fear returns. I flash awake and am paralyzed again. Again I am frantic. And again, I am reminded to breathe. I focus and regain control. I am caught up in a game against some formidable foe armed with the clammy palm of evil. My ally is a still, small voice. A tiny speck of spirit deep inside that keeps burning when everything goes black.
This is an excerpt from my new, recently-completed one-woman show, I Am the One Who. This biomythography portrays my healing journey from childhood trauma to empowerment. The debut performance will be presented October 12, 7:00 pm at the Red Sandcastle Theatre in Toronto, Canada and will feature internationally renowned taiko drummer Tiffany Tamaribuchi! (Yahoo!) Come check it out, but be aware that even though it’s grounded in a message of hope, it includes portrayals of sexual violence and childhood ritual abuse. Run time is 2 hours and includes a 15-minute intermission. A post-performance discussion will be held.
For tickets, go to universe.com/iamtheonewho