I was chatting with a friend the other day, when we veered into childhood anxiety—of which we both suffered from—and I remembered that I was claustrophobic for like five years as a kid. I had forgotten about it, because it’s something that I grew out of. In fact, nowadays I feel safest when any door I am behind is closed and locked, but when I was in elementary school I couldn’t deal with a closed door, let alone a locked one.
It started when my nephew, Little Scottie, and I were playing as kids. Little Scottie was my brother’s son. My brother and his girlfriend had Little Scottie when they were teenagers, and because my brother is 14 years older than me, I ended up being two years older than my nephew, which meant we were more like brother and sister, and we treated each other like that too. Mainly teasing and taunting, always picking at each other.
One day, when I was in kindergarten, which would have made Little Scottie about four, we were playing hide-and-seek and I ran into the laundry room to hide. He saw me hiding behind the dryer (I wasn’t a good hider) and when I jumped out to scare him, he grabbed the door knob and slammed the door closed before I could get him. I heard him go running down the hall screaming waiting for me to chase him, the only problem was that when he had slammed the old wooden door shut, it jammed. And just like that I was stuck in a small room.
I immediately panicked. That’s my gut reaction to all situations. I screamed for Little Scottie, but he was no doubt hiding somewhere far away. I looked around frantically trying to figure out what my options were. There was a small window in the laundry room that overlooked the front porch where the adults were all sitting. So I ran to the window, too small to see out of it, and screamed as loud as I could for as long as I could until I heard the commotion of people coming inside wondering what was wrong.
My mom got to the door first and tried to open it, but it wouldn’t budge. “Missy,” her voice came through the door, “Unlock the door!” I explained through sobs at this point, that the door wasn’t locked. I heard someone say it was jammed then, and she tried the door again but this time used some muscle. Nothing.
Someone, maybe my brother, maybe my nephew’s step-dad, got the idea to come to the window and try to reach in and pull me out. They got the screen off, but I couldn’t get myself far enough up to them, and they were too big to fit far enough in to grab me. It occurred to me then, that this was my life. I’d have to live in the laundry room for the rest of my life. My mom would come bring my food through the window, and I’d spend my days listening to the neighbor kids play on my swing set in the front yard. The sobs came louder and quicker.
“Hold on now, Missy,” my mom’s voice came from the other side of the door, “I’m gonna pull these panels out.” Turns out it was one of those old, wooden doors that had slats in it. So with a little help from whomever that man was, and a hammer, my mom was able to pull the slats from the door until there was a hole large enough to pull me out. Whew! I was free. But that’s when the claustrophobia first started. For years afterward I would cry if I was left in a room with a closed door. Even when I was playing with friends. I’d always eye the door, ask them to keep it slightly ajar.
Eventually my fear subsided, and so did my friendship with my nephew. We grew apart. And three years ago he was murdered in cold blood by a monster of a man, and I never got to tell him that I know he didn’t jam the door on purpose. That I know he was just as scared as I was that day. That I still remember his little red face, matching his bright red hair, and the way he ran up to give me a hug when I was free that day. I can still see and feel it all. The warm sunshine of the day outside, pulsing down on my arms. And I hope he can too.