The Superfund site in the closet

The other day my wife attacked another Superfund cleanup site in our house. (No, this has nothing to do with one of our five cats’ litter boxes or the turd hockey arena the animals have constructed in the first floor bathroom.) She opened the very scary door to the corner closet beside a couch in our den to see what precisely we had amassed inside there in the nearly quarter- century we have lived in Lincoln.

Over the years, one or both of us have attempted what the Environmental Protection Agency refers to as “environmental remediation” in other parts of the house or the barn. To wit, one weekend we transformed the unruly skyscrapers of decades-old “Vermont Life” magazines that came with the house into attic insulation. (In other words, we laid them on the floor like tile.) Another day we borrowed a friend’s pickup and carted to the town dump the great plains of Congoleum vinyl sheets that once upon a time had covered the bedroom floors in the house, but now were resting upright in our barn like theatrical flats.

And now my wife was tackling the closet.

I should note that this closet is not especially accessible because we have put a couch right beside it, so the door barely opens. This is called feng shui for the decorating-challenged.

The result is that we tend to store things there that we might someday need, but probably not any day in our lifetime. It hasn’t been cleaned or the items inventoried since before our daughter was born, and she is a senior in high school.

The following is a short list of what my wife found there:

– Thirty six nylon tote bags, many from bookstores which have, sadly, gone the way of the village blacksmith. Most of these she pitched, but a few had sentimental value and so they went back into the closet when she was done. Those included one from Bristol’s long-lost Deer Leap Books and the one from Oprah’s Book Club that came with a novel about a midwife on trial for manslaughter. In addition, there were 33 paper shopping bags from department stores and 17 party or gift bags.

– Four sets of computer, keyboard and printer covers — 12 items altogether. Does anyone even use computer covers anymore? The covers themselves were interesting from both an antiquarian and a spatial perspective. Apparently I once owned a personal computer shaped a bit like a Mini Cooper.

– A big bag of birdseed from a supermarket that no longer exists. The seeds had been devoured by mice, but plenty of shells remained.

– The purses and pocketbooks our daughter used to take to preschool during the Clinton presidential administration. Here was a surprise: They were all Barbie pink.

Inside one of them was a neon purple bubble wig from Old Gold, circa 1998.

– Three shopping bags of photos from 1994, 1995 and 1996. Between the birth of our daughter and the death of my mother, we never got around to putting them in albums. And there was a surprise here, too: Back then I had hair. My forehead had not yet become a rentable bill board.

– The instruction and warranty cards for coffeemakers, irons, and VCRs long gone, as well as the box that came with the first cell phone I ever owned. Judging by the box, the cell phone was the size of a sneaker.

– Cat toys. Lots of cat toys.

– Our daughter’s feather boas from her dress-up trunk, all of which were discolored and molting and — I have a feeling — had served as a nest for mice. There was also an American Girl bed and mattress that I am pretty sure had most recently been a pillow for a bat, a squirrel or Boo Radley.

– A Raffi videocassette. Tossing it in the closet was not my finest hour as a dad, but I had probably heard Baby Beluga one time too many.

Completing the project gave my wife an enormous sense of satisfaction — and it gave us both a great many memories. I can’t wait to see what we find in there in 2025.

(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on October 24, 2010.)

Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of nineteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Sleepwalker. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, The Guest Room, and The Double Bind.