Creative Nonfiction: The Closet by Debi Lewis

I never really worry my mother will kill herself; after all, the first time she asked if she should never have been born, I was eleven.

After the yelling and then the slow, careful sound of my father’s car in reverse down the driveway, we found her crouched on her closet floor, the door closed, her head ducked under skirts and blouses smelling of the only perfume he said he could stand. Years later, my head will fill with knives and ache at the plugged-in scents in his bathroom: false mango, chemical spring. But then it was just the perfume, the only one she was allowed. Even bouquets had to be left outside, back then.

Maybe I should never have been born. Am I a terrible person? She asked, staring into our eyes. We were eleven and seven, holding hands.

We said no, no, you had to have been born, mama, please, we wouldn’t be here, we want to be here, we want you to be here. 

But she said Leave me alone. I’ll just die here. Just leave me.

So we did, and he came home, and we all had dinner. 

And now, her mind full of grey plaques and his full of bitterness, I hear her announce it again, and over again, and again. Maybe I should never have been born.

Maybe I should kill myself. You’d be happier if I killed myself.

But she doesn’t. She doesn’t. She cannot. She has turned her mind into a closet, with skirts and blouses smelling of his favorite perfume. We are forty-eight and forty-four, and we leave her alone there, again, helpless as children, all of us.

Debi Lewis is the author of Kitchen Medicine: How I Fed My Daughter out of Failure to Thrive (Rowman & Littlefield) and has written for outlets including The New York Times, Bon Appetit, Huffington Post, Romper, Wired, and more. She lives in the Chicago suburbs with her husband and two teenaged daughters and is at work on her first novel. You can learn more about her at and follow her on Twitter/Instagram at @growthesunshine.

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