(written in 2010)
I’d like to tell you a tale about righting a wrong, and wanting to surprise my wife by fixing something that has annoyed her from the first. Like all good stories, this one starts at the beginning …
There are so many decisions one has to make when building a house and most of ours were made jointly, but I did make a unilateral choice for what I thought was something simple. This didn’t seem like a big risk, even though my wife is the sort of person who needs to see every detail of every thing in every permutation and color. My big majestic proclamation concerned a switch for the closet light in our bedroom.
I thought it would be a good idea to set up the closet light so that it turned itself on when the door was opened. For some reason, I thought it would be convenient, but to be honest about it, it was kind of gee-whiz cool in a Jetsons sort of way.
The mechanics were simple: a motion sensor was placed in the ceiling in lieu of a wall switch and a simple timer would shut the light off after a preset amount of time. When the final wiring was done, I set the timer to shut off the light after two minutes or so. The other timing options went from a few seconds to infinity and were set through a ridiculously tiny dial mounted on the ceiling.
It soon became apparent to my wife that two minutes wasn’t long enough, as she was often left standing in the dark while deciding what to wear. Once this happened, she would stand there in the pitch-dark closet waving her arms like a mime shooing a pack of mosquitoes. She would do this at all angles and heights until the sensor caught her and the light finally came back on. It stayed on for another two minutes before it went off again, so this theater of the mime began anew along with the related grumbling. I took this as a sign to bump up the time on the sensor. Well, this had its shortcomings too.
Every night, before we go to bed, we have a little ritual that has been going on for as long as I can remember: The bed gets turned down and the useless but decorative pillows get put in a corner next to the dresser and the sleep pillows come out of the closet and get tossed on the bed. I have no idea why the sleep pillows aren’t on the bed all the time, but some bedding designer decided that pillows large enough for five people have to be put in a decorative pillow case and displayed proudly on the bed, along with a geometric display of little pillows that are stacked in front. It’s a pillow Stonehenge that continues to baffle me.
Getting the sleep pillows out of the closet triggered the closet light to come on and of course, stay on until the timer shut it off. This bothered my wife, who has a thing about leaving on unused lights. She would lie in bed, staring at the rim of light coming from around the closed closet door and silently count the seconds until it went off. Me? I would just roll over and shove my face in the pillow, content to wait until technology finally turned off the light.
Each night, Mrs. G. would ask me, “When is that light going to go off?” and each night I would say, “In a minute.” This got as redundant as the great pillow exchange, so I shortened the timer, but now this brought us back to Mrs. G., Closet Mime, with performances every day for close to five years. But another family member didn’t care about the light. He just loved the closet.
Our dog, Bailey, always liked being under things. After we moved, it didn’t take long for him to find his happy place in our closet, burrowed under the lower rack of clothes. The closet was always warm and it is the only place on the first floor with padded wall-to-wall carpeting, so this was where he liked to be. We couldn’t let him sleep in there at night because he would turn on the light every time he readjusted himself, so we began making sure the door was latched shut. He was a determined little dog and in the still of the night, he would butt his head on the corner of the door, hoping he could push it open. If it didn’t budge the first time, he would try again when the mood struck. Several times each night, we would hear a thunk as he attempted to get to his favorite spot. Sometimes he would give the door a half-hearted swipe with his paw if the head butt didn’t work before he finally gave up and found someplace else to sleep.
The novelty of the automatic closet light was wearing thinner and thinner.
My wife started to get a little tetchier than usual about the whole thing so one afternoon, while she was out, I gathered up some bits and pieces and decided to disconnect the sensor and install a regular switch. It only took five years of not-so-subtle complaints for me to do this, so that’s not too bad on the husband scale of fixing things.
It should have been an easy job, so my plan was to get it done and surprise her before she returned. The task was simple: cut a hole in the wall the size of an electrical box and fish a wire up into the attic and into the backside of the existing sensor box. Connect some wires, twenty minutes and done. Pat self on back for no less than two weeks. That was the plan anyway.
There is a square access panel in our closet ceiling, which leads to the attic space above. I’d need a ladder to get up there, but first I’d need to cut a hole in some perfectly good hole-free drywall. Once that was done, I stuck a small flashlight in my mouth, shoved a drill in the waistband of my pants and climbed up into the attic. I wish I could say it only took twenty minutes, but four hours later and with half of the house and every square inch of my clothing covered with insulation; we now had a regular light switch in the closet. All I had left to do was vacuum up my mess and put everything away.
On my last trip down the ladder, and as I bobbled the attic lid on my head until it was closed, I saw something wedged on the top shelf of the closet that has been there, untouched, since we moved here. It was a small, clear plastic box. I took it down and sat cross-legged on the floor in our newly lit closet and began to look through it.
Inside the box, were some of my daughter’s little notes and coupon books that were given as birthday gifts, a few of her report cards, some news clippings from her swim team days and a few other things. This was the kind of stuff that never really earned a distinguished place of display, but it was too meaningful not to save. I’m sure every parent has a similar memory box tucked away someplace, one filled with hand turkeys, macaroni art and all of those other construction paper moments that just can’t be thrown away.
I looked through it all for about fifteen minutes before I noticed something under the lower rack of clothes, buried off where I never would have seen it had I not been sitting on the floor.
It was one of my knotted up socks, a makeshift dog toy, stashed away next to the heat register right where Bailey used to curl up and sleep. He was never much for dog toys, but he stashed this in his comfort spot not too long before he passed away. When I cleared up his bowls and his pillow after he died, I never noticed it missing.
I held it for a few seconds, passing it from one hand to the other before I put it in the memory box and closed the lid. As I put the box back up on the top shelf, I could still hear Bailey opening the closet door. I remembered the light popping on in the middle of the night and his tail just barely showing from under my clothes. I remembered a lot of things as I put the box back on the shelf, where it will likely sit for a few more years before I revisit it again. I hope the hug coupons don’t expire. I have a lot of those.
When my wife came home, she asked me what I had been up to all afternoon.
“I fixed the closet light,” I said.
“Oh good,” she replied, “that’ll be better.”
It was better, and I was glad I fixed it, but like a lot of things that start out one way, sometimes they take a welcomed turn to the unexpected.
This was one of those things.