When I was a little boy, I was terribly afraid of monsters. I don’t know anymore where this fear came from. It might have been one of those old tales my grandma told me or it was because of a movie or show on TV.
To this day I have vivid memories of sitting in my wardrobe at night, huddled between stacks of clothes and forgotten toys. I remember peaking outside every once in a while to see if there actually was a monster under my bed. On other nights I’d watch the room’s single window, convinced that it was not just tree branches brushing against the glass.
I spent countless nights in the old wardrobe. Many times I sat in there till morning and only crawled back into bed once the sun started to dawn. At other times, my mom found me still inside, deep asleep.
My parents told me again and again that there were no such things as monsters and nothing bad would happen to me. For an eight-year-old talk like this meant nothing. They are adults. They didn’t understand a thing!
One night I found myself in the wardrobe again. I sat in there, shaking and shivering, telling myself that I was safe and nothing was out there.
All of a sudden I heard a voice I jumped up in fear and was barely able to cover my mouth before I screamed. At the sound of my reaction, the voice started to giggle. It was a female voice, who told me not be such a scaredy-cat.
I soon learned that the voice belonged to a little girl living next door. She told me she was scared too and was hiding out from a monster in her own wardrobe. She’d heard me come in here countless times but never dared to actually say anything.
We ended up talking almost the entire night. I learned that her name was Sandra and that she was about my age. We talked about school, about our friends, pets, hobbies, our dreams, and wishes.
Only when I saw the first ray of sunshine did I tell her I had to go. I crawled back into bed and pretended to be asleep until my mom came into the room to wake me up.
I spent many nights in the wardrobe. Whenever I talked to my new friend, I completely forgot about how scary the night was. Instead, I found myself laughing and giggling, whispering secrets back and forth with her.
While I was hiding from the monsters in my imagination, my parents were plagued by their very own demons. As a little kid, I didn’t notice my mom’s puffy eyes or my dad’s taciturn behavior.
Only when mom told me that she and I would stay at grandma’s for a bit did I realize that something was wrong.
It was a few months later that my parents divorced. After that mom and I moved to a new apartment in a different city.
I never found out who the little girl was and as time passed, I started to forget about her.
It was a week ago that the memories of those nights with her came back to me.
That day was the first time I’d returned to my dad’s apartment. It was not on a happy occasion. During the past years, my dad’s life had taken a turn for the worse. He’d started drinking heavily and one night his body couldn’t take it anymore. He collapsed in the middle of his living room.
Mom and I were his only relatives so we’d inherit what few belongings he still owned. While mom refused to take anything, I said I wanted to at least have a look at the old apartment.
Two days after we’d heard out about his death, I found myself in the middle of the shabby and rundown place the apartment had become.
I remembered it as a happy, tidy place, but it had turned into a dump. Empty bottles were everywhere. The carpet was so stained, it had turned from its original color to an undefined brownish-gray.
There wasn’t much furniture. Only the bare minimum was left, everything else was gone. The only thing of interest I found was a picture of a little boy and girl. I found it in a drawer in the living room. Who were those two, I wondered?
As I trudged through the shambles of my dad’s life, I soon found myself in front of my old room.
I smiled as I opened the door. To my surprise, it was still furnished. Sure my things were gone, but my old bed and bookshelf were still there. And so was the old wardrobe. The room was so much smaller now that I was an adult. I almost laughed at how scared I’d been about monsters under the bed or the branches in front of the window.
At this moment I remembered my nightly talks in the wardrobe.
I couldn’t help but open the old door and get inside. As an adult, there was only barely enough room to sit down in there. I leaned back and peaked out through the crack in the door, same as I’d done as a kid.
I wondered what had happened to that little girl and where she was now.
“I am right here, dummy,” I heard a high voice.
When I jumped this time, I bumped my head against the top of the wardrobe. I cursed in pain.
“How the-” I started but was sure I’d imagined things.
Then I heard her voice again.
“You said it out loud!”
“Where I was and what I was doing now.”
“No, that’s not it. I mean, you are still living here? Even now?”
“Yep!” came an enthusiastic answer. “What about you? Where have you been? I missed you!”
“You remember me? Even now? After all those years?”
“Of course! How’d I ever forget you? Remember how you told me about the red bike you wanted? Or how much you liked Jenny Meier?”
I started to laugh as she told me more and more things from those talks we had so long ago.
Right at this point though I realized something. It had been almost two decades that I’d last talked to her. Her voice was still the same as back then. Still the same high-pitched childish voice. How was this possible? Shouldn’t she be a young woman by now?
“Why is your voice still the same? Shouldn’t you be in your mid-twenties by now?”
As I said this, she started to sob. When she spoke again, her voice was heavy with sadness.
“I wish I could leave and grow up like you, but it’s not possible for me anymore.”
“What are you-” I’d started, but then something else hit me.
As a kid, I’d always assumed she was living in an apartment next door. Why else would someone talk to me, right? I’d forgotten one thing though, there was nothing on the other side. The wardrobe stood against the outer wall of the building.
When this realization hit me, I ran from the room, with her sobs echoing behind me.
Once I was outside, I shivered in fear. I couldn’t explain what had happened just now. Neither could I explain, what must have happened all those years ago.
It was only now that I realized I was still holding the picture of the little boy and girl in my hand.
Back home I asked mom about it. At first, she said she didn’t want to talk about anything related to dad. When I kept pressuring her though, she told me what she knew.
The picture was of dad and his sister. I looked up. I’d never heard that dad had a sister. Mom shrugged, but then she said in a sad voice that she went missing long ago. Dad had still been a little boy back then. Dad’s childhood hadn’t been a happy one she said.
He had grown up in the same apartment we’d live din back then. His father, my grandfather, had been a terrible man, a drunk with a violent temper.
First, it had only been insults, but as the years passed, those were replaced by punches.
It was not seldom that he’d beat his wife, my grandma and went for dad and his sister afterward. It had always been his sister though, mom said, who got the brunt of it.
One day though, she was gone. The window of the room was wide open and there was no sign of the child. They’d searched for weeks, but no sign of her was ever found.
When I heard this, I started shivering. I remembered the little girl I’d been talking too. The little girl who I’d thought had lived on the other side of the wall. The little girl who said she could never leave this place and could never grow up anymore. With tears in my eyes, I asked my mom what her name had been.
Before she even said it, I knew what the answer was: Sandra.