Inspired by a recent visit to Wheaton College’s Wade Center.
“Do we have to?” My little sister wants to know.
“We might not have another chance–besides, don’t you think it would be neat to see C. S. Lewis’s wardrobe?” I ask her.
“Not really.” She glares at me. “I am so done with visiting colleges for you.”
“Girls, this is not hard,” my mother assures three of my tired siblings. “We’re just going to see one more thing for Angela and then we can be all done.”
They sigh and follow reluctantly. We stop to consult Wheaton’s campus map, searching for the Wade Center. Ah, I see it across the street, quaint and cottage-like.
A hush hangs over the exhibit room as I step inside. Reverently, I walk between these otherworldly relics. My fingers run across the smooth wood of Tolkien’s desk and I think of the scratching pen that brought Middle Earth into existence on this surface. Sisters move hurriedly on to the room next door, eager for the end.
And then I turn to the wardrobe. The blurb on the wall says Lewis used to tell stories while playing inside. I touch the intricate carvings, grasp the edge of the door. It opens slowly. Inside, fur coats hang silent, waiting.
A plaque reads, “Warning! Enter at your own risk. The Wade Center assumes no responsibility for persons who disappear or are lost in the wardrobe.”
I smile and reach, first fingering coarse fur coats, then extending beyond. Maybe? Just maybe? And the void that greets my hand surprises me. I sweep my arm slowly back and forth. Nothing.
I am a rule follower, first and foremost. I will follow even unwritten rules like don’t climb inside historic wardrobes. I suppose I am afraid of disappointing someone.
I walk around to the side of this magnificent relic. Plain as day, I see its back–solid, tangible. Behind me, the receptionist steps into the bathroom. I turn and watch the door shut behind her.
It’s now or never.
I place one foot on the lip of the drawers and grasp the sides of each door as I pull myself upward. Again, I reach forward. If I can feel a back now, I will step out into the room, no harm done. But I don’t.
And so I step down, in, through coats, arms extended, waiting, expectant, terrified of being caught. One step follows another and the darkness continues. This seems so unreal. And then suddenly a soft light illuminates the forest. Trees sway in the gentle autumn breeze–chilly, but not chilly enough to induce me to turn back for a coat. I walk towards the light in the clearing ahead.
Fun fact: I read this post to my sisters and when I got to the part about stepping up into the wardrobe they both asked me, “Angela, you didn’t really do that, did you?”