This wasn’t the first time he’d found himself in this position, which made it all the worse. The last time, he’d been looking for a dropped Bugs Bunny cuff link (it had been a gift from his granddaughter and he knew she’d notice its absence when he saw her at Christmas) when he found a box of old photos in the back corner, sat down to flip through them, and at some point, dozed off. The cleaners had closed the door (which had no inside doorknob) and it wasn’t until the next morning that his assistant (swore to silence) discovered him, since he’d long since misplaced his cell phone (desk drawer? bathroom? He didn’t know). Besides, frankly, he liked the quiet.
The closet was like him in many ways: gracefully aged and dignified with its dark wood shelves and molding, yet full of surprises. Here he kept his orange plaid sport coat, which he frequently wore as a joke to meetings with the President, and which he kept threatening–with the ever-present twinkle in his eye–to bring out for public speaking engagements. Here he kept the many desktop tchotchkes that had decorated his previous office but that he was strongly urged to relinquish upon arriving at the White House. The marble bust on his grand desk surely made the right impression on visitors, but it failed to bring him joy the way his bobblehead collection did. In fact, a lot of what brought him joy was here in this closet. His golf clubs, his fan mail, his thick wool and cashmere-blend coats that, when he finally had the money to buy them for himself, had marked a level of success that many thought he’d never attain.
Which is why this second occasion of being locked in his own office closet was no accident. It had been a long week–racial and judicial injustice, personal attacks being thrown his way preemptively by pundits who feared he might make a run for the presidency (he wouldn’t–hadn’t the entire persona he’d crafted proven to them that he was no threat?)–and the approaching anniversary of the death of his wife and baby girl. He was a cheerful person by disposition–something many actually faulted him for–but the state of the world weighed so heavy that even he couldn’t shake it off. And he didn’t want to. He just wanted to escape for a few small hours the drudgery of being a happy person in an increasingly unhappy world. Sure, he worried about how this would be later construed–his assistant could keep one incident to herself, but two?–still the closet called to him, glinting its shiny hardware at him through weeks of phone calls and meetings, beckoning. Besides, most people would just write it off as “daffy old Biden,” which is how many preferred to think of him, and others would see it as a sign of his age and pity him (he was 72 years old, after all). But other than the odd punchline, no one would give it a second thought by the end of the week.
And so he waited until late afternoon, when the office began to clear out for various public engagements, coffee dates, and commutes, on a day when Jill was out of town and so, wouldn’t worry about him (he took his cell this time, just in case), said something noncommittal to his assistant about grabbing a snack before sending her on an errand, sneaking back into his office, strolling up to the closet, and opening it slowly, so as not to disturb the peaceful darkness it contained. Then he crossed the threshold in to the welcoming arms of his many jackets and scarves, and, using a bent paperclip he’d spent the afternoon fashioning for that very purpose, pulled the door closed behind him.