This door right in front of you as you enter the front door, it goes upstairs. This stairway has a peculiar kind of sound to it, like no other place I’ve ever been. You can hear it when you switch the light on. This switch is louder than most of the light switches in the house, and when it echoes you’ll hear what I’m talking about. Instead of “tick” it goes “tangk”. Every sound in this hall has that rubbery, electric echo.
At the top of these stairs is my favorite place in this house, and by extension, I have a soft spot for it in any house. This is the linen closet. It’s not all that big, fits just between the two bedrooms alongside the second (half) bath. I can’t say what it was that made me decide to climb into the bottom shelf when I was a kid. I wasn’t that young, must’ve been 10 years old, maybe 11.
But climb in I did. And it was the most wonderful place I had ever been. There’s a heat duct running inside the wall, I can’t say to where, but the closet is always warm. Plus it’s a small space, so it gets heated up when a person curls up inside it. There were clean fresh sheets and pillow cases folded up above me, and usually around me. And all the sounds of the house got muffled. Usually I’d slide my finger under the door and pull it most of the way closed.
Sometimes I fell asleep. Sometimes I just snuggled and hung out there waiting for people to start looking for me. Sometimes they did. And when they started to ask, “where’s Lisa?” sometimes I answered and sometimes I didn’t. Sometimes I thought about answering so long that I fell asleep and people got tired of looking. I could just disappear for an afternoon, and I loved it. So if you’re ever missing a kid…
The door on the right side of the landing was always my parents’ room. Well it was my grandparents’ room for a time, I suppose. They had the long white shag carpet. It had its own rake! The walls were a shade of orange or peach and there were rust colored toile drapes. But the most important thing you need to know about this room is that the closet on the left is the one Christmas presents were always hidden in.
It didn’t take any of the magic out of Christmas for me to discover this. If anything, it made it more exciting. I could see the presents, but I couldn’t always tell who would get what. Some things came in groups of 4, so I knew we’d each be getting one. Other things, and I can’t remember what anymore, other things made for a special kind of angst known only to children who have peeked at their presents. Is that for me, or is some other rotten kid going to get it?
The other closet was my dad’s or step dad’s as the case may have been, depending on the year. Not quite as mysterious, it smelled like wing-tips. Around the corner from those two closets, is one last closet. The cedar closet. It accumulated a collection of strange things, from military funeral flags to baby books and my sister’s wedding dress.
When I was sick, I sometimes ended up sleeping in my mom’s bed, maybe with a bowl next to me just in case. Upstairs can seem really far away from the rest of the house, you’ll discover. It’s quiet and darker than the rest of the house, but in a nice way.
One of my last memories of my mom actually sleeping up here was during chemotherapy. She just couldn’t stop throwing up. She always made it to the bathroom. You can see it’s not far. But after laying in the room next door and listening to her throw up and trying to do it quietly for half the night, I went in to go try to do something.
When I walked in, she had a little lamp on. She was sitting in bed , one leg on the bed, bent, and one foot on the floor, ready to get up. The lamp was behind her, so she was almost silhouetted. She looked like a bird, or like an old man, with her bald head bent forward, her collar bone prominent. I had gone on a civil disobedience kick after the cancer doctors and nurses agreed that marijuana was frequently the best cure for Chemotherapy induced nausea. My mom’s was much worse than most, they all agreed on that. Off the record they told me it was worth the try. It might keep her out of the hospital.
So I obtained pot. Beat the bushes, and ended up finding someone who could supply us (it was not the aforementioned VanHalen). But mom was very uncomfortable with the idea. I had tried to just convince her to start smoking on the way home from the hospital and stay high for the next 5 days. I never could. I made brownies, apple crisp. I tried all sorts of tricks to get some THC into her system. I don’t know if it was the illegality of it, but she just wouldn’t do it.
That night, I pulled rank.
“Mom, you’re smoking some pot.” She didn’t have the energy or will to say no. The problem was that neither one of us knew how to roll a joint. Not even to save my mom’s life. I was clueless and clumsy, she was sick, exhausted and clueless. It was the saddest thing you ever saw, her and I sitting up in bed trying to figure out how to roll a joint. Her, deathly ill; and me irretrievably useless.
I’m not going to incriminate anyone other than myself, but we eventually got a workable joint going. She smoked a couple drags and went to sleep for a few hours.
I also remember my sister Jenny and I coming to be with my mom during Chemo once evening. She was up in bed when Jenny got here, so Jenny climbed under the covers with her. I showed up with Jamba Juices for everyone and I climbed in too. The three of us all in the bed here. We sat and giggled and worried and kept each other company while we rode out her treatment.
Across the hall is the room that is currently referred to as ‘the hole’. It’s actually a nice room, bigger than the downstairs bedrooms, with gabled ceilings and hardwood floors, now. Oh my god, the carpet was bad when I was kid. A short-loop pile that was blue and green. As long as I lived here that carpet was in various stages of unraveling. Kids notice carpeting more than other people, I guess. This one was ugly and itchy. Actually, here, there’s a square of it here in the closet.
This room got to be ‘the hole’ when my niece was here. My mom wasn’t all that great at being a gramma and a mom, which was what was needed at the time. She spoiled that child rotten but resorted to threatening solitary confinement up in ‘the hole’ if she wouldn’t behave. There were dark curtains and almost no furniture. The child eventually learned how to climb out of her crib and open the door, hence the lock on the outside of the room.
This is the room in which that baby’s mother’s eardrum burst some twenty years earlier . I remember brown fluid dripping out of her ear. She had more trouble with her ears, that child. And once, that same baby sister of mine, overdosed on her grape flavored medicine, and we had to give her syrup of ipecac. It must have seemed like a big deal at the time, it’s funny what kids remember.
When I spent the night here as an adult, I was always surprised how well I slept. It’s a good place to sleep, quiet and cool and dark.
One last thing about these stairs, they’re kind of steep, but if your kids have footie pajamas, tell them I highly recommend going down on your tummy, feet first. Remember to put pillows on the tile in the entryway at the bottom, couch cushions work, too. Enjoy.