Thursday, 4 February 2010
I know exactly where my hall floor squeaks.
Our house isn’t new. It has the wear of age, the look of love and the creaks of settling in. Every room in the upstairs squeaks somewhere, except the kitchen since the remodel, since the warped and waterstained wood was ripped up and we bounced around on the subfloor, laughing at each other as we found the squeaks and silenced them with as many nails as it took before laying down the smooth, cool tile.
The floors squeak most right in the center lane of the hallway, or in the middle of each stair. Each sound testifies to the thousands of pounds of pressure built up over the last sixty years, of the gliding on the happy days, or the stomping in temper, but mostly the simple plodding to the bathroom, to the office, to the garage, the steady rhythm of a life, two lives, creating more and raising them to walk, too.
The first owners lived here as long as we hope to; raising their children (all boys! no wonder) and covering outdated tile, adding on and finishing the garage. The second set wasn’t here as long; they knew some heartache. We happen to know a marriage imploded here. Where did they walk? What words have these walls heard, what pain has stormed over these halls? Where did that love go — did it retreat into the floor too, and now sings its swan song as we walk over it, unknowing?
In filling up the spaces with our family’s voices, our love and our tempers, I’ve learned the personality of this house and how we fit into it. These days, when the baby is sleeping lightly because of teeth or gas or that wonderful, frustrating neediness that I prayed for, I step lightly. He sleeps best in his crib, sadly, not with me, and so I lay him there, shushing in the rhythm he’s come to know as part of his own breath, stepping out of the room, closing the door lightly, and then surveying the topography of the hall like a spy looking for invisible trip wires. I take a wide, dancing step over to the other side, cling to the wall and slink there, next to the vent and trim, where floor kisses wall, where my sock-muted steps can be silent.
It’s over there, where the surface is smoother and slipperier, where the floor hasn’t learned to groan yet, that I tiptoe back into our bed for another few hours’ sleep until the highway sound and the restless dog begin to wake my senses. It’s there where I make my path from the still-dark-early-morning coffee to the glow of my office, into the solitary space I can breathe before the day. It’s there I realize that this house may have seen joy and heartaches, but it never saw us before. We are writing our story on these floors now. It’s over there, along the edges, observing, that I can imagine this house new again.
And so it is.