the key in the door
because we were the last plane out of laguardia and 400 other flights were canceled, because rainfall was being sized in feet, not inches, yesterday, because the mayor and the governor of new york were going on the air telling folks to stock up on cans of beans and bottled water, i decidedly did not think i was getting home.
did not think that we alone had reason to be climbing into cab, driving on fairly empty roadways through pounding rain, checking bags, getting seat assignments.
everywhere around us, the system was caving in under the weight of what someone called the worst storm to pound the eastern seaboard in 25 years. but, blithely, our own personal conveyor belt kept rolling right along.
even a last-minute squawk from the pilot, the kind you hear in your ear when you, like your nosey husband, tune in religiously to what’s happening up in the cabin, even the last minute “alpha-alpha” (whatever that is, it was not a good thing) that made us pull over to the curb (if runways have such things) and seemed to stir the ambulances and fire trucks to pull in ranks along the plane’s left flank, even that did not keep us from lifting off and bumping our way home.
i, the whole time, kept my focus fixed on getting those keys in the door.
and while i bumped along i found myself walking in my mind through my every room, opening doors, hearing sounds, seeing light come in at certain angles.
i have, i realized, memorized my house.
i know it in the dark, i know it with my eyes closed, i know it in a plane, 1000 miles away, 100,000 feet up in the air.
i know just the board that creeks under letters D and J and P on the alphabet rug in my little one’s room. i know which board at the top of the stairs in the middle of the night will broadcast my tiptoeing up to bed, way too late.
i know which drawer needs an extra tug and then a wiggle if i really want to spritz my old rive gauche. i know that the bathtub takes forever to drain, and how to jerk the metal whatchamahoojie to make the dirty water shlurp away a little, little faster. i know which light switches switch to nothing and which turn on lights that seem to have a mind all their own.
it is uncanny the intimacy between self and plank and wire, the way the house seeps into the swirl of your fingertips. or, really, the way we swirl into the woodgrain of our house.
i know every bush and tree, every growing thing–if not each sorry blade of grass–here on the fraction of an acre that has my name on all its papers, the ones that make you rumbly when you sign.
i know the shadow cast by light through every window, where it falls upon the floor and how it moves with every hour. i know my house enough to know when a new wrinkle of sunlight is spilling through the glass.
i know the sound of my house breathing. it does not belch, like the place i was this weekend. it hisses, soft like grasses in the wind. and i would notice if it ever lost its breath. i would run to blow fresh air into its lungs.
i am caretaker of my house; my house, in kind, takes care of me.
as long as there’ve been cave dwellers , and perhaps some creature even before who rustled leaves in a circle that felt soft and safe, certainly safer than without, there’s been some little knot inside the human soul that drives it to build, to know, a harbor against the cold and winds and unrelenting sunlight.
and not just humans. my cat, i know, finds little places. a box under a desk in a corner of the basement, a box i filled with little clothes to give away, a box he worked his way in.
this is the season of the sparrows and the robins all collecting bits, picking sticks, carrying them off to places that they perhaps will memorize too. that they will know, when in they fly some afternoon, and see a stick disturbed.
it is a fact of life that i have come to count on: my house breathes and i breathe with it. even when i’m gone it keeps on breathing.
which is why, when i get home, i walk through every room. i run my hand on things i’ve missed. i wind the clock. i listen to its old familiar tick and tock.
i remember once when my older one was very little, just shy of one, and we’d been gone for the better part of two weeks. as we walked in the door, at last, and put him on the floor, he started crawling madly, like a hungry mouse to all the cheese he’d stashed around the house. he crawled from place to place to place; he’d touch a thing, put it to his mouth–the cheese, perhaps–and then move on. surveying all he knew, making certain it was where he needed it to be.
i remember watching. i knew just exactly how he felt. when you come home, you let out the breath that you’ve been holding, and you inhale a new fresh breath. you are breathing once again, in rhythm with your house.
the house you know by heart.
what little quirks do you know and love about your house? what is it like for you when you turn the key, swing wide the door, and step back inside your house that has been breathing, waiting?
some housekeeping: first, i happened to see (in a hotel computer room in new york) for the very first time what my fancy apple computer typewriter font looks like when it’s not on an apple computer. it looks like blkkkh! i am so sorry for those of you who’ve been looking all this while on internet explorer. it was downright embarrassing. it looked like rudimentary MS-DOS hieroglyphics. so i am running a test. this is a font that in web design is known as a “universal.” i think at last you and i might be seeing the same thing. while i love my old typewriter key font, i might prefer knowing that we are all on the same page, as it were. so let me know if this looks better, all of you, or any of you, on internet explorer.
finally, it’s monday. the lazy susan twirls afresh. take a twirl.