Saturday, March 28, 2009

What Was That Like

It was one thing ten years ago to feel ready to say goodbye to condominium living and to buy a single-family house.

It was a qualitatively different experience to buy a home with a staircase connecting its two floors.

Steps as part of everyday life – I was wooed by the prospect of coming down in the morning with a hand on the railing, of climbing upstairs at the end of each long day. Many a Saturday morning, I would carry a small canister vacuum cleaner and dig the nozzle deep into each corner where tread and riser and stringer met. Occasionally I got to sit on one carpeted step and talk to a cat seated above me on another; the perspective – somewhere between one level of the house and the other – intrigued me. And an animal and I got to see eye to eye.

One day six years ago I ended up sitting on a landing of the staircase in circumstances I could not have foreseen. It was at the end of a summer work day, and I had gotten home first. With my back against the wall, I was as rattled as I had been in a long time.

Summer routine had had me upstairs changing into walking shorts and T-shirt when I heard an unaccustomed cry from one of the two cats. By the time I got downstairs, the larger of the two cats was lying on the hardwood kitchen floor. A cat that had greeted me at the front door fifteen minutes earlier, as demonstrative and social as ever, had died suddenly and now lay still, unmoving, eyes open.

I remember saying the cat’s name out loud several times as I touched, tested, tried for some sign of revival. I remember looking around me and wondering whether there was anything to do. I remember the other cat coming closer and sniffing at what remained of her former companion.

I knew at the time nothing of what I would learn in the next few days from the web, searching by some combination of asymptomatic and cat and sudden death. I would eventually discover how common it was for pet-owners to record online their experiences of this kind of major disruption in the life of their household. It was important for them to tell what it was like. At that moment, however, I was alone and face to face with the totally unexpected, illogical, and strangely nameless.

So I looked for a place to wait out this solitary time. I had arranged a nearby dish towel over the cat, a towel clean and large enough to cover most of him. I could think at that moment of none of the usual chairs or sofas or recliners that felt suitable for the wait before me. Nothing habitual or comfortable could provide the kind of space I needed to think through how I was going to explain within a half hour the news I had.

I did not want my visible distress to be alarming. I needed words to have ready to say that something very sad had happened but that it was nothing tragic.

And so my place on the landing. That in-between place. That I-don’t-know-where-else-to-be space.

These past two months, I took part in packing up items from that household, thinking at times of places in the house and significant events that had occurred there.

That landing stays with me.

I find myself now thinking about the wait that day. What had that been like? I don’t remember ever telling anyone about that half hour. I don’t remember wanting anyone to ask me what it had been like. But I should have.

I am ready for that kind of question these days. My words, recorded here in a blog, are an attempt to acknowledge that it is an important question to hear and an important question to answer.

In a way I am getting ready for that question about this time in my life, getting ready for anyone who might one day ask, “What was that like?”

Photo from Stairs UK


Ur-spo said...

I enjoy reading your entries; you make something like a stair case a place for deep thought and philosophy.

John said...

Sometimes a few steps on which to sit are all that's needed to get to wondering.