By Ann Burack-Weiss
This loft had stairs! We could come Down the stairs for breakfast in the morning! We could go Up the stairs to bed at night!
We had each grown up in cramped apartments on the outskirts of a major city. Roy’s apartment in the shadow of Yankee Stadium in The Bronx where he slept in a kitchen alcove supposed to hold a dinette set.
Mine in Brighton, Massachusetts, where a rarely played baby grand piano - wedged tightly into the cell-sized foyer - forced a sideways slide into the small adjacent rooms.
Growing up in the 1930s and 1940s, neither of us had even been inside a house with stairs. All we knew of them was from outside (windows on top of each other spoke of rooms upon rooms) and from books and movies.
So although we had since been guests in a variety of two-story houses, and knew that stairs could be mounted and descended in misery as well as in joy, to have stairs of one’s very own still seemed exotic and wonderful.
Decades passed and we never gave another thought to the stairs. We passed from one floor to another as unthinkingly as we walked room to room on level ground. It never occurred to us to count the stairs (there are 19) or to notice their unusual height or to even touch the bannister, a long flat piece of wood that made an attractive wall decoration.
Roy climbed the stairs for the last time on the evening of March 12, 2010. He came down on a stretcher six hours later, borne by two men sent by the funeral home, his body covered by a white cloth.
Stairs began to appear in my dreams. Stairs covered in pale green carpet like ours, stairs of bare wood. Some flights extending endlessly to the sky, others collapsing upon themselves like an accordion.
I began to fall. Bone bruises, pelvic fractures. Assaulted knees and hips responded with arthritic pain. A hip replacement and rehabilitation. Each episode requiring an altered relationship with the stairs.
I now approach the stairs as a military campaign, standard operating procedures in place with sufficient latitude for unforeseen changes of circumstance.
Things to be carried up or down are placed, at debarkation points awaiting the next floor-to-floor maneuver. Empty coffee cups and crumby plates that belong downstairs at the top, just purchased toiletries and books that belong upstairs at the bottom.
Sometimes a canvas carrying bag, to sling over my good shoulder lies alongside, sometimes a fanny pack or back pack to free my hands.
I have deliberately slid down the stairs backside first and crawled up on hands and knees. I have walked up one step at a time, intent as a toddler trying out a new skill. I have reached for the bannister as for the hand of a caregiver - grasp it a few feet above me to pull up, hang on at hip length to go down.
But then will come a lovely day – sometimes weeks, months of lovely daysb– when I can walk up and down almost as easily as I ever did. And it feels again like the time when 19 steps were as nothing, Roy would be waiting for me on the landing, and stairs were still magic.
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