The ones heading upstairs are covered with a wool runner, smudges of dirt life dotting the fibers.
The ones down to the basement are hard and oak, salvaged from one of my brother-in-law’s job sites, with strips of non-skid material so our feet don’t slip.
When J was less than two she tumbled down sixteen stairs in the center of this house before they were padded wool, and I watched her fall horrid slow-motion, side over side, end over end, and I tried to catch her, and I saw her head hit the railing, and I scooped her up before she hit the last two and the main floor. Still it hurts me to think of it.
When I was seven months pregnant with Lala, my foot caught on my pajama pants on those same stairs, and I lost my footing. I’m not kidding when I say I was carried on wings and flew over two steps and landed flat-footed. I could hardly breathe right then, folded over, thank you, God. Thank you, God.
And it’s falling down those basement stairs that made me go numb, after the coffee splattering in my face and hair, after the bruises and whiplash healed. My left side took the brunt of the oak slabs that left my face tingling and limbs weak, and will the ground slip out again?
These oak stairs lead down to the snarls of dress-up clothes, all toulle and apron strings on the floor, to the computer where I write and where we try to make sense of money, and to the couch where we play board games and watch movies on the boxy TV.
The stairs carry us up to bedrooms — all three. The ones periwinkle and the one restful, juicy blue. The one with the bunks, the one with the books and toys and the room where we talk and love.
I can’t be numb when I go down the stairs, or when I go up. It’s this life I’ve been given. This going upstairs. This going down, one by one.
I feel weary, dreading routines and piles. I feel joyous and silly with a little extra giddy-up. I feel passionate. Itchy to sit and write. Craving my first cup of French press at the kitchen counter.
Truth is I’m scared of falling on these creaking slabs eighteen, on these oak slabs hearty. The steps of a temporary foundation.
And yet, these ups and downs are life-ly constants, right through the center of me, and us.
Straight through the heart of this old house.