|Devon sitting on the steps (2003)|
The second step from the top creaks. It seems hard to miss that step and as such it is now a familiar sound. A comforting sound. This has always been more home than house, faulty in its grace.
Only Rob, Dev and I have ever lived here. The house was new when we bought. Others that spring would outbid us and yet Dave, the builder, sold it to us anyway. I'd like to think that he knew we were at our limit and that we would make this place he built a home. And we have.
We gave rise to that creak. We made it climbing up and down these stairs for the last 14 years. Bounding down and trudging up ladened with books and boxes and laundry and more times than I could count, the sleeping weight of a toddler. Time has loosened these stairs--caused the wooden treads to rub against the risers and stringers; to grind against the screws and nails that hold it all together. And how odd it is that such a noise could be more solace than annoyance; more balm than pain?
Rob climbed those stairs a year ago for the last time this month. He was unsteady on his feet and the climb up those stairs became too much for him to accomplish. We each did our best to not notice his unsteady and too heavy gait. We wanted it to be something temporary. We told one another how this set back would resolve itself with treatment. To pay note would have shifted the narrative from ever so hopeful to less so. And truly that bit of hope we held on to was more gift than not--more necessary than any pseudo cure the legion of doctors would prescribe and (un)prescribe.
On that last day he climbed the stairs, I washed him, washed his hair and we laughed at my clumsy attempts that morning. And how good it felt to laugh. He needed to sit halfway through as holding his too-sick body up was too much to bear. He could no longer manage such things. Even shaving become a chore and though I gave it a good try, he would take the razor from my hand and redo my first attempt. We were getting ready for what would be his first chemo treatment, as he had been cleared by the infectious disease doctor after five weeks of fighting a staph infection to finally receive treatment--treatment that would only land him back in the hospital in need of emergency thoracic surgery a week later. As the chemo stripped his body's defenses, the staph resurged growing into an abscess a millimeter from the right ventricle of his heart.
Rob would never see the second floor of our home again. Never walk up our stairs to our bedroom. Never sit in his favorite chair in the guest room which was more his study than not. Imagine that just seven weeks earlier he went up and down those stairs without a care. We each did.
Late at night I listen, listen to welcome him home, as if his departed spiritual self might bear some weight when all things grow dark and the barriers between here and there grow thin. In the dark anything can happen, anything can be. Now and then I hear the tread of my now six-foot son take those stairs two at at a time well after midnight. He is in search of a glass of water, a glass of juice--and it will be the empty glass I find sitting in the sink the next morning that confirms this late night tale.
On his way up the stairs to his bedroom, I hear the creak and I think of Rob. I think how this home we made is part bone, part heart.