A long and intricate staircase resided over our foyer. As a child, I would dare to slide down the railing or let my bottom bump down the many steps. The creaks in the steps and the fine scratches in the antique wood became akin to the palm of my own hand. I embraced the tranquility in the first landing, resting my chin on the windowsill and watching the world outside; my internal world dozing.
Those stairs rose to meet the familiar; the comfort of my own bed and the secret hiding places of our beloved Victorian home. Our home became a cherished member of our family and we delighted in her presence.
Deeply rooted memories would surround this staircase, countless family gatherings and the occasional family drama that would undeniably occur. Like the staircase itself, these events would become the bedrock of my life in this home.
My twin and I spent many winter nights by the fire sharing popcorn, P.J. content between us. Of course, there were countless days of playing throughout her spacious rooms, the staircase always in the periphery.
On Christmas morning, I would very deliberately take the first turn down these steps and linger. Slowly, I would descend with my eyes transfixed on the wrapped gifts as if I where floating in a dream.
It was not possible that I could have ever anticipated the security this staircase was about to provide me, beyond the amusement and the familiarity I had grown to regard with sustained affection.
Darkness surrounded me as I lay asleep in my flannel nightgown, my Tom Cat resting by my leg. I was roused from my dreams by muffled voices. Unfazed, I lay and waited for my sleep to resume.
My older siblings would often arrive home long after I was asleep. Perhaps, I reassured myself, those were the voices that I was registering.
Tom’s presence always consoled me. It did not matter he was merely a feline. It was only a short time ago, I would have the reassurance of my twin in the bunk above me. Somehow, though, I would rise to wake with him right beside me, blankets askew. I never did need a teddy bear to comfort me.
However, this night, the tone of the voices that were emitting from below became more and more peppered with angst. I was unaware of the scene that had been unfolding since the earlier hours of the evening.
As the youngest of six, even to my twin by five minutes, I was more often than not shielded from most of the painful details of our family’s story. It would be much later in life that my appreciation for my parents’ and my older siblings’ desire to protect me would amplify.
Easing my comforter to one side, I sat up in my bed doing my best not to disturb my furry companion. As curiosity overcame me, I tiptoed to my partially closed door and stood motionless by the light that reflected on it from the small upstairs hallway.
Unfamiliar voices became suddenly apparent causing my ears to ring in tune to my aroused heartbeat. I wiped my palms against my side, swallowed and reached to open the door just enough that I could exit.
At the top of the stairs, my head angled around the railing, my eyes slowly began to account for what my ears had already been decoding.