It was as though I had stepped into an abandoned photograph. Everything was placed perfectly and set purposefully according to my memory. The carefully aligned table cloth with a precise pile of bills and letters. The slip cover on the pull-out sofa, tucked carefully into place. The wooden stairs polished and dusted. Everything exactly where it should be, even though nothing felt right.
I wanted to hear the footfalls of impatient and rushed children on the steep and slippery wooden steps that led to the second floor. Footfalls followed closely by the soft reprimand to “be careful” and “take your time.” Warnings that are lost on children in so many ways. Now, the wood is silent and a forged bannister was forcibly attached to the wall to provide artificial support and aid.
The color of the wood did not match.
The slip cover was a cream knit that clung to the skeleton of the sofa. Underneath the garment was a worn, blue upholstery that was magically transformed into a bed. After hours of playmaking, one would hunker down on that magic bed and spend the rest of the night dreaming of what will be as God slept directly on your pillow.
The cover hid all of that.
And the table… It used to be surrounded by love: family and friends talking and laughing as the legs groaned under the weight of food and drink or it was a grocery store checkout or the art supply store from which all of our crayons were purchased and used liberally on rough sheets.
It looked clinical, surgical, without any adornment.
It all looked small.
I thought about my Christmas tree growing up – how it always felt so big to me. How it felt like my entire world, fat and full of rich smelling needles, tall enough to reach the roof, if only there wasn’t a second floor in the way. In that one tree, the entirety of the holiday season was found. That tree was my everything.
And yet, there comes a time when you get a little bigger, your problems deepen, lines begin to form on your forehead, and suddenly the tree doesn’t fill your entire world. It becomes small. It is as if you’ve outgrown a stage in your life when all that mattered was love and hope. You become too big for your dreams.
Standing in the home of my grandparents, I felt too big, the place where I formed all of my dreams, too small. I had outgrown my innocence and the time for make-believe. I was bigger now, worldly. I could not be contained in the small, run-down row home.
Just as the last of my grandparents’ souls could no longer be contained on this earth.