What follows is the fourth and final installment of the shared things grow question Tell me a story about approaching your front door, written by yours truly. Previous responses were written by Tahira, Jessica, and Shari.
Neeley and I, out front, circa 2006
Approaching my front door is, in many ways, like having my current self overlap with shadows of my former selves as I step closer and closer: this is the first and only place I’ve lived as an adult, and I can feel all the stories of growing up in that door. Sometimes I’ll step towards it and my foot will trip over the foot of a younger me, coming home late from Mountain Goats or Ted Leo show, a little tipsy. I’ll be walking down the street and see the door ahead of me when a breeze will rustle through my hair and it will be dyed the auburn or jet black it was in 2001 or 2003. I’ll put the key in my lock and my hand will slip entirely into the swollen one that opened the door when I was in early labor with Jaya. The door has seen me grow up, and it has been good to me despite the fact that even as a grown up I refuse to wash it as much as I should, and when I approach it now, every time — every last time, whether it is coming home from the gym with some apprehension of whether a baby will be wailing on the other side, or walking home from the park with Jaya and Alder, or coming home from writing in a coffee shop — I am struck with the strangest feeling, a combination of my breath being caught in my throat, in disbelief over my enormous good fortune, and breathing easy, because I can relax, because I am home.
I didn’t always feel this way — my sense of overwhelming luck is fairly new. Certainly there were many times that my younger selves didn’t feel it. There were also many times I took that front door for granted. But, just to be fair to my younger self, there were also times where I deeply appreciated that front door and would have liked nothing more than to have slipped my key in the lock and opened it, with an ease that only the person who lives behind a door can open it.
This is the story of one of those times.
So let’s move backwards. I can’t really say with any accuracy, however, what year we’re in. We’re in a period of time when I lived here alone, so it was definitely pre-September 2003, because that’s when Andy moved in. But what month or year between September 2001 and September 2003, I can’t say. All I can tell you is that it was cold. Frigid, really.
Now when I try to line up my sense of that cold and the timeline of my roommates I am fairly sure I was between roommates. I think the only creatures living here were me and Neeley, my dog, and Shoeboot, my cat. I’m not sure if this actually makes sense because nowhere do I have it written down when my first roommate moved out and my second roommate moved in, and I certainly don’t remember with any real precision. My best guess is that this was in February or March of 2002, but that is neither here nor there, really, because even if I wasn’t living alone yet the fact of the matter is that I was the only one in the house that particular night.
Nothing of the evening stands out: it was just another day. This was during what I now term my “lost years” — the two years in between college and graduate school, where I took on a job in publishing because I thought I needed to see what the “real world” was like and realized the “real world” sucked so I passed those two years in a haze of many naps and altogether too much makeup shopping. The real story starts with being woken up in the middle of the night. By the dog. Who was whining. In my face. I opened my eyes and saw her little snout poking up from me as she sat on her bed, on the floor next to mine. I am one of those people who wakes up alert and aware immediately and so I very quickly surmised the very unusual situation, which was that my dog needed to be let out. Irritated, I kicked off my covers, and put my feet down onto the cold wood. I padded into the kitchen, opened the door to the sunroom, and a huge gust of ice-cold wind greeted me.
Now I’ll interrupt myself here to explain that our sunroom is this room at the back of our house that connects three spaces — the house itself, the yard, and an alleyway that runs alongside our house. The summer I was pregnant with Jaya Andy and his father demolished the whole ramshacke old thing down to its very basic foundation and turned it into an idyllic living room for our newly growing family that apparently transports everyone who enters it into a space that has no business being part of a Brooklyn row-house.
In other words they turned it from this:
sunroom c 2002
sunroom c 2008
But this was long before that, long before the sunroom became our living room, long before I ever got pregnant, long before I was even married to Andy, long before he had moved in. The sunroom was a rickety, drafty old thing with a concrete floor, only usable for half the year. Definitely not usable at this time of year. This was when there were two doors at each opening — from kitchen to sunroom, from sunroom to yard — and the draft that would seep its way onto the kitchen tile still could take your breath away on the coldest nights.
I continued out to open the doors to the yard. Neeley ran out, quickly, and immediately relieved herself — I won’t go into details but I will say here that it was clear she had some kind of puppy tummy upset, if you catch my drift.
She ran back to me. “Brrr,” I grumbled, patting her rump as she ran past me into the sunroom. I observed my frosty breath as I latched the screen door closed behind us, then closed and locked the wood door. I returned to the kitchen doors, pulled open the first, jiggled the handle of the second.
It was locked.
Now I’ll interrupt myself again to explain another extremely pertinent detail. What I was wearing. Which was a tank top, and a tight, tiny pair of boxer shorts. And bare feet. The bare feet being key.
And I was locked out, at 2am, in the middle of the winter.
A few choice expletives definitely escaped my mouth as I jiggled the handle some more. I’m also quite certain I kicked the damn thing a few times for good measure.
I looked down at my poor, shivering puppy. “You.” I glowered. “You and your poop.”
I stood and thought for a moment. I returned to the yard, making little high pitched noises as my feet touched the icy ground. I attempted to open the windows to the back bedroom, which looked out into the yard. They were locked. Naturally.
I rubbed my eyes in despair.
I then went to the alleyway that runs along our house, where there is a bulkhead into the basement. I unlocked the bulkhead, pulled the heavy creaking doors open, and contemplated the steps down. I am one of those people who is still afraid of the dark. I think I stopped leaping out of bed (to ensure distance between my feet and the things beneath the bed that would surely grab them) only when I had children, and only then because we bought a king-sized bed and the amount of space between the wall and my side of the bed decreased so dramatically such that leaping was no longer a possibility. That night I stared into the unfamiliar space that was my basement then. Now it is called “the lair,” boasts a projector and a giant screen, two amazingly comfortable couches and multiple points at which to turn on lights; it is where we do our laundry and where carefully labeled boxes of kids’ clothing and holiday lights are kept. Then I had no reason to ever go down there; it housed some junk and not much else, not to mention only one lightswitch to illuminate the entire thing which of course nowhere near the alleyway entrance. I stared at Neeley, who watched me from the sunroom. I marched back towards her, grabbed her collar and pulled her with me. We walked into the dark basement together and I felt my way across the wall, my heart hammering, afraid most of all that I would step on something weird. I found the stairs upstairs that lead into my hallway. I slowly crept up the wooden, lopsided steps, careful not to fall. I ignored the fact that I heard the tip-tip-tip of Neeley’s toenails running out of the basement and back to the sunroom. I got to the door that led to the hallway, pushed on it.
The basement was just about as cold as the sunroom, so I returned to the latter because at least I could find the lightswitch in there. By this point I was shaking from cold and in tears, feeling thoroughly sorry for myself. My feet had never known such sickening cold and the sensation was peculiar and seemed to invade my bloodstream right up to my hopeless heart.
(So maybe that’s overly dramatic. Hey, I never said I was a winter person.)
I stood and thought for a few minutes. I went back into the yard to see if any neighbors had their lights on. No dice. I stood, surveying my yard, and the neighbors’.
And then I remembered.
Gilda, the elderly Italian lady next door, had recently taken down the gate to her alleyway (our houses, being built by two Italian brothers in the early-twentieth century, were identical). Unlike my alleyway, which was closed in by a tall, heavy gate that even my cat had trouble scaling and which could only be opened via a key that was decidedly cozy in my warm apartment, her’s was at that particular moment a straight shot from backyard to street. Where I could, for example, walk the two blocks, in my underwear and barefoot, to my parents’.
But this would, of course, involve breaking into her yard by climbing over the short (4″) fence between ours, and then creeping around on her property at 2am.
Trespassing vs. sleeping outside half naked in the dead of winter: it was no-brainer. Avoiding the latter option was certainly worth the potential risk and embarrassment of the former. I jumped over that fence as though it was no bigger than a candlestick and tip-toed — literally tip-toed though in retrospect I have no idea why — across her yard, down her alleyway to the front, quietly unlatched her front gate, and stepped onto the street, which was, thankfully, abandoned, it being 2am in the dead of winter.
I immediately began towards my parents’. But then something stopped me. I turned around, approached my front door. Opened the cold, dark, iron gate, like I had so many times before. Walked up the steps, like I had so many times before. Stepped onto my front porch, like I had so many times before. Approached my front door. And then, veered off sharply to the right and instead approached…the window.
I knew it was open a crack. My bedroom, being directly above the boiler, always got oppressively stuffy, and so I always kept the window open just a tiny crack in the winter (wasteful, I know, but necessary in order to keep the tenants and myself at a comfortable temperature). I stuck my finger into the crack, then my hand, then both hands, and pushed open the window. I pushed up the screen. I stood back for a second to figure out my plan of attack, since the window was rather high and I had nothing to climb on. I don’t really remember how I did it exactly. I probably just floated on the ice particles my breath made, propelled entirely by the pain in my feet and my desire to make it stop. I do remember that it was entirely awkward. I do remember that at some point I got a little stuck in between my room and the outside, my front half in, my back half out, as I shimmied my way into the house.
If you were driving on that Brooklyn street that cold winter night and you happened to look out your car window as you passed that three-story row house with a bright blue door, you would have seen — well, I like to imagine that perhaps you would have thought it was the sexiest robber ever, all long limbs in tiny shorts, but really, you would have seen an ass.
Since that night I’ve had a whole new appreciation for that front door of mine.