August is the month we get to welcome new full-time voices to the post calvin! Please welcome (back) Katie Van Zanen, who is taking over Jack VanAllsburg’s spot. Katie wrote for the post calvin a year ago, took some time off, and is back! She is a doctoral student in English and education at the University of Michigan. She loves the New York Times crossword puzzle, advice columns, oceans, and dogs of all kinds.
Did you ever figure out how to get up these stairs without creaking?” Danielle asked me. “Whenever I get home late, I’m afraid I’ll wake everyone up.”
I was in my childhood bedroom, leaning over an open suitcase. Danielle leaned against the doorjamb of her room, next door. She’d been roommate to my brother and sister-in-law, who rented the house from my parents, for about a year. I hadn’t lived there for at least four.
I told her I didn’t think so. “I remember trying, though.”
A week later, I was in the basement with my mom, deciding which stuff I’d want when they sold the place later in the summer. Loaded up with 1980s tupperware, I made my way up the old linoleumed stairs—and realized that I was intuitively side-stepping the loudest spots. On the last step, I miscalculated. The stair groaned and the sound was so familiar to me that I startled. Still two steps from the kitchen, I was suddenly aware of everything: the squelch of the slider door’s rubber seal releasing as my brother came in from the yard. The creak and crash of the screen door to the garage behind my dad. The rattling of the belt as the garage door shuddered open.The low whirr of the refrigerator. The legs of an oak chair sliding across the kitchen floor as my sister sat down at the table.
Even now, sitting in my Boston apartment, I cannot quite imagine the sounds. But when I heard them, I knew.
I know that house. I can tell which of my family members is moving through it by the rhythm of their gait. For years, whenever I got home, I could hear my parents pulling into the driveway before they hit the garage door opener. I could locate my dog by the thump of her tail on the furniture. I could, in fact, sneak quietly up the stairs without them creaking.
I’d forgotten, but I knew.
It was probably then, listening, that I started fighting tears in earnest. It’s just a house, I said to myself, sternly. Just a house.
In the early 1970s, my grandparents moved to Bloomington, Indiana, and built a house on Hartstrait Rd, in what was then the country. They had a few acres of land, cows for neighbors, enough of an apple orchard to make buckets of sauce every fall. They moved to a condo when I was twelve. But I can still draw the blueprints from memory; I could tell you a thousand stories about the couch my sister scratched with her Sunday shoes, the secret passage between the basement closets, the specific hay and sawdust scent of their garage.
In 2016, we got married and moved to Lynn, Massachusetts, to a second-floor apartment from which we watched harried commuters sprint down the train platform. Underneath our building, there’s a Dunks, a Domino’s, the bodega where we buy overpriced avocados. Our first winter, we spent a snow day drinking wine with our neighbors and complaining about these East Coast snowplows, how they never get the angle right. After the Cheng kids came over, we found Uno cards under the furniture for weeks. The day this post goes up, I’ll be unloading it all from our U-Haul in Ann Arbor.
Just a house.
I use the phrase “go home” so cavalierly—last week I said it about my summer office when I was offsite for an event: “are we going home after lunch?” But my parents’ house—that was capital-H home. That was pencil-marks-on-the-closet-door-to-track-my-growth home. It’s “favorite dog buried in the yard” home. And now it belongs to some perfectly lovely strangers who don’t know or care that I picked out that terrible yellow paint for my eleventh birthday. They can paint over it as they please. They probably should.
But I know that house. I know my grandparent’s place on Hartstrait Road. I know this apartment. And in a month I will know someplace new, and this will become unsteady memory. I won’t remember what I know until someday I hear a creaking stair and recognize the sound. It will sound like home.
Katie is a doctoral student in English and education at the University of Michigan. She loves the New York Times crossword puzzle, advice columns, oceans, and dogs of all kinds.