I grab the newel post with my left hand in the dark, pivot slightly and feel the stair rail with my right. Twenty-two years of early morning flights and workouts and pouring thoughts into piles of words adds up to the kind of muscle memory that allows you to navigate a house in the dark. So much has changed in that time in the concentric rings of relationships that circle closer and closer to the brain between these ears. But this act, grab left and pivot to right, hasn’t changed at all.
When you’re in a new relationship everything is discovery and revelation. Hopes and dreams. The small endearing habits, the smell of shampoo, the imperceptible twitch of an eyebrow or shift of a glance that betrays a belief you’ll learn over time.
Relationships with place are similar, but the friction is different. You get to know the creaks and tendencies in a house, the way it breathes when the furnace turning on, how it reacts to frigid cold and gusty wind, the appliance working to survive another cycle, and the sleep cycles of fellow inhabitants. What sounds right and what seems off.
A house wears like a pair of jeans, faded and stretched in some places. Lived in. Pets come and go. Children bridge the time between new house and familiar abode. A crayon mark or that chip in the tile from the oldest banging a fireplace poker that you don’t even see anymore. Memories of earlier days flood in; bringing the youngest home for the first time, birthday parties, celebrations and holidays.
Twenty-two years. For all the talk of travel and downsizing and the encroaching habits of the neighbors, there’s something to be said for the familiar. For muscle memory in dark times.