Another birthday approaches and with that comes my annual tradition of self reflection. It’s a practice that developed long ago and has yet to pay off, but still with the start of another year I like to ponder who I am and what brought me to this time and place.
This year, I’m reflecting on inexplicable neurosis that my children will one day discuss with their own therapists.
I hate stair wells.
Those are four words that strung together only lead to more words. I’ve always been a hold the railing, watch your step, ensure you place your foot in the right spot sort of guy. I think of it as a healthy fear, because stairs exist to help people change elevation and that act by nature means you are moving from one height to another and the possibility of falling is ever present. However, my wife and friends have spent years trying to convince me that children ‘know what they’re doing’ and ‘can be trusted’ to not fall. I’m sure that is correct, however gravity knows no allegiance.
In trying to find the root cause of my fear of stairs I have thought back to the many terrifying stair wells I’ve encountered. My great aunt’s former home had a skinny stair well that led to an always dark basement. Green 1980s carpeting lined the steps and the railing rattled a little. The stairs themselves were far from terrifying, but they led to a terrifying place. Another aunt had a stair well that was frequently used to ride cardboard down. Quite a few bumps and bruises came from those stairs, but nothing emotionally damaging.
The stair well I believe to be the source of all my woes, all the shouts of “we don’t play on the stairs!” and running to ensure the safety gate was closed belongs to an old family favorite location; a foul smelling antique mall off Colfax.
I don’t think the business still exists, but in my youth my mom and dad would often take my brother and I along for trips to antique shops. This shop was two or three stories tall and full of dead people’s junk. From time to time a neat knick-knack would show up and my brother and I would oooh and awe over it until it was time to go home, but for the most part it was stuff that looked too nice to be thrown away, too ugly to be kept after the loss of a loved one. The place was in business for years, so apparently there’s a market for ugly stuff out there (btw: have you seen my Society6 page?).
To get to the second floor of the shop patrons had to climb a winding stair case that shook with each step. The stairs themselves were grates and did not have backs to prevent feet from flying through them. I watched People Under the Stairs far too young and was fearful of my ankles being grabbed by…people…under the stairs. The grates of the stairs were also the shade of green that exists on oxidized pennies. I knew enough about proper copper coloring to know that this was not an ideal situation for stairs.
The stairs were located in the far corner of the shop. I’m sure the store was less than 1,000 square feet total between the floors, but at 8 or 9 it was enormous. Walking through miles of dead people’s stuff to get to a death trap stair case with the intent of wading through more dead people’s stuff was a petrifyingly terrifying event. If the stairs gave out would my stuff end up in the glass display cabinets of a shop that never had clerks present? There was no way to know! I’m pretty sure that to 8 or 9 year old me those stairs embodied death and the afterlife at once.
All these years later I am basket case when my kids, my friends’ kids, neighbor kids and kids on TV get too near a stair well. All thanks to an antiques shop off Colfax just barely meeting fire code. Self reflection for the year done.