Sometimes you have to sit or stand in quiet. Sometimes if you focus on something long enough, an answer or an idea or something will come to you. It’s a trance-like state, and people will get over your looking like a wide-eyed weirdo. And looking upon that wide-eyed weirdo – that is you – it’s to realize you are … as we (all) are … our own worst enemies.
Stairwells are often so quiet regardless as to what is going on down and around them. We’re constantly walking them.
“Man, unlike any other thing organic or inorganic in the universe, grows beyond his work,walks up the stairs of his concepts, emerges ahead of his accomplishments.”
– John Steinbeck, from The Grapes of Wrath
“Yesterday, upon the stair,
I met a man who wasn’t there.
He wasn’t there again today,
I wish, I wish he’d go away … “
You really don’t change or make a significant transition in the personal sense from climbing a set of stairs. You might become winded, and this depends on your age and how fast you scale them or how fast your health may be deteriorating. However, there aren’t a definitive amount of steps – whether those steps are placed upon the ground or they are steps of an actual staircase – that calculates up to a specific level. It’s not a game, collecting a certain amount of knowledge or material that will allow your character to develop and shed some skin for the new coat to shine. We’re constantly shedding, after all. (What did you think dust is?) You’ll know when that moment of realization arrives, but you won’t know when.
“When I came home last night at three,
The man was was waiting there for me
But when I looked around the hall,
I couldn’t see him there at all!
Go away, go away, don’t you come back any more!
Go away, go away, and please don’t slam the door … “
We are constantly plagued with thought from beginning a project to the end product, from Point A to Point B, from the bottom step to the top step. There is always a moment of hesitation before climbing, before pursuing what has to be done in order to grow and acquire and succeed. And you’re haunted by shadows and distracted by demons with each breath. In case you forget, that static electricity generated by your dragging feet will allow you to feel a shock unexpectedly. And the top is never the top. There will always be more tops to be climbed to. Life’s a never-ending staircase.
“Last night I saw upon the stair,
A little man who wasn’t there,
He wasn’t there again today
Oh, how I wish he’d go away … “
There is always a hesitation before climbing the stairs. Whether you’re by yourself or your dismissing yourself from a party. Up and out is the way to go, it’s to get away and still be able to keep an eye on everything. You can retreat back, but you can’t turn back time; driving a car in reverse will not retract the mileage. You continue up and hold the railing. Perhaps a candle is in your free hand. As the rickety creaks shriek and shadows grab at your hands and ankles, you continue. Your shadow follows, joins you on your side while plastered and dragged against the wall, or it hops out in front of you all the while curling its tempting finger.
And you reach the top.
“Habit is habit, and not to be flung out the window by man,
but coaxed downstairs, a step at a time.”
And your arms cross atop the railing of the top landing. You smile and catch your breath. You’ve made it and feel victorious.
You look at everyone else, enjoying themselves at the party — let’s just say it’s a party, and everyone is decked out to the nine’s. And you notice two people at the bottom talking to each other. Your gut churns, and you squint your eyes to get a better look at the smiling and laughing couple. Their bared teeth shimmer. And then one shudders, does a double take and looks up at you, at themselves. He looks at himself, she at herself. Down below, they smile up. As sweat beads form on your brow, you show confusion. You don’t know who or where you may be. As quick as a quivering lip, your other self begins to laugh and maniacally. You turn to run down the upper hall, but stop as you come to find there are more stairs in front of you.
And your shadow has made it up to the top of the next floor; its arms are crossed as it leans over and upon the railing.
(This post contains the poem “Antigonish” by Herbert Mearns.)