Does a place remember you and how do you remember the place? Is it by the physical description; number of rooms (eight), number of windows (twelve) and doors (three), or the colour of the walls (external: white, internal: various)? Is it the sharp turn you have to perform to get up the tiny staircase in one go? Is it the angle at which you have to tilt your head to make it through the low doorframe, as dictated by the low-framed people that built the house over two hundred years ago, or just how much you need to bend your knees if head-tilting isn’t your thing?
At what point do you need to start asking the place permission again? Can I leave my shoes there? How hard can I shut the door?
Can I still call this place home?
My feet, once over eager to race from one room to the other, or down the stairs, are more wary of their tread. It’s lighter, more tenuous. At least at first. This is, was, (is?) home. The routine is still the same, the animals still remember me, but are aloof until the food comes out. Fifty bounces of the ball and the dog doesn’t care how long I’ve been gone.
Clattering into the low, sloped ceiling of what may or may not still be my room. Windows, a stark and startling contrast to my living space in the south of perpetual twilight. My face is pallid and strange in the mirrors. The racket of the dog’s feet up and down the stairs begins again, as though it never stopped. Each morning I am returned from a lengthy absence.
The corridor and staircase are hardest to recall. These are the places my muscles are supposed to remember, manoeuvring me around furniture and avoiding the bruised hip that a sharp corner dictates. This muscle memory was replaced by the need to leap the eighth step. Now, my progress is that much slower to the destination as decreed by activity. The dining room; to dine. The bedroom; to go to bed. The living room; to live.
The place smells different. It feels different. Intangibly changed in ways that cannot be explained. I place things more precisely. Shoes, neatly together. Glass, safely central on the table. My body, taking only one allocated seating position on the sofa. It used to be allocated to me, my books and belongings mounting up to tall towers of what I was working on at the moment. Now there is one coaster and a notebook, open, with a pen midway through someone else’s list of things to do.
Gradually, my old routine begins again, the bruise on my hip fades and my muscles remember the transitional spaces. The spaces do not remember me.
Amy E. Brown
Featured image: George Shaw from the Home Series.
Courtesy of the artist. Photo credit: Vital Arts, Barts and the London NHS Trust