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My tried-and-true ritual for falling asleep

In the small cheerless hours of the morning, when there’s nothing I want in the world except another few hours of sleep, I close my eyes and revisit our first house. I find it soothing to contemplate the rooms where, for 14 years, I read and wrote and cooked and raised my son.

Here I am again in the broad front hall, with its original stained-glass window in shades of teal and green. You could marry off your children in a hall this size, but all we kept there was the phone, perched on the window sill for want of the table that we never got around to buying. I lean on the sill with the receiver at my ear and my head full of voices. My mother, to exult in a treasure unearthed at a junk shop for a couple of bucks. My friend Anne, resurfacing after who knows how many years to console me on the death of my mother. My son with an urgent request: can he please, please stay the night with a friend? Hurray! It’s grownups’ night at 159 Havelock Street.

Or is it morning, sun filtering through the leaves outside and the cats emerging from basement crannies to flick their tails against my bare legs? Before sleep, all hours coverge in this house, and all seasons, shaken up and rearranged like the chips in a kaleidescope. The Christmas tree sparkles in the living room window while trick-or-treaters ring the doorbell and a summer breeze lifts the bedroom curtains.  We broke our bed in a moment of abandon so we sleep like kids, on a queen-size mattress.

I’m everywhere at once in this house. Curled up on the mauve loveseat reading Stones from the River. Tapping out a magazine story on my first computer with the green screen and the clattering daisy-wheel computer. Making dinner in the dark—chicken cutlets with orange juice and mustard—because we’ve been too distracted to change the kitchen lightbulb. I can hear the Mr. Softee truck down the block, while from across the frozen park the skating rink blasts a Muzak version of a Beatles tune. From the third-floor window I can just make out the smallest skater, my son, whizzing round and round in his red parka.

I’ve read that some people fall asleep by imagining themselves on a stairway. Down and down they go, walking consciousness away. Sounds to me like a tedious journey. I’d rather go down through the years, and things get pretty hazy toward the bottom. Sometimes I see my husband’s wedding ring spinning, that day he dropped it and didn’t even notice. It skitters and bounces and falls down the bedroom heating grate where, I’m pretty sure, it lies to this day.

I have lived in lots of other places, yet it’s always this house that calls me back in the night. It was hardly our most comfortable home: no hall closet, only one bathroom and cantankerous pipes that, in cold snaps, we sometimes had to thaw with a hair dryer. We thought of the place as the starting point on a journey that would lead straight up to a marble foyer, walk-in closets, granite kitchen counters and a whirlpool tub.

Now that we’ve had all that, and chosen to leave it behind in empty-nesterhood, I’m able to see that I have never loved any home more than the first one. The first day we saw it, the woodwork was painted mud-brown and the second floor sported the remnants of a rooming-house kitchen. Yet there was no mistaking what decorators call “good bones.”

We stood in the hall, looking up at where the walls curved to meet the ceiling—a hint of cathedral on a down-at-heels street populated by aging Europeans. “Look!” I exclaimed. “A stained-glass window!” We almost had a down payment. A little extra from our parents, and all this could be ours.

Posted by Rona

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