There is a short hallway I walk down to get to our bedroom. There are no other bedrooms but this one. The hallway has brown carpet like the second apartment I lived in, the one with a communal yard where I would dig up worms from, occasionally drop along the way, and later not be able to find again despite my desperate attempts. Perhaps that’s when I first learned about grief. It entered my six-year-old bones with ease.
Sometimes in the summer I go outside and play with the ladybugs or just watch them huddle by a bush. I find that it’s much harder to gain their trust than before. They shy away, spreading their wings at the slightest touch.
The third floor balcony of my second apartment building resembled the gateway to a new world, what felt like an archeologist’s dreamland. Going up those stairs was like ascending into a fourth dimension, characterized by a stony cragginess that felt foreign to my four-foot body. My feet only knew flat surfaces.
One day I made the decision to go up them and explore — to feel the surface of the railing, to study the height of the ground from where I stood. Heights didn’t scare me back then. I wore a light green dress, the color of baby grass, and started my way up the pebbly steps. Strangely enough I felt nervous, too conscious of the likelihood of my not belonging somewhere.
When I made it up there, the row of apartment doors stretched like a long hallway. It resembled the second floor balcony, only longer, and I longed to walk across it to see how it would feel, or rather, what I would find. One of the third-floor neighbors had a son who was also outside. He was a kid my age, give or take a couple of years, but in this particular context he was everything I feared. He noticed me and abruptly asked, with as much authority as a child can muster, what I was doing there. In that instant I felt that this very private moment between me and the territory in front of me had been shattered. I quickly turned, descended the stairs, and hurried back inside our apartment.
Sometimes I find that I am crossing hallways I don’t want to cross, or hallways I know I shouldn’t cross, but cross anyway, just for the sheer joy of experiencing that moment, whatever that experience might entail. These hallways typically never look like the one in my childhood apartment, and are even farther from looking like the third floor balcony where I believed anything good was possible.
There were the water games that happened every year in July called Vartavar, an Armenian cultural festival that turns regular household appliances like pitchers, buckets, bowls — you name it — into dousing devices. Most of the tenants in our apartment were Armenian so we eagerly participated in this game. We filled white buckets up with water, ran outside to the second floor railing, and waited for our targets before releasing, laughing and screaming with glee when our aim was dead-on. Some of the boys, though, carried water guns. My sister got into a silly confrontation with one of them, and I still remember my surprise when she stuck her middle finger up in defiance, her back facing me, her short ponytail swinging. So many times I rejoiced in following my sister down a hallway just to see where it would take me. In her shadow, I was protected by love.
With drenched clothes we would head home. Grief had a similar appearance: a persistent, permeating flow, catching me almost always by surprise.
There was a large window in our living room, before the hallway, that overlooked the apartment building next to ours. On days when my sister wasn’t home, I played alone — sometimes bouncing a ball against the wall or dancing — and imagined the face of my first grade crush in that window reflection, peering at me just behind the swaying blinds.
One of the places the hallway led us was my parent’s bedroom. There they took turns swinging me and my sister by our hands and feet, back and forth, before tossing us on the bed where we landed with a gentle thud, filled with excitement that was less than gentle.
Sometimes you’re walking down a hallway and open the door to a room you had no intention of entering, and even though your first instinct is to shut it close, you relish quietly in the unknown.
Once, a scorpion pointed its claws at me in the center of a hallway.
I didn’t kiss anybody until I was eighteen but I always hoped for it, or rather the new hallways that emerged with it, much sooner. The summer before tenth grade I declared, pensively, “This year is going to be filled with romance,” and my mom, one of my main and most attentive listeners at the time, laughed a breathy laugh.
I’ve willingly walked down hallways, aware that joy wasn’t a part of the outcome. These are the moments I ponder about most, but can’t seem to fully come to terms with no matter which angle I turn them. Perhaps change of feeling, or change of any spectrum, seemed like a good enough reason.
Other times the walk allowed me to avoid the likelihood of loss.
Our neighbor would tell us to lie straight down on a big blanket and roll us up until we had morphed into a blanket-person with just our heads exposed. Then she would take the edge of the blanket and pull it out from under us where our bodies rolled uncontrollably, and for what always felt like a longer time than it actually was. We could never tire of this hallway or its repetitive nature. We happily squealed like we were experiencing it for the first time all over again.
Love led me down hallways that were often unfamiliar to me, and yet it was this pearly newness that drew me to it. I saw love as this thing I wanted to peel back and look at, the new layer opening to me like a flower midway through its bloom. Sometimes I felt the guilt of disrupting a natural process by being too eager for it, and other times I couldn’t get myself to care. I would sink into it like the walls of love were my nest and could do me no harm. Of course, I came to learn that this certainly wasn’t true. Love, when given the power — or love, when done taking it from you — could cause the most harm, and still, nothing could stop me from going near it.
There was the bright orange coffee table in the living area, plenty of feet away from the hallway, shielded. We went under this table for the sole purpose of drawing on it, the belly side of furniture, a side no one could see. By the time we moved out, every inch of the bottom side of our table was covered in doodles, including many versions of Tweety Bird, her head frequently too big for her body.
But what about walking barefoot on the hallway, with nothing to separate your skin and the soft carpet — ?
Finally, you’re at the end of the hall just past the open door, reading at your compartmental desk, the corner lamp the only source of light in the room. I’ve just come back from the rooftop. I smell books and a blown-out candle flame. You look up from your place, the words erased by my shadow’s sheen. Then our bodies touch and the door shuts, removing all view of the hallway.