by Dana Getz
The little house on Chestnut Street is unremarkable to most. A brick and mortar structure, she has withstood nearly 90 years of tenants who outgrew her and moved on. Only the keenest eye might look beyond the slate roof and plaster walls to notice what I would notice — a subtle smudge on the wood floor. Lying just below the staircase landing it remains: a toe print from my time living there.
A toe print, like a fingerprint, is created by a series of friction ridges swirling and dancing upon the skin, creating a unique self-portrait, often accidentally imprinting itself onto the surface of our experiences.
If future tenants stumbled upon my toe print, I wonder if they would piece together that it was a thoughtless accident — leaving of the car keys on the steps — that forced me to hastily tip toe back across the floors we had just refinished only hours after closing on our first home. I stole lightly across the sticky floor, a salty curse word matching each step, willing myself not to mark the fresh polyurethane. But then, just a momentary pause as I picked up the keys caused my big toe to sink and slide, leaving that inch of hesitation cemented to the dining room floor.
Many years ago, as we searched for our first home, my husband and I were an untested young couple, rich in dreams but poor in experience. Yet, when we first walked into the house on Chestnut Street, we knew enough to realize that it was not a practical choice. The galley kitchen and lone bathroom were much too tiny. The yard bordered a parking lot. Still, I felt the house woo me. It spoke to me in the tiniest of prickles. It said: There is love here. There has been happiness here. Make it your own.
I recently met with former neighbors who still live across the street from that house. It’s up for sale again, and they began to share in sad, sideways whispers the rumors they’d heard of divorce, drugs, cheating, and abuse.
I imagine that the current owners will look back on the Chestnut house with grief and regret. Is it strange that this makes me sad? Perhaps it’s odd that I had childishly expected plaster and beams, nails and slate, to have absorbed our joy and love into a Tudor-style time capsule.
Before we purchased that home, we toured another larger, more practical house that felt inexplicably cold and uncomfortable. When I mentioned this to my realtor, she noted that the sellers were in the midst of a nasty divorce. Their hate hung heavy in the air, their fighting and tears languishing in the molecules of the stylish living room.
Is that why the Chestnut house is not selling? Has their sorrow eclipsed the love?
And yet, we had sadness there also. We endured losses and deaths, but our love and joy dominated. Love took those wrenching experiences and twisted them into something lovely. We bonded through pain, growing stronger together. Our life there was often like the balloon artist who says, “It’s not just a balloon — it’s a sword, a poodle, a crown! What do you want it to be?”
We take up space for a brief period of time, our lives a simple movement through particles, a repositioning of atoms. When we are gone, do those repositioned atoms remain? Does our life debris float there for eternity, or does the next person move through our space until it is simply a mass of molecules shuffled like a deck of cards, ready for a fresh game?
I sometimes wonder if my toe print actually remains there or if the current owners decided to refinish the floors. And, if they did, what will they leave behind?