Halfway up the stairs

I think my favourite place is the back steps. Almost everywhere I’ve lived has had a set of steps at the back door, and those steps have for some reason always been my special place.

When I was a kid, growing up in Roma, the back steps were one of the coolest places to sit during the long hot summers. They were four or five open wooden steps, old and repainted many times, so that the wood grain was wide and picked out in different colours where feet had worn through the paint. I’d sometimes hold the garden hose and water my feet while I sat there. When I was sad, I’d sit on those steps, because they were not inside the house, but I was still somewhere that felt like home. The cat and her kittens would troop past me, up and down the stairs. When I was a little older and I had menstrual cramps – I had a hard time with those as a teenager – I’d sit on the steps with my knees tucked up, waiting for the pain relief to kick in.

When I was first at university, I lived in a residential college in Toowoomba. I’d catch the bus down to Brisbane reasonably often to stay with my aunt and uncle and cousins. For a while there, their house was my second home. I spent a lot of time on their back steps, just hanging out and talking with my cousin. Those steps were two storeys high, and there was almost always a huge orb weaver spider next to the top landing hanging a web at eye height. I love heights, and I love spiders. I spent a lot of time staring out at those orb weavers, leaning out into midair to see them up close. When Emma, Rebecca, and Catherine’s car careened off the highway, I was at my aunt and uncle’s house. I spent a long time sitting on those back steps, listening to Tracey Chapman, sobbing quietly.

I moved out into a flat eventually, with Rachel. We spent a lot of time on our back steps, smoking cigarettes and drinking Dolcetto. We tried to quit smoking by making a rule that we could only smoke outside the house in winter. Neither of us quit, but we were often very, very cold.

I lived in a flat at Taringa about ten years ago. There were no back steps, and I tried sitting in the back doorway. It wasn’t quite right. That flat never really felt like home to me. It was a two storey townhouse, and I tried sitting on the internal stairs. They weren’t right either. I moved out of that flat into a dodgy old house in Highgate Hill with my girlfriend. I’d sit on the back steps when we fought, to clear my head. I sat on those steps and cried when she broke up with me, and I sat there to avoid her in the weeks afterward, before she moved out. Those three stairs were at the side of the house, next to the kitchen, and feral pumpkin vines curled around them.

When I spent some months housebound, because I was too anxious to go outside, I sat on the back stairs in my tiny old hobbit-hole flat. Those steps were cracked and they wobbled, but I could sit on the steps and be outdoors without panicking. I’d stare at the sky and the trees, or close my eyes and feel the breeze, and not feel quite so lonely.

I don’t often sit on my back stairs here. But when I do, they feel like home.