Tuesday, February 20, 2007


There are things that happen when you’re a child that have no explanation. You wish you could have given them words at the time yet know that there are just no words when you’re five to express the sensation of sheer delight on leaving your body.

It was 1979. My family and I lived in a three-bedroom bungalow in a quiet development in Northeast Toronto. The house was new and so the basement was still unfinished. The walls were rough white stucco and if you rubbed up against them or got pushed into them by your older brother you’d end up with some pretty serious scrapes. Wood beams with no drywall divided the rooms, so you could see what was going on in the next room. This was great because I never had to spy on my brother and his friends. And the open space between beams served as secret passageways between dimensions in time and space.

The floor was cold, rough concrete, which my father had painted black. I guess he figured it wouldn’t get dirty quickly. Eventually, we would get carpets to put down, but at this time, slippers were needed to traverse the icy floor.

As many little girls do, I had a fear of the basement. Not rational of course. I’d never actually met any of the creatures that I feared lived down there. I just knew they were there. Big, hairy green monsters with long saber-tooth fangs and eyes that could penetrate steel. My greatest fear was not that they would eat me, but that they’d take me back to their far-off monsterland and make me their slave, doing who knows what.

Unfortunately, our freezer was in the basement and my mother would often send me down there (by myself) to get hot dogs or rump roast or steak or if I was a good girl, ice cream. Yet the journey down below was a terrifying one. It took lots of self-talk to get down there and back in one piece. I’d stand at the top of the stairs, slippers on, flip on the light (light kills monsters didn’t you know) and mentally psych myself up for the trip. “Okay, you’re going to run as fast as you can, open the freezer lid, get the hot dogs, close the lid and run back up the stairs.”

Ready, set, go. I flashed down the steps, grabbed the dogs and flashed back upstairs hoping the monsters didn’t even have time to see how cute I was lest they snatch me for some evil plot. I’d run into the kitchen with the hot dogs, throw them on the counter and run into the living room, out of breath and completely exhausted from what seemed to be a year-long trek.

“You forgot to turn off the light!” Mom yelled from the kitchen.

Darn it! I had to go back to the scene and flip off the light. This I did as quickly as possible, mumbling about my clueless mother under my breath. How could she not realize that the basement monsters were just waiting to capture me? I flashed back, turned off the light and returned to the safety of the living room.

There are so many basement stories to be told but I’ll talk about that later. Now, I want to tell you about the day I floated down the stairs.

Again, I must have been about 5 years old. My brother and I were to go downstairs to play some games. Being in the basement with someone else around was okay. Although my brother was just a kid himself he was older than I was and somehow represented superhuman protection in case of monster attack.

As I followed him down the stairs, I reached the fourth to last stair and something rather strange happened. Time seemed to stop. I found myself floating. I was still me yet I felt as if I was on the outside of my body looking down on myself. It was a feeling of sheer delight, as if for a split second everything was still, calm and safe. The world contained no monsters. Everyday was Saturday and I could do anything I pleased.

Even as I put words to this event I still find it indescribable. I eventually came to and found myself at the bottom of the stairs with no recollection of having taken those last few steps. It’s an experience I haven’t had since yet trust that one day I’ll be able to float again, if only in my dreams.

tall penguin

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