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These Walls Have Words

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Today, I went to the bathroom and committed the crime of wanting to go in alone. My toddler wanted to enter with me to observe this procedure, to ask questions about it and to help me with the toilet paper, but shockingly, I’d rather not have any spectators or helpers in this arena. He didn’t like this executive decision and in order to show his disapproval, he slammed his toy vacuum cleaner against the door and the frame, several times. I would also like to add that he carries around a giant set of keys that dangle from his pocket on a daily and evening-ly basis, and he thinks the keys are magic in that they can open any lock in the world. The motor panel from the jacuzzi. The padlocked bleachers at Flag-Football. His sister’s journals. I have witnessed him attempting to open all of these things with his keys, and failing. But what does work are the doorknobs within our house that simply need a knife or a coin to twist open. He happily locks and unlocks the bathroom doors with his keys all the time. I suppose in his anger, he forgot about this simple solution to the predicament, and it seemed more productive to throw a vacuum cleaner.

As the rattling and banging got louder, I felt the need to spend even more time alone, enjoying my solitude before facing his overwhelming wrath. “Stop banging,” I warned, as the door shook in its frame.

“I need to be with you!” he cried.

“I am with you,” I said. “There’s just a door between us, and that’s okay.” I did not recall having my older kids in the bathroom with me at this age. I certainly weened them of this practice way before they were three.

When we were kids, my parents were fed up with us coming into their room on a nightly basis, and decided to start locking their door. My riotous siblings descended on the kitchen and unearthed the entire set of dairy pots, serving spoons and ladles, and used these weapons to bang on their door, hoping it would be opened. I cannot recall if my parents ever opened the door; I mean, they are not still hiding in their locked room to avoid us, but I don’t know what happened with my siblings that night, and who gave up first. But to this day, the door wears scars from that evening, sharp white lines that look like a toddler’s writing, decorating the honeyed wood, the story of a struggle for power, and a beginning of separation. The early chapters on the journey of growing up.

I remember the first scratch on our brand new floor when we moved into our home. It was thick and white, a long curve that rounded the corner into my daughter’s room, and nobody wanted to assume the blame for it. We hadn’t even unpacked our belongings, and already, there was this gash. It hurt, but I knew there would be many more to come. Our home is not a museum, but a place to live, a place whose walls hear our words and remember our stories. A floor that is trampled and jumped on, and catches us. It is not sterile, but filled with a unique tale of its inhabitants. Some framed pictures on the walls of our happier times, and also, some dents.

From the toilet, I hear that my son has paused in his clattering. “What’s all of these white pieces?” he asks, in a tone that conveys that he knows exactly what the white pieces are, but is trying to share specific information with me about the incident. “What are these white pieces from?” he says, again and again. In my heart, I know that strips of my wall must have come off and I try to envision just how large of a piece of wall must be missing. And then I wonder, will my husband notice it? Will he, too, be mad that I wanted to use the bathroom alone, because now we have to repaint?

I jump up and finish everything, bracing myself for the atrocity, and yank open the door. My son is kneeling on the floor and picking up the little specks of powdery dust, flecks of chipped paint that are sprinkled on the wooden floor like dandruff, and trying to put them back where they came from. “I’m putting back all the pieces!” he said, looking at me earnestly, believing that it was possible to fix it, like a puzzle. The hole is no bigger than the size of a penny, and luckily, most of the lightbulbs have been dead in that hallway for some time, so it’s difficult to notice the contrast from the white paint and the newly exposed drywall.

“Go get the broom and sweep it up,” I instruct him, and I would have told him to use his toy vacuum cleaner because he really believes it works, but I wanted to make it a little less enjoyable for him, as vacuuming is his hobby. “And never do that again,“ I added. He can sense his own poor choices, the visual damage from his anger, and he feels guilty.

I assist him in this task, and no other words are exchanged. We move on quickly to the next activity. In the morning, he graciously offers to fix up the hole in the bathroom with his hammer. I just can’t wait.

By Sarah Abenaim

Sarah Abenaim is a freelance writer living in Teaneck. She can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

 

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