Between the Front Door and the Welcome Mat

A typical building in Madrid called corrala.

Blame the meditation session from which I just came, or blame the ruminative streak that pervades my dad’s whole family, or blame Erik Erikson’s famous theory of human psychological development that says that people my age are focused on forming intimate relationships. Blame my professors for not having given me more pressing work; blame the New York Yankees for not having given me more baseball to follow. Basically, blame anyone but me for the fact that I’m about to write about my path between the front door of my apartment building and the welcome mat at my own temporary front door.
And then retract that blame. As my dad says, placing blame does no good. As meditation gurus say, become aware of your thoughts, and then let them float away. As I say, I actually think you’ll warm to the subject with me.
I have always been a homebody, but the unappealing front door of my apartment building does not look like home. In truth, it is an unwelcoming rectangle with black framing and gilded grilles that protect the uncomfortably translucent glass. On either side of the door, there is no green. On the ground, there is sometimes dog poop, and crushed bottles play cameo roles. At all times, there are cigarette butts.
My biological family doesn’t have a dog. I don’t drink. I don’t smoke, and when I insert my boring silver key into the keyhole, I swear it doesn’t turn as easily as my real house key. The door closes behind me, and if I don’t remember to catch it, it clangs shut with an air of prison-like foreboding. I reach up with my left hand to flick a light switch on the wall that instantly springs every hallway light in the building into life; at least I won’t be climbing the two floors to my apartment in darkness, but I always feel guilty that the illumination will have disturbed some old lady trying to take a nap by her window.
On silent feet, I ghost my way over the red tile to the staircase that waits some 10 paces from the front door. I climb two wooden steps, note the continued existence of a random white plastic cup stuffed into a cranny between two stairs, and then turn to the right. Two steps more, another turn to the right, and I confront the first legitimate flight of steps. There are nine of them, and they are stained. Their lacquer has long since faded away, but every once in a while, a helpful resident has furthered the refurbishment effort by placing a fresh piece of gum on them. The gum has hardened into something of a sealant, and I troop past each friendly contribution on the way to the first landing.
I turn 180 degrees before mounting the next nine steps. More gum, more stains, and then the first two doors appear to my right and left. A sign on the ceiling reads “primero,” so I must ascend another 17 stairs to “segundo.” I do so, noting only the new addition of a bright-green gum wrapper. Did someone want to prove that greenery exists in Madrid? I knew that; I’ve visited the Parque del Retiro on a regular basis.
Upon reaching the second floor, I move past apartment B on my right before crossing a passageway with tall, black railings on either side. They reach the bottom of my ribcage and dispel any potential fear I could have of falling two tall floors into the waiting cement courtyard below. I do, however, grip my keys tightly in my right hand. I don’t want them somehow plummeting over the edge. I move past apartment D, climb three steps (these of a whiter tile), and finally rest my eyes on legitimate green.
My host mom has no fertile patch of grass to call her own, but she took it upon herself to line the passageway to her humble abode with potted plants. On sunny Saturday afternoons, I see my socks hanging from the spikes that form the top of the guardrail; the silly sight makes me smile, as does the modest image of my underwear flapping on the clotheslines hung between the passageway and the outer wall of our only bathroom.
Outside the front door, I wipe my feet on a welcome mat, wiggle my golden key in the lock that my host mom has instructed me to turn three times if I’m the last one leaving the apartment, and open the nondescript brown door.
Inside, I call “¡Hola!”, and often, my greeting is answered by two familiar voices. Here, after a dreary climb from the front door of the building to apartment 2F, I finally find closeness. Erik Erikson would be pleased with my personal growth, and you’ll be pleased to know that I’ll introduce the people behind those two familiar voices in another blog.

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