The stairwell rings from the constant dip-dip of a leak somewhere within. The stained metal walls echo each bump and scrape as we shuffle down into the dark abyss. Rust paints the walls in drawn streak like vomit drying from giants standing overhead.We’ve stepped into a deep steel chamber of stairs leading down, down with no bottom in sight.
Creaking beneath our feet, the stairs stumble long, turning after every 10th step, taking us deeper and deeper. We pass a slit cut into the tainted steel walls every other floor and light shines in to illuminate the grimy rails that hug each turn.
My father is ahead of me, holding my small hand. I must be about seven years old based on how his warm, dry hand envelopes mine. Our footsteps sound dull and flat in this rusted tin-can as we march steadily forward, down towards a funeral for a friend.
No one speaks and I feel as if I should try to comfort my father. His brown coat hangs limply on his worn figure as he marches on, leading me with his head hanging low. I try to speak but can’t find my voice, can’t drum up the vocals needed to make words.
I know why we are here, to mourn the death of a friend. But who the friend was or how we know them eludes me. The metallic clanging of the many feet trodding along the whisper thin, scrap metal stairs ring low in my head. A soft hum of mourning embraces my mind and heart.
As we reach the bottom of the stairwell, a stack of cardboard boxes await us, each filled with soda cans. Shiftily we search for any watching eyes as the people in line before us snatch up a box and duck beneath a low hanging doorway. Into another dim room with dust clouds floating through the thin sliver of light afforded by the slightly shuttered window behind us, each person in the funeral procession dips into the inky blackness and disappears.
I told tight to my father’s hand, uncertain of the dark room ahead but not necessarily afraid. Just grief stricken. I feel the feelings of loss tighten around my heart, squeezing inside my chest. Panic rises as I feel like I can’t breath, like all my happiness is being pressed from my soul and I begin to weep.
My father turns and I see nothing but aching sadness in his eyes. He slowly presses his long, pale finger against this lip and motions for me to be quiet. Then, as silently as a ghost walking through the memories of their living days, my father lets go of my hand and stoops to pick up his box of dusty, old soda cans.
My tears roll in silence as I watch his stooped back slip into the well of darkness ahead. Shuffling feet against the metal and the soft banging of hands using the railing for support circle around me as my tears fall, in sync with the leaking stream from above.
I reach forward, my sobs bubbling from my small body, and grab an old, dilapidated box of cans. They bounce against each other, tiny and thin, making small clacking noses as I step forward.
Looking up, my tears blurring my eyes and a stinging inside my nose burns as I try to hold back my sadness, I realize the inky well ahead of me is grief. The physical manifestation of sadness.
This room, these stairs, this place is what sorrow would be if it took form.
And I can’t get out.