I am thinking, reflecting on what the last year held and what the new year holds for me.

Last year, it was a silent night, post-Alpine Christmas.  Andrew went out to Connecticut with friends, and I stayed home, soaking in a bubble bath.  Wondering if things would ever change; if things would ever get better–with him, with us, with my career, with…everything.

The phone rang.

“Happy New Year,” F said, “I just wanted to wish you a happy new year.”

“Oh,” I said, “Let me call you back when I’m out of the bath.”

And so began a piscine night of epic proportions…fish cooked; mermaid soaked; phone submerged, etc.

I got out of the tub and rang him back.  He was finishing dinner–a meal of fish and greens that he’d cooked for himself in his small apartment.  We had spent much of the year three-leg jogging through our respective recoveries as our marriages crumbled about us–the two of us still clinging for dear life to a friendship that had been lifegiving in many ways–so it was normal that we’d wish each other a happy new year.

We spoke for a moment about pleasant things, ignoring the obvious: the fact that he’d turned down my invitation to the opera at the very, very last minute (i.e., that very morning), and my evening gown, purchased for the occasion, was angrily slung over the bedroom chair.

Then he dropped the phone.  Into the sink–the sink full of water that he’d just washed fishy dishes in.

And so began an adventure of strange back-and-forth phone calls on strange numbers; a call to the Apple Store on 5th Avenue; and me begrudgingly donning a sweater, tights, and boots to venture out into the freezing night in pursuit of an iPhone.

We met at the Apple Store, open 24 hours, the new year being no exception.

It could have been the opera.  It could have been dinner.  It could have been anything under more normal circumstances.  But it was Meredith and Frederic and the Apple Store it was.

We spent the night in the cold, looking at electronics.  He purchased an iPhone.

“Do you like this case?  Or this case?  Or are the fingerprints going to drive me nuts?  How do I use things thing without getting…fingerprints…all over it?” he worried, reverting to the foppish Frederic that everyone knows and loves.

“I don’t know,” I said.  I spent that last year saying that a lot, “I don’t know.”  And in my professional life now, I always tell people, “I don’t know,” is never a wrong answer.  Yet it always felt wrong to me to say, like I should have known better.

We bought the iPhone, activated it, and stepped out into the breathtakingly cold night.  Cyclists sprinted past without warning, coming in a herd out of Central Park like a bizarre troupe of ants or cockroaches fleeing a woebegone pantry.  Descended into the subway tunnel at 59th St, right next to Bloomingdale’s, and after a quick kiss on the cheek, he was off to the opposite-side platform.

Uptown; downtown.  The night had left me in the quiet stillness of a Manhattan subway station shortly before midnight on December 31, 2008.

We stared at each other, briefly, across the divide before the silver subway car came along and swallowed him up.  I lingered on the platform, waiting for the Downtown 6, before finally resigning myself to head deeper into the belly of the beast and catch the Downtown 5.

The train sped into and out of 59th Street as I began to understand what was happening to me.  This was it; this was the end and the beginning.  Everything was about to change.  The cold had been a kind of baptism, almost, reminding that the things that hurt couldn’t be numbed away; that cold was still a feeling; that I still had a life to live and had to get out and set about living it.  Now.

The lights went off on the train.  Flash, flash, flash.  Happy New Year.  Happy midnight.  Happy everything.

In true New York fashion, all of us in the train car stared at each other as the lights flashed and the conductor came  on, wishing us a happy New Year.  No one moved a muscle, no one reveled, just quietly accepted that something had changed; something was different; and when we emerged from the subway tunnels at our respective destinations it would be a new year.

In 2009, my life changed.  I moved; I traveled; I found a job I love; I commenced the long, slow waltz back down the aisle.

And on this last day of 2009, I’ve pulled last year’s gown out of the closet; pressed it; and will put it on tonight.  Salvaged it from the pile of angry bedroom detritus and will wear it–new body, new life.

There’s no such thing as a perfect life, you know.  There’s no such thing as laid plans always coming to fruition, no matter how carefully you budget and schedule and think you can control for the best and worst.

If you had asked me ten years ago where I saw myself at the end of the first decade of the new millennium, I probably couldn’t have told you, other than that I would hope for it to be right here, right in this moment–pain notwithstanding–surrounded by these incredible people, and trippingstumblingfumblingcelebrating my way through whatever comes next.

It is no secret that I dislike the holidays.  That has been made clear throughout the years.  The anticipation, the gift giving, the heavy and overwhelming holiday foods–all too much for me.

My friends with whom I’d planned to celebrate Christmas told me right before the holidays that they were going to celebrate at another friend’s house, in Connecticut.

“I can’t go,” I said, “Too triggery.  Too much.  Too soon.”

“It’s not even Darien,” they protested, “It’s Norwalk.  It’s not the same.”

There was a part of me that wanted to laugh when they said that–only half joking.  And there was a part of me that felt so…lonely…suddenly grasping the fundamental disconnect between my single friends, my married friends, and me.

Christmas after Christmas in Connecticut–some white, most green–with the heavy anticipation of being an outsider on the inside of a family that never seemed to want me there in the first place.  Drinking vermouthy martinis and wondering when the twice-baked ham would be served.  Agonizing over the seating arrangements.

Bless their hearts and mine, we all tried to get along.  But it never worked, was never right, never felt to me like it was the thing they or I wanted it to be.

Stamford, Darien, Norwalk, Westport…doesn’t matter.  There was no way in hell I was going to Connecticut for Christmas.

I skipped the country instead; last minute tickets to parts warmer and sunnier.  There, I met up with friends separated from their own families all over the world.

It was decided that, on Christmas Day, we’d go to a camp for adults and children living with AIDS/HIV; people who were unable to be medication compliant or to fully care for themselves.  The camp was unfunded by the government and existed on donations–a tall order in what is basically a developing country.

So we went, armed with donations, gifts, chocolates.

How does one put into words, really, what it is like to hug and hold the children whose families and communities have rejected them?  Who bypass the gifts that have been brought and instead, stretch their arms up for hugs and to be held?

There are no words.

I think, sometimes, I am having a long-distance relationship with myself. 

I’ve been home all week this week; slept in my own bed for ten days straight–something that hasn’t happened since March.  It feels strange and disorienting.  I’m living alone, too, so it’s weird to get acquainted with the routine of not having anyone else in my space; not having to tell anyone else to leave me the hell alone.  To not have to work out my issues with intimacy on anyone else–to have all the time and space in the world to be a complete frigid bitch, as my ex-husband likes to say.

I jest.  Though he really did/does call me a frigid bitch.  Jury is still out on whether he was jesting.

I really am having a long-distance relationship here, though.  I fly in from parts unknown–the California coast; Washington; Copenhagen; the Caribbean; New England–and I spend a day at a time, maybe two days, taking care of things.  I make appointments for haircuts and dinners and manicures.  Sometimes a massage.  I take myself out; I make dates with friends.  I do those things that people do when they are seeing someone special.  But I am seeing myself. 

And then, I’m off again.

So it was a bit of an anti-climax being home.  No glamour.  A sink full of dishes to be done and no garbage disposal (a dismaying fact I learned after I’d already scraped a pile of oatmeal into the sink); laundry to be folded; and those annoying things to be purchased that everyone who has just moved needs to buy and wonders, “How they hell don’t I have these things?  I could swear I had them in my old place!”

I did, however, manage to go out with an old friend, with whom I have a shared closet full of skeletons and for whom I have a veritable container ship full of jumbled feelings: my high school sweetheart who ultimately decided he was gay.  There was nothing easy about that relationship; the legacy of it seems like it should be simple and should have been resolved–like I could have, and indeed should have, turned it into an anecdote of teen love gone terribly awry.

I suppose there is a kind of honesty in first love that is never recreated, can never be recaptured, and everyone wants to share it or experience with someone who is just…the person of his or her dreams.  This man was not the man I ever expected to first love or to experience such strong feelings about.  He was (and is…) this crazy, awkward redhaired musician; frenetic; passionate; dominant. 

I didn’t, and still don’t, like most things about him.  But he was the first person I ever met that I felt like I knew by heart and one cannot deny that feeling.

Our relationship over the years has been marred by having to survive traumas–together and apart–and the wounds had been inflicted by some very heavy personal things.  Forgiveness has been a choice, but one I am glad to have made.  I could not have survived the last 18 months without having chosen that path; without thinking, feeling that I could maybe be able to love that way again.  Which sounds so dramatic.  But true.

So it was our anniversary of many, many years on December 13.

“Happy Anniversary, baby,” he said.

“I’m getting divorced,” I said.  Which is what I say to everyone, these days.  Because it has been months and months and I haven’t told a soul, so I suppose, this far into the process, it’s time to start fessing up.

We went to see a terrible, terrible play in celebration, at a well-known off-Broadway theatre.  Said theatre is doing a reading of his show early next year.

“The girl is good,” I said, concilliatory, commenting on the female lead in the show.

“This is terrible,” he said, “They can’t sing.  Very…cinematic, though.  Like it was meant for film.”  He waved his hand.  Sterotypically. 

“Yes,” I said, “Too many scene changes.”

I had to take a conference call before the show ended.  It was something I never would have done under other circumstances, but this is my life and the play was awful.  I stood outside in the freezing New York night on the phone with places far away, listened and talked, the sounds of the city street in front of and behind me.

I love this place.  I love what I do.  I love the chaos and buzz and double-booking.

I finished the call as the show ended.

“How did the call go?” he asked.

“Poorly.  How did the show end?”

“Worse.”

I stared at him.  Neither of us had changed in a decade and a half, really, at the heart of things.  And I said so.

“Except for the fact that I spent two years in Africa and I’m African now; and you keep forgetting you’re not Chinese.”

“Oh yeah, there’s that.”

The African-white-redhaired-Jew from California and the blonde-Chinese-WASP-from-Pennsylvania stood in silence, frozen on the corner of 7th Ave for a moment.  It was a moment foretold.  If someone had asked 14 years earlier what we would have been doing at that very moment, we might have said we’d be standing on a street corner on a New York City night, coming out of a play together; that he’d be writing shows and having them read off-Broadway, working with the best theatre talent in the city; that I’d be an attorney.

No one could have predicted, though, the steps leading up to that moment.  But the moment had already been written.  Like the cinematic streetcorner kisses under the maple tree in my parents’ front yard; me wearing his letter jacket over leggings.  Like the cold wind blowing in off the Hudson River and the kiss on the cheek getting out of the taxi.

We parted ways–he was headed home then to the airport to pick up his boyfriend coming in from Los Angeles.  They were doing the long-distance thing.  And I was headed home to continue to get reacquainted with my life, after three-quarters of a year of doing the long-distance thing myself.

To mix things up, I took the train from Washington to NY the other day.  I had had a failed attempt to get to DCA on Monday–the plane went to take off, fog prevented takeoff, after two hours on the tarmac, I got off said aborted flight and went back to Manhattan and into the office.

I finally made it to Washington on Tuesday and, for unconscious, but obviously masochistic reasons, decided it would be a great idea to take the train home Tuesday night.

I love trains, as a concept.  Coming of age in California, I was not exposed to trains much.  In fact, I first learned the language of trains in French–both in school and in order to travel.  As a result, my native rail-tongue is French (with a little, terrible Spanish thrown in).   I find myself translating the words back into English when I have to remember what the proper term is for any element of rail travel.

Yes, it’s a little strange; very romantic.  Sort of writerly and innocent: young girl speaks French to/on trains.  The novel has star-crossed lovers, a purloined letter, and maybe some vampires or something.  Has best-seller written all over.  Anything sells, these days.

Amtrak is not romantic, folks.  Amtrak is about as romantic as marriage is: lifted-up toilet seats with pee that is not your own dripping, fragrant, down the sides of the bowl; remnants of forgettable meals littered on tables throughout the cars; too-loud conversations about nothing and everything being had all around in order to to fill the silence.

*Ping Ping* Next Station Stop: Baltimore.

At one point, a group of people coming from their company’s holiday party got on the train and began drunkly taking photos of one another; complaining about the way the photos looked; and hanging on each other in the aisle.  They finally sat down for a consciousness raising–it was clear they’d had so much to drink that they were willing to resolve their differences by telling each other how much they loved each other; what they liked about each other.

“And Sandy is so pretty and she’s just a great sales associate.  I know she’s had some difficulties this past year and I didn’t think we’d be able to work well together but…”

I found myself involuntarily “shushing” them.  It was reflexive; like coughing or gagging.  I couldn’t help myself.  Shut up.  Just…shut up.

*Ping ping* Next Station Stop: Wilmington, Delaware.

One of them got off.

I began to wonder how I could have ever found trains so romantic; so sexy; so full of mystery.  Trains are loud and stinky; American trains don’t travel fast enough.  A train is just another vehicle; another mode of transportation; another way to get from Point A to Point B.

*Ping Ping* Next Station Stop: Philadelphia 30th Street Station.

It was somewhere outside of Philadelphia, looking at the boathouses strung up with white lights–just like in the photos that used to adorn the hallways in my parents’ house in California; just like I used to romanticize as being a part of the place I was from–that I realized…the romance was gone.

I was…commuting.

This darling had made it to Mantua, only to find…Purgatory.

*Ping Ping* Next station stop: Trenton, New Jersey.

“I really want, like half a muffin,” the aforementioned Sandy, the Great Sales Associate suddenly shouted, “Where are the muffins?”

“We left them in the cab.”

“Huh?”

“Yeah, we like, gave them to the cab driver as a tip, or something.”

People don’t talk on planes, you know.  They’re scared of talking too loud.  There’s this library-type rule that goes into effect; only babies get a free pass, and even then, there are limits.  People vomit on planes, but they do not chit-chat loudly with their coworkers.

*Ping Ping* Next Station Stop: MetroPark, New Jersey.

(I really hate the MetroPark stop.  Who gets off there?)

*Ping Ping* Next Station Stop: Newark Penn Station.

We were close; close to Manhattan, now.  By that point in the journey, I had become disoriented.  The travel between Washington and New York had taken too long; was lagging and dragging.  People were talking; work papers were moving everywhere; phone calls were coming in.

I missed air travel; I missed the quiet; I longed for the white-noise roar of the jet engines.  I missed my phone not ringing for that luxurious hour, hour and a half–the excuse of “sorry, must power down!”

*Ping Ping* We are approaching New York’s Pennsylvania Station.  This is the last stop on this train.  Please take all of your personal belongings with you…

Home: sweet delicious home.  So close I could almost taste the metallic air of the city outside of the fog of brake dust and tunnel soot in the bowels of Penn Station.

I got off the train, and stumbled bleary-eyed into the New York City night, sucking the fresh, sourly cold night air into my deflated lungs.  The romance was gone; reality about trains had set in.  Trains were no longer my French lover, spiriting me across the provincial countryside.  Trains were no longer my sleek American innovator, moving me from the political epicenter to the arguable center of the universe (though perhaps I would feel different about that if I stayed the hell off the Northeast Regional and stuck to the Acela, but I doubt it).

Trains just sucked.

I looked at my watch.  I had left the office at 5:45; we were heading into 11pm.  The four hours of travel was standard for me.  The fifth hour of travel, however, had run unconscionably long.

One of the nice things about being in recovery is that no one expects too much from you around the holidays. 

Then again, one of the horrible things about the holidays is being in recovery.  If one is an alcoholic, one need never touch a drop again; one can leave the table when the wine is poured.  If one is an addict, one can leave the life and never look back. 

But when the problem is food, one must eat to live; face the issue every few hours, every day, day in, day out, every day for the rest of one’s life.

Seems unfair, doesn’t it?

Over the last year, I’ve become much more candid about my struggle with an eating disorder.  Not out of any sense of altruism, or wanting to “help” anyone else, rather, out of a sense of needing to process what the hell just happened to me.  Needing to process what it’s like to stop doing math during every meal; every workout; no longer reading every label and suddenly having all this…time.

I think a common misconception is that this all happened because I didn’t want to be “fat.”  And that drives me insane, this word, “Fat.”  Maybe people with my problem use that word; they use the vocabulary of size because there are no other words in the English language to describe the funhouse-y, distorted feeling of not being able to control how one sees her own shape.  If I told you I looked, felt “distorted,” you’d think I was crazy.  But that’s more how I feel.  If you asked me to point out someone of comparable size or shape, I wouldn’t be able to do it.  What I see in the mirror is actually not what you see

It’s the weirdest thing in the world to me.  I think: I’m a smart girl.  I should be able to see myself clearly.  As if it has something to do with smartness.  Smartness is probably the root of the problem!

I remember very clearly the day I decided to get help. 

I was still taking time off of work, then, and it was a sticky, muggy afternoon in early June.  I had just left the Queen Sofia house where I’d had a Spanish lesson and I was walking down Park Avenue.

“Can you see me?” I called F and asked, “I’m in the white tunic.  Orange flats, orange handbag.”

“No,” he said.  I was calling him in his office in the MetLife building.  I knew he kept binoculars in his office, specs confiscated from a client.  We were playing a game.  We always played games like that–peekaboo on Park Avenue; ordering a selection of overshoes to protect his Gucci loafers; answering the phone with outlandish claims of being pizza parlor and rollerderby employees; juice fasting together.  Our years-long friendship was based on the abjectly absurd.

“Look harder.  I’m at 58th and Park; southbound side.  Under a green awning.”

“I see you,” he said, “I’ll meet you downstairs.”

We met in Grand Central Terminal, Vanderbilt Hall, the coolness of the stone walls insulating against the heat and humidity of the day outside.

“I took your leftovers after the event last night,” F said, real consternation apparent in his voice.  His critique of my eating habits was the first thing out of his mouth and I knew I was in for it.  “I ate them alone…” his voice trailed off, but I knew where he had eaten them. 

“God, you’re short,” he said, suddenly, “…Tiny.”  More softly. 

I never wore flats around him; I rarely wear flats now.  I was 90lbs then, maybe; am only 5’3″.  He was nearly a foot taller than me, standing there, hovering protectively in the hallway as we discussed our respective problems.

We stared at each other for a long moment.  The silence was telling; spoke more than was probably intended.

“You need help,” he said, “I’m going to get help.  You need to get help.” 

I nodded in recognition.  “I tried the okra last night,” I said lamely.

He squinted at me.  “I’m serious.”

We discussed the mechanics of what it would take; the whowhathowwhenwhere; we shook on it, then and there, in the Terminal.

By the end of the month, he’d gone off to the wilds of what waited for him in the suburbs, and I’d gone off to outpatient, and there would never be a return to the status quo ante bellum, ever again.

There were other moments; other people who impacted the decision, certainly.  But the day in Grand Central stands out in my mind as the tipping point; as the moment I stopped thinking I might have a problem; stopped thinking about “the problem” generally, and realized I did have a problem; that I was worthy of receiving help.

The process of recovery changed me.  It impacted every corner of my life.  And people always see the big victories–the healthy body; the hair that is no longer dull and falling out; etc.–but what they do not notice, always, are the small victories.

Like savoring a small, but significant slice of cake on Thanksgiving, instead of just scraping off the frosting.  I haven’t eaten cake–really eaten a whole piece of cake, no matter how small–in years.

I’ve argued before Judges Posner, Easterbrook and Wood of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals; I have submitted significant briefs in key cases before the National Labor Relations Board; I have run half-marathons and the New York City Marathon; I have climbed mountains; I have done all kinds of gratifying and significant personal and professional things…

But one of the things I am proudest of that I have done in recent years is eat a piece of cake; savor a piece of cake; enjoy it; feel good and fine and like I was the same as when I started when it was done.

It is nice, sometimes, to be in recovery at the holidays and have no one expect too much from you…so there is space for victories like this.

I think that Reagan National Airport is one of my least favorite airports in the country; a close second behind LAX, whose layout is so counterintuitive and services so limited for a place that serves such a high volume of travelers bound for far-flung destinations that it is…insulting.

My advice to Los Angeles World Airports Authority?  Raze the thing and start over.

Anyway, I was headed from LaGuardia to DCA this morning.  I have experimented with driving, flying, and taking the train from NY to DC, and have come to the conclusion that they are all roughly as time consuming.  Driving takes about 4 hours and is about $200-$250 round trip (gas + tolls) plus wear-and-tear on the car, and the inevitable probability of me getting (another) speeding ticket.  Flying takes about 3-4 hours (travel time to the airport; security; waiting, boarding; flying; travel time from the airport) and costs between $200-350.  Taking the train is typically the longest, believe it or not, because there is the travel time to Penn Station, the train ride (4-ish hours) and then the poorly managed, astronomically long line at Union Station, which can take anywhere from 10 mins to an hour.  (The train usually costs about $200-300 round trip, but can cost WAY more).

This has led me to the conclusion that it really depends on a) what time I need to be somewhere; b) what my scheduling flexibility is for coming and going (i.e., do I need to be there early; late; and most importantly, have the option of leaving late, since the last flight and train out of DC leave around 10); and c) what I feel like doing.  It all takes roughly the same amount of time; takes roughly the same amount of time; brings with it the same little black raincloud of discomfort and distinctive, unpleasant sensations and smells.  (Diesel; burning brakes; jet fuel; airline food; stale sweat; the cloying smell of Tide that spilled under the driver’s seat of my car…that, of course, is another story for another time…)

I digress.  The real point was that I just don’t like DCA.  It’s another poorly organized airport.  I find the whole DC metro area to be a prime example of too many people for too few resources.  Too many people on metro; too many people on trains; too many people on the highway.  Washington is the only place I’ve ever been where there is 20 miles of gridlock…at FIVE O’CLOCK IN THE MORNING.

It makes me feel…claustrophobic.  DCA is always packed and the people-flow is poor, which annoys me to no end.  There is no reason, in a terminal with fewer than 10 gates and 2 restrooms, that there should always, always be a line for the ladies’ room.

Personally, I think JFK is the best airport in the world, which is stupid and irrational, but I have gone through the looking glass with my New York state of mind.  Calling JFK the Taj Mahal of airports is like calling Albany the next Portland, but bear with me.  I’ve slept a grand total of 10 hours this week and under these conditions, am prone to romanticising life on the road.

I’ve flown in-and-out of each of the terminals at JFK; I know the parking structures, the waiting lots; I know how the rennovation of the parking structures went; I can pay for parking with my E-Z Pass if I drive (which I never do, but are you kidding me? Old news, but seriously, how great is that?!)  I know which airline corresponds to which numbered terminal.  I love the swell of Saarinen’s legacy as one approaches Terminal 5, restored.  I love the mystery and wonder of a place that is constantly transforming; constantly swirling, buzzing; that is the gateway to the city I love.

If JFK goes down; if there’s a delay; it seems like the world is delayed.  Sometimes, I think JFK is the center of the universe.

I hate being away from the center of the universe.  The pull of gravity is so strong, sometimes I fear my body will be ripped into a thousand pieces.

In light of all of these things–my travel, my recent preference for driving between NY and DC until this morning’s flight, and my sentimental attachment to ports of entry controlled by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey–a friend asked me how I was settling in to my new apartment.

“The place is beautiful,” I said, “I am anything but settled.”

“How so?”

“I’ve barely been home since I moved.”

“This concerns me.”

“I know.”

“Well, how do you like the Upper East Side, then?”

“I like it.  It’s not like Tribeca, where you have to walk a mile to anything, everything.  Everything’s right there uptown.  There are like, four grocery stores within 2 blocks of me.”

“I mean the neighborhood itself.”  There was an edge to his voice, and I got the subtext, finally.

“Oh, you mean the Lenox Hill/Yorkville meatmarket.  They’re more like vampires than vultures, really.  It’s as if, after dark, all these lascivious bastards start trolling Second and Third Avenue for fresh-out-of-college girls.  Lots of smiling men with shiny, dark hair on the street after the sun goes down.  It’s like flipping through a Brooks Brothers catalog.”

I paused, then continued, self-consciously.  “It’s a good thing its dark and they can’t see these lines around my eyes.  I think I can still pass for 21, 22, right?  As long as you’re not looking too closely?”

“Don’t flatter yourself too much,” he laughed, “But sure.”

“But you’re doing okay?”  The note of concern annoyed me.  “You’re eating?”

“Yes!  Why does everyone want to know if I’m eating?!  I’m ordering Thai food tonight.  I’m the only person in the world who runs a marathon and gains 15lbs.”

“You just moved into a new place, alone.  You are in the middle of a divorce.  It’s the holidays and we’re all in misery.  What’s more, you travel constantly.  And you’re a distance runner.  Any one of those things would give a normal observer pause with your history.  But you–you don’t let anyone near you close enough to see what’s actually going on.”

“I’m eating!  I’m eating, and I’m surviving, and I’m okay.”

“Okay.”  I could hear his smile through the phone; we were both smiling tightly in our voices.

The truth of the matter is…JFK has the most edible food, too.  Word to you other American airports and your Gladstones lite and your faux Chinese and your endless counters of slop and goo.

This travel warrior is tired, folks.  So tired of bouncing, pinging, lighting up on command, that the simplest things have seemed difficult this week.

Perhaps driving back and forth to Washington twice in a 23 hr period on Tuesday into Wednesday was the worst idea, ever.  But that…that is another story for another time.

I got stuck in an elevator the other night. 

I’d left my DC office to go get a soda on the floor below the one my office is on; the door locked behind me, trapping me in the stairwell.  It was late; I was by myself.  I hadn’t taken anything with me (you see, I wasn’t anticipating being caught!)  So I was in running tights after coming back to the office from the gym, planning on a bit of a late night to get a document completed.  It was me, in my tights and a sweater, alone with my fistfull of dollar bills and nothing else.  No mobile phone; no wallet; no nothing.

After about half an hour of aimlessly wandering the stairwells–climbing, descending–I managed to jimmy open the door at the mezzanine level.

(This still isn’t an elevator story, you say.  I know.  I’m getting there.)

This left me with the ability to stare down on to the lobby; still stranded; without any way to a) get back into the stairwell; without any way to get back up to my office; without any way to contact any one.  So I did the logical thing: I pressed the elevator button.  At least in there, I reasoned, there would be an emergency phone.

Ah ha!  Indeed, there was.  The door opened, I stepped inside, and there the trouble began anew.

The door shut behind me and I was trapped.  Again.  Like a rat in a cage.

So I picked up the emergency phone, and asked for help.  “I’m trapped inside a building,” I tried to explain.

“Do you have your Kastle Kard?” the voice on the other end of the line asked.

“No, but I’m inside the building,” I said, “I’m inside the elevator.”

This went on for hours.

“I don’t think you’re understanding me, “I said, as we approached hour two, “I’m inside the elevator.  I’m already inside the building.”

“Do you know the number of a coworker we can call to verify your identity?”

“NO!  FOR THE LAST TIME!  I don’t have my mobile on me; I don’t know anyone’s phone numbers by heart.  I don’t know my Kastle Kard number by heart.  I don’t have my Kard on me.  I have NOTHING.  I don’t want you to let me out of the elevator to let me out of the building because I don’t have my keys; I don’t have my coat or my wallet or my bag.  I JUST WANT TO GO BACK UP TO MY OFFICE!”

“I’m sorry ma’am.  I can’t let you do that.”

“I’m a MISS NOT A MA’AM!”

That was when she hung up on me again.

That was when I lost it–the miss versus ma’am moment.  The newly miss-no-longer-ma’am.

They don’t tell you when you get married that your marriage might not last.  And they don’t give you a list of instructions on what to do if and when it doesn’t.  There’s no primer; no contact sheet for people to call when things don’t go the way you planned; when your parents have been together for 40 years and you feel they have these high expectations of what you’re supposed to do and be and when they were supposed to be grandparents and how you were supposed to turn out and show up at home for the holidays, all bright-eyed-and-bushy-tailed, even when you know it is a lie that they, themselves, ever showed up bright-eyed-and-bushy-tailed at their own parents’ homes. 

No one tells you what to do when you have to take the rings off and put them in the jewelry box, and cringe every time someone asks about your husband, and wince when you don’t know what last name to give people, and dread the prospect of giving away your wedding gown.  They don’t tell you where to donate that monstrosity, either.

And absolutely nobody, no person, not a soul…no one…tells you how to handle yourself at 2:30am in an elevator with some kid calling you ma’am when you are tired, jet-lagged, estranged, and down to your last nerve.

I called the operator back.

“I want to get out of this elevator…right now…or else I am going to call the fire department,” I said as calmly as I could muster.

“The fire department does not come out for non-emergencies,” the kid said, flippantly.

“I WILL MAKE THIS AN EMERGENCY!”

She hung up again.

I called back. 

“I want to speak to a supervisor,” I demanded, as if I were taking back a sweater, or asking for a rebate.

I waited for the supervisor.

After another 30 minutes of haggling, I managed to convince the supervisor that I was, indeed, inside the motherloving elevator and that I did, indeed, work in the building.  She finally activated the elevator again, and first deposited me at the lobby, which further infuriated me, and ultimately, took me to my office floor.  When I arrived at my floor, she had me read her the numbers off my Kastle Kard.

“That’s not your Kard,” she said.

“Um, okay.  I’ll get that fixed.  I’m only in this office..infrequently.” 

The next day, some of my friends said things to me like, “You should have called me!”  That angered me after the fact, but I smiled politely.

If I’d had a phone, I would have called the effing fire department; the police.  I was trapped in a goddamned elevator for three hours.  Did you think I wanted to chit-chat?  I wanted out.  It was THREE O’CLOCK IN THE MORNING.

Later that day, on absolutely no sleep, I was talking to F as I drove home from a meeting. 

“That was the first jam I’ve ever been in where I was actually afraid that I wasn’t going to get out; that I was afraid my colleagues and the people in the building were going to come in at 7am and find me in ratty old running tights, asleep in the elevator.  I just felt completely alone; exposed; vulnerable.  Panicked.”

“I was in Albany today,” he offered, “I got my ass handed to me by the Labor Commissioner…”

“No, seriously.  It’s infuriating to me that people a) think I’m so stupid that I didn’t call out if I did have a phone, and b) they think I would have called them if I did have a phone.”

“I think you’re over thinking this.”

Both our words echoed on the line, knowing intimately what the other meant.  Work; travel; the mundane; the heavy; the history of how we’d gotten to that moment.  The stuff and things of our personal-professional lives bouncing back and forth from satellite to cell tower to chips and bits.   All of it, shaken apart into nothing; into letters and numbers and pictures and pinks and purples and oranges as the sun was setting over the eastern seabord.  The week was ending.

The heavy things in pieces, we sat in silence for one less-lonely moment, separate and together on the New Jersey Turnpike and the Hudson River line.