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.