As the elevator doors began to close, I glanced up and realized what I had done.
I stepped into the left elevator.
In the two years that I had lived in the building, there was a code of conduct to which I always adhered. Don't try and get the mail until after two in the afternoon, lest you face the wrath of the mailman. Don't do laundry late at night because the change machine is always out of quarters after nine. Don't make eye contact with the man in 2303, who is most certainly a serial killer. And please, for the love of all that is holy, don't ever take the left elevator.
The left elevator was a sly devil. Always had been. There was no cell phone service in the left elevator. The doors took awhile to open when it stopped to pick up passengers, and sometimes it just skipped floors, even when the buttons were pressed. The car shook as it reached both the highest and lowest floors in the building. And sometimes, without warning, the elevator just stopped. Like it did once when I was in it the first week I moved into the building. With a mild edging towards full-blown claustrophobia, once was enough. I never took the left elevator again.
Until that morning. I was engrossed in a book, and I wasn't paying attention, and I realized my mistake just a split second too late.
The elevator began its shaky descent as I tried to ward off the anxiety threatening to rise.
Everything is fine. Just because you happened to get into this elevator for the first time in two years does not mean that this is the time you'll get stuck. Just twenty more floors. Focus on your book.
I was patting myself on the back for being all reasonable and adult and facing my fears and everything when, somewhere between floors seventeen and eighteen, the elevator shuddered to a halt.
Stopped completely. Stopped making any kind of noise indicative of motion or functionality.
Panic slammed into me like a truck as I fumbled for my phone to call David to insist that he use the superhero skills that he is convinced he possesses to get me out of this tomb.
My phone lit up with the time. 8:47 AM. But where there should have been bars showing my service level there was a big X. No cell service in the left elevator.
I hit the alarm button, but there was no response.
I'm too high up. They probably can't hear me all the way down there.
Ok, just keep pressing it. Someone will hear eventually.
It's morning right? There are definitely people waiting for the elevator. New Yorkers are impatient. They won't wait for long. They'll wonder why it's not moving and come up to investigate.
But what if they don't? What if it's like that guy who was trapped in the elevator in a midtown building for an entire WEEKEND before anyone noticed. He had to eat lifesavers and pee through a crack in the door.
WHY ISN'T ANYONE ANSWERING THE ALARM?
My breath came in gasps, and sweat poured down my face. The walls of the elevator were closing in on me, and the fluorescent lights suddenly seemed too bright. Too hot. Too everything. My heart was slamming against my ribs as my mind raced on a hamster wheel of panic.
David will assume I'm at work. Everyone at work will assume I'm sick. No one will miss me until tonight. I'll be stuck in this elevator all day. By the time they find me it will be too late. I'll be insane like that the guy from the midtown elevator. I don't have any lifesavers.
I've been standing here forever, WHY HASN'T ANYONE NOTICED YET?
I had resorted to pounding on the door, hoping someone on the floor above or below me would hear and come save me, when, without warning, the elevator sprang to life and commenced its slow descent.
When the car reached the first floor I practically pried the doors open and flung myself out into the lobby, wild-eyed, vowing to only take the stairs from now on.
I ran past the doorman and all the people waiting to get on the elevator muttering things like "stuck forever," "left elevator," and "broken." I was like the crazy lady on the corner who talks to herself all day and all night. But what else could you expect from someone who was stuck in the elevator for an eternity?
As I walked out the door of my building I pulled out my phone - cell service restored - to e-mail work to let them know I would be late because of the endless elevator malfunction.
While I was typing out the e-mail the time caught my eye.
I had only been stuck for four minutes.