by Tina Portelli
Wearing my new wingtip shoes reminded me of how I hate being in a tight spot. My toes were cramped upon each other as the brown leather massaged my feet. The remedy awaited at the bottom of my closet, my dirty old sneakers beckoning me.
That is when I started to remember, and sweat. I hadn’t thought about the episode until now, though it happened eighteen years ago; I was forty.
I had always taken the stairs when using the NYC subway system. At the station I commuted from, Court Street, Brooklyn, there is a tiny elevator available from street level to the platform. That is because the subway is much further below ground level than usual. Still, I choose the steps.
On this one Monday morning in March, with snow on the ground, I decided to leave for work later than usual. I had two heavy shopping bags full of office files that needed to be returned to the office, so I wanted to avoid the morning rush. Hoping for an easier commute, I left my home at 9:30 instead of 8:00AM.
After trudging through the slush, fumbling with my bags, my gloves and my subway token, I decided that today, for the first time, I would take the elevator down. There was no one else waiting, so I entered alone and hit the down button.
The doors slammed shut with a crisp, loud snap. The sound of the heavy metal elevator door closing behind me reminded me of the trains the Jews were put on by Hitler. Those heavy, rolling cattle car doors slamming shut, leaving them in cold darkness. At least I had light, and some room to move.
But only for a few moments, and then I too was thrown into cold darkness, and the elevator stopped abruptly still. I did not panic at first, thinking it was a short power surge. I did not have to share this space with hundreds of strangers, shoulder to shoulder, and I knew my eventual destination was a subway platform, not uncertain death. It would only be moments before the lights would go on and I’d continue my ride. I started to worry when a half hour had passed and nothing happened, no light, no movement.
I imagined a mere blackout. The emergency phone was out of order, my cell phone had no signal. I could do nothing but helplessly wait, hoping for the power to return.
I was happy that I had filled my stomach with a heavy breakfast, but the excess coffee was starting have it’s effect. After an hour of “holding it,” I had to relieve myself in the only space I could, the corner of the tiny elevator car. I felt disgusting, but I had no choice. Thank God it was only number one calling.
Afterwards, I huddled to the far opposite corner and three hours later I started to doze. My dream took me to my childhood hero, Superman, to the episode where Jimmy Olsen is trapped between two concrete walls that are slowly closing in on him. Knowing he will be crushed soon, he is forever grateful when Superman finds him and saves his life, by spreading his two powerful arms to hold the walls apart and freeing his friend. I woke up with a start, feeling the walls closing in on me. Where was my Superman?
Cold, hungry again, sitting in the urine-filled dark, I started to sob.
It would be seven hours before the lights went on and I continued my journey down to my planned destination. I had sat in a cold, dark hell, but my tears of relief were warming my cheeks, reminding me it was over, I was safe. As I immediately exited the elevator, I did not stop to inquire what had happened. I didn’t care. I’d watch it on the news tonight.
I found the exit staircase, bolted up with shaky knees and two heavy bags of files, ran home, slipping and sliding, then taking the stairs, not the elevator to my sixth floor apartment.I unlocked my door, I ran to the bathroom, vomited, called in sick, made tea, and finally, dragged my wife to bed. I desperately needed warmth, comfort and security.
Until the lid on the death box is closed over my face, it’ll be the only tight spot I plan on visiting anytime soon.
Tina says, "I am 54, single and live in Brooklyn, NY. I work in Manhattan as a full time office manager. My writing is a newly found passionate hobby. I get my ideas from personal experiences and the adventures of family and friends. I have never taken a writing class, but three years ago I started practicing meditation. I attribute my newfound passion of writing to that practice, meditation gave me a clear and open mind. No better friend than the soul of my pen." Contact Tina.