Wednesday, February 8, 2017

When You Feel Stuck

A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to be stuck in an elevator. I say fortunate because that experience gave me the idea for one of my favorite novellas, Stuck With You. (It's free this weekend.)
Being trapped in an elevator was, at the time, terrifying. Partly because I was raised by a claustrophobic mother. In fact, I didn't ride in an elevator until I was old enough to navigate department stores on my own. So, one of my first thoughts when the elevator jammed was, My mom was right!

This wasn't my worst elevator experience, though. That happened when I was fourteen and I went to visit my dying mother in the Veteran's Hospital in Seattle. A trip to the restroom separated me from my dad so I had to ride the elevator by myself. I got off on the wrong floor. The air was blue with smoke. The people on the chairs and sofas looked frozen and immobile. For a moment, I thought maybe I had come to the place where they kept the dead. A nurse hurried over and informed me I was on the floor for the alcoholics. She directed me where I could find my mom. All these years later, I can still see the blue air of that smoke-filled room.

And just like there was a blessing (a book idea) to my unfortunate time in the stuck elevator, I think there was a blessing that came from my trip to the alcoholic ward of the VA hospital. Drinking has had zero appeal to me. Ever. Once in high school a friend asked me to come and pick up a drunk friend and drive her home. We had to stop several times for her to vomit, and all I could think was "ick." Years later at social events for my husband's work when people would drink, laugh too hard, talk too loud, and stand too close, I again would think (but never say) "ick." My husband had a boss that I liked when he was sober, but when he'd been drinking he would put his face just inches from mine and talk to me with his reeking breath.

My point is this: sometimes being stuck can be a good thing. Just as long as you learn something and move on.

Here's an old post about my experience in the elevator. Following that is the first chapter of my novella, Stuck With You--Free this weekend.

 Do you ever feel stuck?

I listened to a great Ted talk the other day by a doctor who was paralyzed and went on to do great things despite his condition. The takeaway message for me was: we're all paralyzed at one time or another.

Which made me think. Not only are we sometimes paralyzed--there are probably whole areas of our lives where we're paralyzed. There are places we won't go. Things we won't do. Foods we won't eat. People we won't speak to. Ideas we won't consider. And sometimes this is wise and sometimes it's stupid.

The other day I was stuck in an elevator. I accidentally leaned against the alarm button and the elevator froze. I tried to pull the button that said, pull in case of an emergency. I tried to call the number on the elevator wall, but I didn't have cell service. I tried not to go insane while the alarm wailed.

I kicked the door. I beat against the wall with a teapot. (Who knew teapots could be useful for something other than making tea?) I pulled on the emergency knob until my hand turned blue (really, I bruised my hands.) Finally someone found me. And then they told me it would take 40 minutes for the elevator person to come to my rescue.

After 45 minutes, I decided I couldn't wait any longer, and I broke a pair of wire-rimmed glasses and used the arm to wedge under the emergency button. Using all my weight, I popped off the button and the elevator doors slid open.

While in the elevator, listening to the screaming alarm, I was fine. It wasn't until I was in my car and headed for home that I began shaking. It took a long time for me to feel "normal." (Whatever that is.)

The next day I received an email from a friend recounting her grandson's experience in the monster storm that devastated the Philippines. It made me stop and think about how I handled my adventure in the elevator and how this young missionary survived a deadly storm.

It made me think about fear and faith and patience. It gave me a great idea for a story.

What do you do when you feel stuck? Are there areas of your life where you refuse to budge? Old ideas that you refuse to let go? Relationships stuck in a rut? Habits and routines that could use some shaking up?


Click. Click. Click.
Stainless steel and glistening marble. No family pictures or personal mementos. Emotionally dead. Like a zombie.
Andie pushed open the walk-in closet and tweaked her assessment. A zombie wearing Armani. She snapped a few photos of the shoes lined up like soldiers on the shelves and the shirts hung with every collar facing north. Tempted to grab a fistful of the pinpoint Oxford shirts and wrinkle the heavily starched fabric, she controlled herself and instead searched the floor and dark corners, hoping to find a stray jock-strap or a Twinkie wrapper—anything incriminating. But Grayson Dodd was too good. Or, more likely, he hired someone to make him look good. He probably had someone come in to keep the contents of his medicine cabinet in alphabetical order and his sock drawer color coordinated.
She snapped a few more shots of the bedroom before heading to the balcony. In a few more minutes, she would be rewarded with a view of Catalina lying in a blue, sparkling sea. The Newport shots required patience and perfect timing. The morning marine layer often wouldn’t burn off until noon, and by four p.m. it generally returned. This meant that she usually ate her lunch in a fast food parking lot, napkins carefully protecting her work uniform—a black linen skirt and creamy lace top.
Andie sat at the bistro table with the chairs strategically placed so that the balcony rail wouldn’t interfere with the view, and waited for the sun to work its magic. Far below her, the cars moved along the crowded parkway. Clients and sellers wanted to see Catalina Island—not Southern Orange County’s busy streets.
Andie scrolled through the photos on her camera, assuring herself that as soon as she had the ocean shots, she would have the bones of a decent flier. She let the sun warm her shoulders and closed her eyes, imagining Grayson Dodd’s reaction to her work… She knew it wasn’t fair to dislike him just because he was marrying her cousin, Kayla. Sure, he had an apartment with all the warmth and appeal of a Modani showroom, but maybe he was a decent guy. She had only met him a few times. It was nice of him to give her mom the listing.
Andie stood and rolled her shoulders. She knew that Kayla and Grayson were a set match. Everyone said so. And even if they had their flaws—Grayson’s million dollar view was perfect. When the sun finally overcame the fog, she snapped the photos, said goodbye to Catalina, tucked her camera into her case, locked all the doors, and headed for the elevator.
Verbiage ran through her head while she waited. Location, location, location! Ocean views from this cozy (aka small) Newport Coast charmer (aka last century condo.) Typically, she loved her job…well, she didn’t hate it…at least she was a photographer…but now as the elevator slid between floors, a funk she didn’t know how, or didn’t want to acknowledge, settled over her as heavy and dense as the Newport fog. She couldn’t look at it too closely because she knew if she did, she’d find the cause of her bad mood…Jeremy Zimmerman. And she didn’t want to find Jeremy Zimmerman anywhere, especially not inside her head. It was bad enough knowing that she would have to face him at Kayla’s wedding.
The doors slid open. Andie looked up from her camera’s display screen and saw Grayson Dodd leaning against the back wall, wearing a pair of khaki shorts, a Camp Pendleton Mud Run T-shirt and a pair of leather flip flops. Where were the pinpoint Oxford shirt and wingtip shoes? She nodded at him and pushed the elevator button.
“Hey,” he said as the doors closed.
“Hi.” She smiled and hoped it looked sincere and not as forced as it felt. “I just shot your condo.”
“That seems harsh.” He grinned. “Did it bleed?”
“Huh, no. Do you want to see? I got some pretty good shots of Catalina.”
“So—you’re not only a condo killer, but an island assassin.”
“I have a camera. I know how to use it.” She tried to read him.  His light gray eyes stared back at her from behind wire-rimmed glasses. She didn’t know this Grayson. He was different—and the difference extended beyond his wardrobe. “I can shoot you, too. Right here. Right now.”
He shuddered. “Scary.”
She shrugged and grinned. “I can plaster you all over Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I even do LinkedIn.” Her voice caught as the elevator hiccupped and bounced. Andie stopped thinking of shooting Grayson when the elevator shuddered a mechanical sigh and stopped. The lights flickered and died.
“What the—?” Andie reached for the control panel and ran her fingers over the buttons. She blinked at them. Maybe her eyes would adjust to the perfect dark. But maybe not. She fumbled in her purse and pulled out her phone.
No service.
It provided a faint, milky light, and she used it to inspect the control panel. A red plaque had the words In case of an emergency, please call:1-800-555-help.
“Good to know,” Grayson said, as he pulled out his phone. “Assuming you had service.”
Andie spotted a large red button and pushed it. Almost immediately, an alarm wailed. It echoed through the tiny space and filled Andie’s head.
“Someone will come now right?” She had to yell to be heard over the alarm. “The alarm will tell someone that we’re stuck.”
But no one came. Time grounded to a halt.
 “Why don’t I lift you up?” Grayson suggested. “Maybe you can crawl through the roof.”
“And then what? I’m not Laura Croft. This isn’t an action movie.”
He laughed again, a soft sound, barely audible above the alarm. “I’m not looking for action.”
“Oh!” she harrumphed. She actually harrumphed. Little old ladies like Grammy Dean harrumphed and now she was harrumphing too. Next thing—knitting, canasta, and Bonanza reruns. “You are not picking me up.” She winced at the double entendre.
“Well, I would suggest you pick me up, but I don’t think you could…at least, not in the literal sense.”
Was he flirting with her? Eew. She tried to ignore him. Leaning against the far wall, as far as possible from Grayson, she was hypersensitive to him. He didn’t say anything, but she still felt him. She really couldn’t hear anything above the noise of the alarm, but she could swear she felt him breathe. His nearness crackled like electricity. Her skin prickled. He smelled like soap. A really nice, lavender sort of soap. Which made her wonder if males should use lavender soap. Maybe it was Kayla’s soap.
Which made her think of bathing, which led to bathrooms, and the absence of such an important necessity…Panic fluttered in Andie’s belly. She pounded on the door until her hands throbbed. She sat on the floor and used both of her feet to kick the door. Her screaming barely rose above the wailing alarm. Grayson remained in his corner, silent…other than the breathing.
 “Hello?” A voice from the outside. “Is someone in there?”
Finally! Andie gave a sigh of relief that all of her banging and yelling had actually been useful. “Yes!” she screamed.
“Are you hurt?” the voice asked.
“Only my feelings,” Grayson said.
“I’ll go and get security,” the voice said.
“It won’t be long now,” Grayson told her.
Andie harrumphed again. She was getting good at it.
Time stretched and slowed until it stood still.
“Security here,” said a new, deeper voice. “Are you still there?”
“Where did you think we would go?” Andie rolled her eyes for the benefit of no one. Eye rolling and harrumphing had become her fallback positions.
“Pull the emergency button!” the voice instructed.
“I did that!” Andie yelled.
A light flickered as Grayson used his phone to located the red knob. He tried pulling it. “It’s stuck,” he confirmed.
“Call the fire department!” Andie yelled.
“What are they going to do?” Grayson asked. “Use the jaws of life?”
“Why is that stupid?”
“Did I say it was stupid?”
“No, but you said it like you thought it was stupid.”
 Andie wasn’t sure, because she couldn’t hear or see him, but she thought Grayson rolled his eyes.
“Hello?” Andie pressed her nose against the heavy metal doors and tried calling through them.
“Hello,” Grayson said.
She rested her forehead on the doors. They felt smooth, cold and solid. “I’m not talking to you!”
“Too bad. We’ve been in here for almost a half hour, and I’m getting bored.”
They sat in silence for hours, or maybe a few minutes. Andie wasn’t sure which.
“Okay!” The security voice returned. “Just called the elevator guy. He can be here in forty minutes.”
“Forty minutes!” Andie and Grayson both said at the same time.
“I can’t stay here for another 40 minutes,” Andie complained.
“What’s the worst thing that can happen?”
She knew exactly what the worst thing that could happen was. She would have to designate a pee corner, and she would have to squat and pee in front of Grayson Dodd.
She fumbled in her purse for…anything. She pulled out her keys and tried wedging the skinniest one under the red knob. It didn’t budge. Using her phone for a light, she studied the control panel. It had four tiny holes probably for a screw driver. Knowing she didn’t have anything the right size, she swung the light at Grayson.
He blinked at her behind wire rimmed glasses.
Without thinking twice, she ripped the glasses off his face and broke off an arm.
“Do you want to stay in here?” Andie pointed the broken glasses at him with a shaky hand. “Do you want to pee in a corner?”
“Huh, no.”
“Me neither.” She tried poking the broken arm of the glasses into one of the tiny holes. Nothing.
“Here, give it to me.” Grayson held out his hand.
Sighing, she handed it over.
Grayson bent it to form a loop and eased it under the knob. Holding onto the broken eyeglass arm, he leaned back, using all of his weight. Nothing.
He turned to her. “Help me?”
Andie opened her mouth to complain, but quickly realized his plan and complied. She put her arms around his waist and tried to not stand too close.
“Better idea. Switch places.” He placed his hand on her shoulder and guided her so that she stood in front of him. Taking the newly created wire loop, he wrapped it beneath the red knob and held it tightly. “Lean against me,” he said.
She leaned.
Nothing. Well, something, but it was more an internal, zipping blood thing than a mechanical, fix the elevator sort of thing.
“On the count of three, jump backwards,” Grayson said. “Don’t be afraid to hurt me.”
Andie nodded. She felt dizzy standing in the circle of Grayson’s arms.
“One. Two. Three.”
The knob popped as they jumped away. Grayson tumbled to the floor, and Andie landed on top of him. The light sputtered on, and the alarm fell silent. The elevator lurched once before starting and grinding to a stop. The doors slid open.

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