Hold the Elevator
The “door-close” button has been out in one of the elevators in our building, and I’m fairly certain my fellow residents now dread the gamble they make each time they approach the landing—ready, waiting, eager to be whisked to floors above and below; then, when the ping of the sad, defunct car on the right announces itself, they shuffle in, deflated.
We all knew this was coming. For weeks the top edge of the button had slowly become more and more wedged into the panel behind it, daring everyone to push it harder. One day (though, conceivably many different days for each of us), we all walked into the car, jammed the door-close button to expedite our journeys up and down, and…nada. No orange light, no reassuring ding. Just a button that didn’t depress—except, what it depressed metaphorically within each of us—and elevator doors which remained open for seven long, excruciating seconds.
Over the last month, as I’ve stood in the right side elevator, carrying boxes from the package room, or wrangling Lucy, or simply shifting from foot to foot in awkward silence with neighbors I swear I’ve never seen before, I’ve thought an embarrassing amount about those seven seconds.
City living is so funny. I dwell in far closer proximity to my neighbors than I ever did when I was growing up in a single family home in Texas, and I notice all types of silly things about the people who live around us, without ever knowing them at all. Urban neighbors set a particular rhythm and write the song of how the building looks and feels and sounds. Because of the way our building is laid out, I can see across a courtyard into neighbors’ homes; I know how they decorate, who works from home like me, who stays up late, who’s never there, who works out all the time. I’m sure they know the same about us.
The patterns of the people in the building are a reassuring constant, like daily visits from friends who actually aren’t. The door-close button is really the thing holding this all together, I realized one day, standing in the elevator whilst leaning grocery sacks and a pack of toilet paper against the handrail, waiting, praying for the doors to close. We tap tap tap it to quickly enclose ourselves in the car, fantasies of our neighbors in tact, small talk only required in the most dire of circumstances. The guy across the way who rides his Peloton at 11:30 at night and does squats while watching reality TV can remain just that—the door-close button prevents ever having to change the narrative of these observations and imaginings. And yet, catch a ride with someone who strikes up a good conversation, and you realize how much you’ve missed. Or not.
This is high density living in a nutshell.
I’d stopped any attempt at using the button until last weekend, when Joe and I wandered into the elevator and out of habit, I reached around and jabbed at the button so we could descend two floors seven seconds faster than we would otherwise (a discussion about taking the stairs can be had another day). And then—magic! The button worked! I turned around and marveled to Joe.
“The door-close button! It’s finally back!”
“Yep,” he replied, looking at me like I was a little crazy. It might be the same look you’re giving your screen now.
“It’s been out forever. It’s basically thrown the entire building into an uproar.”
I know this because one morning about two weeks ago, a sign appeared on the right side elevator announcing work was being done on it that very day. I saw it when I walked into the building lobby, at the same time as a neighbor. We both noted the sign, and a beat passed.
“Maybe they’re fixing the buttons!” I commented. He mumbled his agreement, then walked away to take the stairs. In almost three and a half years of living here, I swear I’d never seen him before in my life.
Two more essays, below…
If it was a snake…
A few weekends ago, Joe was out of town, visiting his family back in Cleveland. It’s rare he takes overnight trips, and if I’m truthful, I relish it when he does. While I miss him, there’s nothing better than having the apartment and the weekend all to myself—sleep in the middle of the bed, make all the snacks he doesn’t care for, commandeer the TV for DVR marathons of WHATEVER THE HELL I WANT!
But here’s the thing about your partner going out of town: all the chores and tasks you’ve carefully negotiated and delegated over the years become your chores and your tasks. I’ve learned as novel and fun as Joe’s rare trips can be, they will never, ever feel like a vacation because in his absence, I have to do all the dishes.
I don’t do this normally, because 1) certain post-collegiate adventures in culinary school have mysteriously resulted in my doing all the cooking around here; and, 2) my husband is a nutcase who insists I don’t know how to load the dishwasher properly. In a cunning display of negotiating prowess, I have simply learned to agree with him and let him load it however he wants. I stay out of the way while this happens, much to my complete and utter delight.
So while he was gone, the role of Best and Most Organized Dishwasher-Loader was temporarily added back to my list of duties. Included in this job description is unloading the dishwasher, my most hated, loathed, can’t-stand-doing-it chore. Don’t ask me why, I simply dislike it. It doesn’t make any sense, because I love to cook and rather enjoy all the equipment we have. I just hate putting it all away. Hence why I have so happily ceded dishwasher loading and unloading to my husband.
But one afternoon in his absence, I was putting away a stack of cutting boards in a wide, shallow drawer made for such things, when I saw it—a tea towel I’d long thought lost to the New York City moving gods. At some point after our move back to California, Joe had laid it flat in the drawer, a temporary liner we never got around to replacing.
Mind you, this is a drawer I open virtually every single day as I prepare food. I was so surprised to see the towel’s light blue geometric pattern, I stared at it a good five seconds, processing its existence. It was like uncovering something you’d thought lost forever in a random box in the attic…except, this was an attic I walk into daily. Sometimes 2 or 3 times daily.
It made me wonder: what other things are living right in front of me that I can’t see? What do I pass everyday, what signs do I miss, what am I not processing that I should?
When I was around 7 or 8, I first heard my grandmother use the Southern expression, “If it was a snake, it would’ve bitten you.” Meaning the thing you were looking for was right in front of you—dangerously close, in fact.
Seeing the tea towel made me think about other things and answers I’m looking for. I thought about the treasured earring I think I lost in Charleston last year, its mate still waiting in my jewelry box in the hopes I’ll someday find it. I thought about what my work will be like in five years; what life will be like if/when we ever have a child; whether I’m making the right decisions and choices daily; if I’m investing my most valuable resource—my time—into all the right places. I just hope I’m keeping my eyes open enough to see the signs that are right there, in plain sight, so close they could scream out and take hold of my attention, if only I would let them.
The Shape of Joy
The shape of joy has changed. Its edges are smoother now—gentle, steady waves having sculpted and carved it into something new, more curvaceous. It’s delicate and golden yellow; it glows from within.
The shape of joy is different from before. It feels malleable, like hope, and it’s ever-present. A fresh, new seedling that didn’t take last year or the one before, despite my efforts. Here it is now: soft and rare, budding deep inside the spirit. I tend it carefully, patting the fine, crumbly dirt around its base, but my efforts are ritual only, for it cannot be uprooted by anyone. It is its own temple for the ages.
The shape of joy is the fog rolled back over the ocean just beyond, sunlight here for the next few hours, at least. It is knowing; trust in goodness, come to life.