LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
It was the latest setback in a series of Christmas setbacks that had us, at some points, questioning whether or not there was someone on high who was fighting to keep us together.
My mom, stepdad Peter, stepdaughter Gabrielle, her best friend Emily, my husband William and I stood inside the strangely silent elevator and didn’t say a word. Then, slithering his arm behind my waist and in front of Gabrielle’s eyes, William tentatively hit the glowing Lobby button again. But nothing. He hit it again, this time more firmly, like a parent telling a child in a louder voice it was time to go. But, honey, nothing and then nothing.
“OK, well this is interesting,” Peter said in his Australian accent.
We were staying on the eighth floor of my parents’ condo complex in Fort Myers and we’d all piled into the small elevator so we could head to Sarasota, where my best friend Kristin and her parents were awaiting us. While we had chosen to take the elevator, my brother Matthew and his new wife Jennie, being young and spirited, had decided to take the stairs.
It was nearly the end of a long journey that had started in Edmonton, Alberta, for Matthew and Jennie; in Winnipeg, Manitoba, for my mom and Peter; and in Somerset for William, Gabrielle, Emily and I. At nearly every turn, the airlines had viciously slapped my family with delay after delay, one so severe my parents and brother had decided to scrap Delta all together and rely on Hertz to get to Florida.
But, other than our return home, there was just one leg of the trip remaining: the 1.5-hour drive to Sarasota, on which we, though sleep deprived, were jauntily set to embark.
The elevator, however, had other plans.
After my husband had cleverly pushed the Lobby button a few more times, we nervously started to laugh.
“Well, this has never happened to me before,” my mom said, her eyes darting toward all the corners of the room to measure just how trapped we were.
“Isn’t it nice that it’s just us and there are no strangers stuck in here with us? Haha. Ha,” I said to Emily while looking upward and wondering if I had the Bruce Willis in me to burst through the ceiling panel and climb the elevator cables to the next floor.
Then, as more minutes passed, Peter spontaneously hit every button on the panel, making each floor number glow.
“Now, what’s that going to do?” my mom said. “That’s just going to confuse it.”
Peter, who is 6’6”, turned laboriously to look at her and said slowly:
“Maybe. It. Will. Unjam. It.”
Meanwhile, I realized I had the key in my pocket that was going to save us all. I picked up my cell phone and drafted a “Come save us” text to Jennie.
“There’s no signal,” my husband told me. “I already tried that.”
“Yes, but did you try it up high,” I said, shooting my arm up in the air and pressing send.
By some miracle, it did, but there was no response as, we found out later, Matthew and Jennie had used the alone time to smooch by the pool.
“You do realize that, other than traffic, this is the only possible way we can be delayed in getting to Sarasota,” I pointed out while no one listened.
“Well, I thought this would be a last resort, but I guess it’s time to press the emergency button,” William said.
But when he did, the button didn’t press in as a button should, it just sat there.
“I can’t believe it,” Gabrielle said, as I watched her childhood innocence drain out of her. “It’s a fake.”
Indeed, the button was more red cap than button and pressing it resulted in about as much satisfaction as jumping on a TempurPedic bed.
At this point, I was starting to fight the same claustrophobia that had last attacked me during a visit to Mammoth Cave, when suddenly we heard and saw my beloved brother Matthew trying to pry open the doors. I saw but an inch of his heroic face before the doors snapped back shut.
Peter and William tried to pull in tandem with Matthew, their faces turning new, as-yet-unnamed shades of red, but to no avail.
Then suddenly, an aquamarine pole appeared between the doors and started darting around, Matthew trying to use it as leverage to free us. But since it was just the skimmer from the condo complex pool, its weak aluminum structure did little to pry us out.
By then, we knew we were trapped on the main floor of the building, which removed the degree of danger I realized I was slightly excited by.
Then we heard voices and realized Matthew was consulting with a fellow savior.
“Who is it?” I asked, whispering.
William pulled open the door an inch.
“He appears to be talking to a pirate,” he said in full, unabashed voice. “He’s got a bandana and an earring.”
“Shhhh! He’s going to hear you,” I giggled.
Then we heard Matthew’s strong, confident voice singing out.
“Jump,” he said.
“What?” we all said in unison.
And so we did, we jumped — as per the pirate’s suggestion — as much as six people can in a tiny elevator. But apparently we jumped high and hard enough, because a few seconds later, we felt a lurch as the elevator moved to the second floor and the doors opened for us when we reached it.
And so Christmas ended much as it began — with delay piled upon delay, bad luck stacked atop of bad luck. But after I got home, I realized that, in a strange way, it was the setbacks that had taught us the biggest lesson of the season: that we were indeed willing to do anything to be together.