On the 10th floor. I’d gone up for my daily ritual bask on the roofless 11th floor of our building’s parking structure. There’s a special corner there that has a gorgeous view of the city. I rarely look at the view though. Instead, I sit in the corner with my knees bent or my legs crossed. I close my eyes and tilt my head to the sky in worship. Then I let my mind wander to wherever it needs to be. Sometimes I half fall asleep and feel my head sway in a doze, so I wake up and make shapes out of the clouds to re-orient myself. Today I saw what I’m sure looked like a happy, laughing dragon. Those moments in the sun are the best part of my work day.
On my way back down to the office, the power went off and the lift jerked to a stop. I don’t really remember how I felt. Was I scared? Panicky? Calm and calculated? I really have no idea. I remember thinking I should breathe slowly so that I don’t run out of oxygen. And I recall trying to peep through the closed lift doors to see if I was on a solid plane or in between floors. Turns out I was in between, because I could see light filtering in through the top half of the door. That probably meant I wouldn’t suffocate.
I remember wondering how long I should wait before I started to panic, and wondering if I was strong enough to pry the doors apart if I needed to. Not that it would help, because I was on the 10th floor and couldn’t take the stairs the rest of the way. I remember peering at the roof of the lift, wondering if it had loose panels I could pry out to escape like they do in the movies. And I remember wondering what would be the ideal posture to assume in case the lift hurtled down. Should I press against the walls, squat in the corner and make myself small, try to grab the ceiling boards? And I did have a flash of that scene in Dream Team where Cass was stuck in the lift with Eugene’s wife.
I remember wondering if I should call someone to tell them I was stuck in the lift. I briefly considered tweeting it, then changed my mind. Instead, I checked if my phone had network, since my Ideot rarely did. Apparently the one advantage of my cursed Nokia Asha is it holds network in lifts. Yay!
There was a single point of light inside the lift, a little square-shaped flashy button. But I didn’t know what it was for. Then the lights came on for a few seconds and I tried to press Ground Floor but nothing happened. I looked at the flashy button and noticed it was next to the alarm button. The writing above the button said, ‘If this lift doesn’t function as expected, do not try to escape. Simply press the alarm button’. I remember wondering why I had never read that warning before, and as the lift darkened again, I wondered what the point was, because you clearly can’t read the sign in the dark.
A few minutes later – minutes in which I have no clue what I was thinking – the power came back on and I drifted safely to the ground. As I got off the lift, I saw a gorgeous woman in heels rushing in. I’m guessing she’d been waiting for 10 minutes while I was stuck, and was itching to reach her floor. I wanted to warn her that the power had just gone off, but I didn’t see what good it would do. Besides, I was distracted by all the car alarms in the parking structure suddenly blaring full-blast. I wonder what that was about.
I’ve noticed in the past that I sometimes freeze during emergencies. It’s like I step outside my body and just watch myself. I can hear my thoughts with lucid clarity, telling me the actions I should take, but for some reason, my body refuses to co-operate. The first time it happened, I was in my dorm room and the electric kettle was on fire. I watched the fire from my bed, as my mind calmly ran through scenarios.
Splash it with water? No. It’s an electrical fire, you’ll make it worse. Get some soil and throw on it? Bad idea. By the time I jump off my top bunk, unlock the bedroom door, run outside, unlock the garden door, scoop soil, and come back, the fire will be much worse. Throw my duvet on it? That might work. But the stuffing in my duvet is synthetic. It might melt.
As I continued to watch my body, I quietly called my room-mate’s name and said, ‘The room is on fire’. She shrieked, jumped out of bed, and put out the fire. She stared at the damaged desktop for a few moments, then turned and looked at me. “You froze. I can’t believe you froze!” I’ve never heard her sound like that, and the screech in her voice was painfully accusing, but I simply turned over and went back to sleep.
The next time I froze, I was sitting by a pool watching my daughter, nieces, and nephews swim. I noticed a kid drowning in the larger pool a few feet away. And once again, the space around me got very quiet, and I seemed to drift and watch things from a distance as my mind spoke.
Is my princess safe? Yes, she’s far away from the drowning kid. Are my nieces okay? They’re fine, they don’t even know what’s going on. Where’s the lifeguard? He’s over there, talking to the pretty girl in the blue bikini. What about the kid’s parents? They’re eating. They can’t see. I could jump into the water and save him. I’m a pretty good swimmer. But I have jeans on, I could get us both killed. Besides, my clothes will get wet and I don’t have any spares. Surely all these people will do something. Someone will look up and see that the kid is dying.
My body turned, tapped the kid’s dad – who was seated next to me – and said, ‘Your kid is drowning.’ He jumped, wailed, and suddenly five adults were splashing into the water getting the kid to safety. The rest of the people at the pool were spooked enough that nobody swam for the rest of the day, and I was quietly worried about what would happen if my own kid was ever in danger.
I did get tested on that a few months later. This time the princess and I were in the pool, and I was giving her lessons. She had an inflatable floater around her waist, but she had decided to take it off and use a kick-board instead. I was right next to her, and my feet could touch the bottom of the pool, so I wasn’t really worried. The trouble started when we edged toward the deep end, and everything was fine until we strayed beyond the reach of my feet.
I noticed that I was treading water, and it must have shown on my face, because the princess suddenly panicked, let go of the kick-board, and grabbed onto me. The weight of her body and the strain of treading water pulled us both beneath the surface, and I could see her terrified face as she tried to scream but only took in water. I tried to hold onto her, terrified to let her go, while I flailed my arms and legs towards the shallower end of the pool so I could step down.
I’m sure we didn’t struggle for more than two seconds, but it felt a whole lot longer. I managed to get a foothold and took a few deep breaths while holding my baby, whose limbs were coiled around me so tight I could barely breathe. I looked into her eyes and said quietly, ‘Don’t. ever. do that. again.’ She nodded, then collapsed into sputtering sobs and I held her until she calmed down before we got out of the pool and went home. Nobody else seems to have noticed what happened, which is just as well, because we’d have been banned from the pool. Probably.
I had always worried about my tendency to freeze. I thought it might one day cost me my baby’s life. So that incident at the pool vindicated me, and I will always be grateful for that. I’m still a little puzzled about just what it is that happens when I go ice like that though. My mind is always so startlingly clear, and in my head, my voice is calm and quiet in a way it never is in the real world.
I wonder if it’s a mild form of astral projection, or if my emotions just shut down to let me do what I need to. That doesn’t help though, because while my mind suggests options, my body seems incapable of following. I’m never paralysed, or even petrified. My body parts seem supple, relaxed, and perfectly capable of movement. It’s almost as if they simply choose not to. I guess one day I’ll figure it out. For today, I’m just glad I got out of the lift in one piece.
♫ Get out alive ♫ Skillet ♫