February 28, 2008

The Strangest Trip

Yesterday, one of my nightmares came true. It wasn’t so bad.

As long as I can remember, I’ve been afraid of heights. My first memory that I can date happened when I was two and involves being terrified of a long, open flight of stairs. I’ve worked on it, and it rarely gets in my way anymore, but it’s still there, lurking.

About five years ago, I took a job in a tall building. I’ve never worked somewhere where I’ve had to use the elevator before, so I’d never noticed how much I avoid them. I thought taking the stairs was just a health choice. But five years is plenty of time to notice how my stomach drops when the door opens before the floors are quite lined up or when the elevator lurches into motion instead of accelerating smoothly. It’s plenty of time to ponder all the ways in which elevators can misbehave, plenty of time to dwell on being trapped in a misbehaving elevator, to imagine how terrifying that would be.

Yesterday, it happened. Someone got out of the elevator on the twentieth floor, the floor below mine. The doors closed unusually quickly (greedily, I thought) and I had it all to myself for the long ride down. I reached the first floor without incident, as usual. Then the door didn’t open. Then the elevator started going up again, back to the twentieth floor. The doors still didn’t open.

That was when the really stunning thing happened. I didn’t panic. I clearly and rationally decided that if the elevator was going to move again without letting me off, I wanted to be in charge of where it went. I pressed the first floor button again. We went back down. (Yes, the elevator was a person by then--not a very nice person, but a person.) Since the buttons were still responding to me, I held my finger poised over the door open button. As soon as we registered being on the first floor, I leaned on it. The door opened and I got off. The end.

It was so anticlimactic that I completely forgot to warn the guy waiting that he might want to keep waiting for a different elevator. I did realize I should tell the security guard, so I did. Then I left. I waited for the reaction, but it never caught up to me. No shakes, no hyperventilating, no nothing. Not then. Not later. Weird.

I know the outcome was good and all, but I have the strangest case of cognitive dissonance right now.

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