03 February, 2015

What I Thought About When I Was Locked Outside in a Snowstorm for 90 Minutes

It was upon entering the second hour of being locked out of my apartment in a snowstorm when I really started to dig into how I got here. Where did it all go wrong? Why did I leave my phone upstairs? Why were none of my neighbors coming to their doors? Is this how they'd find me, tears frozen to my colorless cheeks, bottom frozen to a frayed straw chair on a sagging porch, shovel in hand, regret strong in what was left of my frosted heart?

Hour 00:15-- Re-evaluation of my day's choices

It only took 15 minutes to really start to berate myself for all the mistakes that had led to this point. I left my phone on the charger. I didn't put on an extra layer of pants under my pants to keep me warm. I was overly confident that helping my husband Dan find parking space would only take a minute, 4 minutes maximum. I didn't count on the cold. I did not count on the lack of parking.

I did, however, congratulate myself on at least wearing basic winter survival gear: hat and gloves, boots, jacket. But neglecting the long underwear, extra socks, taller boots, and perhaps a hidden flask was shortsighted, to say the least.

The strength of the wind, too, was a dark horse. The wind slammed the front door shut when I was not ten feet away from it. I was staring at the door, about to reach for the knob. This is a door that doesn't even close correctly sometimes, so you have to reaaaaally pull hard. The door closing smoothly, effortlessly by a gust of wind was a cruel twist of mother nature that I'm positive was meant to be seen, felt, and agonized over in the ensuing 90 minutes. If only I was closer. If only I had used less ice melt so the bag propping open weighed more and thus would have been a better door holder opener. If only I had remembered that my keys were in my other jacket. If only there weren't 50 feet away, locked inside, useless, but safe and warm inside something fleecy. Where I was meant to be. My keys were nestled near my phone, just waiting to share with me news of the world, to help me connect with friends worldwide, to send a text to Dan saying I was locked out, to help me locate that one fluffy cat video I'd been trying to find for weeks (where the cat is staring at something off screen and is pouncing all around and is so fluffy it looks like a cartoon. I love that cat.)

Hour 00:20-- Paying it forward in the hopes that I could correct my mistakes
I decided that karmically, I was off. So to reset the balance, I made up my mind to shovel the fire hydrant so it had a safe and easy access point for all future firemen. I felt good about myself. I was a nice person, I reminded myself with a metaphorical pat on the back. Because of my good deed, Dan would surely be back soon with keys to my blessedly warm apartment. I mean, I shoveled the fire hydrant! Someone above had to be watching and put in a good word for me. "Hey, that girl down there? She did a really nice thing. Don't make her wait too long in the cold. She deserves better." This wouldn't be that bad, and it'd only been 20 minutes. How long could I really be outside?

Hour 00:30-- Dear God, am I still here? Just sitting on a porch in a snowstorm? Do I have to actually think about my life now and be forced to have a long, dark night of the soul in the daytime, in an uncomfortable wooden chair?

At first, I told myself it was relaxing. I forced myself to believe it by commenting on it out loud, like a crazy person.

"This is nice," I said, to me. "It's not often you get to unplug from technology like this. I bet people pay a lot of money at schmancy resorts to truly disconnect this way. Look how pretty the snow is, falling down so softly. I wonder how long it will take to build up on the banister?"

After a while, my thoughts turned more pragmatic, but still I retained hope that it would be over soon.

"Well, someone's bound to come around soon." I reassured myself. I scanned the street a lot, hoping that the snow plowers and the one Domino's driver weren't secretly laughing at me. "Dan has to have found a space somewhere by now. Maybe he's right around the corner. Maybe he found an open Dunkin' Donuts, and he brought me a coffee!"

Then, it got downright sinister. Who were these people, my neighbors, sitting all warm and cuddly in front of their tvs or computers. I bet they were sipping hot cocoa. Why did they deserve to be happy? In my mind, they were tugging the blanket a little bit tighter around their bodies because they felt a draft, the pansies. I pictured them laughing and sharing a moment, looking wistfully out their window, remarking, "wow, it's really coming down out there, Betty!'

How DARE they. They don't even know what cold is!

Hour 00:45-- I should have gotten to know my neighbors better so that they would take pity on me when I lock myself out in the snowstorm

We'd already had ten inches of snow fallen today, on top of the thirty we had fall last week. There is just no where for this snow to go. It kept climbing last week, first by inches, then by feet, glomming over all the available parking until we found ourselves in a barren, Hoth-like wasteland. Our banks are five feet tall. I heard that we were getting another 8 inches later this week. Where is it going to go?

I had much time to contemplate these snow banks and their future volume. I sat and stared at them, the snowflakes falling gently, almost beatifically around me for the next forty minutes. I could have counted the snowflakes if I wanted to. However, a deep, very real fear of being lulled to sleep by the counting of the flakes kept me vigilantly avoiding acknowledgement of the snow. If anything, I felt like it was to blame. If it hadn't been snowing, preventing street parking, I never would have gone downstairs to help Dan, I never would have forgotten my keys, I never would be sitting on a porch pretending that I wasn't cold and that snow didn't exist.

My texting gloves, while adorable and useful during the daily commute, were poor insulators, and I started to lose feeling in my fingers. I realized I should see if any of my neighbors were home-- I was clearly in it for the long haul. So I started knocking. By the time I knocked on the fourth door, I realized that a) either everyone of my neighbors was at work, despite the parking and driving ban, or b) they heard me, looked out the window, decided I was pathetic, and chose to ignore me or c) I had already died and was invisible like the ghosts in the Sixth Sense, and I was trying to communicate with people who couldn't hear me because they didn't have Haley Joel Osment's special gift. Maybe my body was at peace on the porch, and I was left to wander the streets knocking on doors, hoping someone would help me haunt my old apartment. I later decided I was far too cold to actually be dead (weren't you supposed to be free of pain?) but this thought wouldn't leave my mind for an uncomfortable amount of minutes.

In retrospect, talking out loud to myself on a porch in a snowstorm is probably why my neighbors didn't answer the door when I knocked.

Hour 01:00 This is my life now.

I resigned myself to the situation at hand. And so, with time stretching endlessly before me, I got reflective. I reflected on my outdoors time as I'd tell it later on, when I was warmer, sharing the story with friends over a piping hot beverage.

"What did you do?" They'll ask, sympathetically. "Were you cold?"

"You know, it wasn't that bad!" I'll laugh, my voice lilting without a care in the world for I will be warm then. "I watched the snow fall. It was actually pretty relaxing! You never really get a chance to unplug, like totally unplug from technology. You know?"

But God, was I bored. I was so bored I redefined boredom. My teenage self had no frame of reference for ever claiming that she was bored beyond belief. I had no phone, no books, nothing to stare at but the snow. I was so bored, I read the instructions on the shovel on the porch. I may have been the first person to read the instructions on a shovel. Did you know there were instructions? I read the menu of Lotus Express twice as they helpfully left us four identical pamphlets. I wondered if nine dollars was a fair price for Szechuan spicy beef. I told myself that if I ever got back into the apartment, that one day, soon, I would give them my business. Lotus Express deserved it; they were a beacon of light in the darkness, a future I could envision. One day, I would eat at Lotus Express. I would be warm and indoors and eating Chinese food. One day. I clung to this belief with all that I could clung.

But I was still cold. I had worryingly lost feeling in my left pinky toe, and I tried to tell myself that people can survive in the cold for days without long-term repercussions. I stamped around because I've seen people do that in movies. I didn't want to lose this toe- I was really attached to this toe. I saw a future where I'd have to tell all pedicurists and friends who witnessed me in flip flops that I lost a toe because I locked myself out of an apartment in a snowstorm in a major metropolitan area where you think I'd be able to walk into places and warm myself up. I was embarrassed for my future self.

Then, to distract myself from my toe, I thought about my future. I thought about where I'd buy a house (not anywhere where it snows). I thought about when I'd have children and what their names would be. I thought about telling them this story, and how I'd reprimand them for not taking keys with them. Don't be stupid! Use your brain, girl! I would have to start adopting the word "girl" more into my vocabulary. It sounds strongly maternal.

I thought about maybe buying some sort of hamster, or a bird, or something, a pet that's fairly easy and lets you love it. Then I realized I'd probably just lock it inside my apartment and kill it, and that made me sad. I could barely be trusted with me, how can I care for another living being?

I thought about that fluffy kitten again. I bet that fluffy kitten was warm somewhere, under a blanket. It probably lived in California. It probably never had to experience snow like this. It probably had all of its toes.

Hour 01:29:14-- My knight in shining armor, covered in snow, frostbitten, and sad, returns!

Then, there was a happy and supremely uneventful ending. Dan returned! Dan had his keys! We walked (painfully) upstairs! He told me his story about how he'd finally found a questionably legal parking space, how he'd had to shovel it out, how he'd had to walk back. How he lost feeling in his feet, too. I told him about my thoughts, my desire for a pet, and my toe. We gave ourselves a tiny pity party, we made hot food. And, once the feeling returned, we were fine. I got back to the work I should have been doing the whole time I was outside, reflecting on my life. I made a point not to watch the snow continue to fall that night.

And throughout this whole thing, I was reminded how very lucky I was to have a warm apartment and a hot meal, blankets, and a safe space, even if they weren't accessible for a little while. So I did the thing that truly paid it forward in a way that's a lot more meaningful than shoveling out a fire hydrant: I donated to Rosie's Place. No one should have to be out in the snow and the cold. Even if, technically, it was their fault.