“It’s stuck,” he said, taking off his glasses to peer closer at the buttons on the panel by the door. “Yup, it it’s stuck.” He put his glasses back on, and turned to look at me, like he expected me to do something.
A zillion thoughts just ran through my brain, as I closed my eyes for a second. I could feel the tension band already tightening around my head. This was not the day to get stuck in an elevator, and most certainly was not the day to get stuck in the elevator with my grandfather.
I sighed. “Pops, I am sure they know it is stuck … I will just dial the desk.” I opened up the panel for the emergency phone, and picked it up. “Security?” A male voice answered.
“George, it is Callie Putnam, I am in the elevator and we are stuck.” I looked up to see what floor.
George said, “Callie, can you figure out what floor?” George was the chief of security for the building where the television station was headquartered.
“We are somewhere between the fifth and seventh floors, George. It is my grandpa and me.” I said. There was static on the line, and I could barely hear George. “George, can you hear me?”
Right at that moment, as with any type of pivotal scene in a book or a movie, the lights started flickering. My grandfather, Charlie Putnam, sighed, and leaned against the wall, “Oh, Lord.” He crossed himself like Catholics do – which was ironic, because we are not Catholics – we are Baptists.
“George, something is going on. George.” The phone went dead, and the power went off in the elevator. The emergency lights came on around the baseboards and the ceiling, so we weren’t totally in the dark.
I hung the phone up. “Dead.”
“Well, maybe he heard you. Let me see if I have my cell phone … Do you have yours?” My grandfather reached into his pockets, and he paused. “I left my cellphone in the glove compartment of the car.”
I reached into my pockets, and brought mine out. “Here we go. Let me just call the newsroom.” I turned my phone on, and started to dial. That is when my phone started beeping at me. There were not any bars. No bars. No service. “No service. We are in the elevator.” I put my phone back in my pocket.
My grandfather walked to the door, and started banging. “HELP, HELP. HELP.”
“Pops.” I looked at him. “What are you doing?”
“You know I hate small closed-in spaces. HELP,” Pops kept banging, “and I hate small, closed-in, dark spaces even more.”
I figured why not join him. I started banging too, hollering. After 20 minutes of hollering and banging, Pops looked at me, “Who’s idea was it to take the elevator? You hate tight, closed in spaces too.”
I leaned against the door, with my hands on it, “It was mine. I thought it would help because of your bad knee.” I closed my eyes again.
Pops kept banging, and he hollered, “We’re stuck in here.” His voice was firm, and loud. It kind of reminded me of the days when he was a college football coach, the players used to say that Pops’ voice could be heard 100 yards above all noise.
“Help, Help. We’re stuck.” Now my voice at this point was not firm – it was shaky, and reached high octaves that I don’t remember ever reaching before. Anxiety was kicking in.
Pops showed no emotion, or at least I was not seeing it. He was always so sure about things. He knew that someone was going to finally hear us and come.
All of a sudden, he said, “Shh. Do you hear that?” There were voices – becoming louder. It was then that I heard some familiar ones. “Callie? Callie? Are you guys OK?” It was Liz, one of the producers of ‘Hello Charlotte,’ the morning television news show that I anchored.
“Liz? Liz?” I called, straining to hear. “Hang on, mama!” In a minute, I could hear Liz shouting instructions, and her Italian accent, and some Italian words – probably not nice ones – started spewing out.
You could hear a lot of high-pitched voices, and a few low ones, mixed together, talking hurriedly. I heard the low baritone of Nick, the senior producer of the show. “Mr. Putnam, Callie, are you guys OK?”
Pops turned to me, and had a funny look on his face. “It sounds like he is on the floor talking through the door.”
I listened, “Nick, Nick, we are fine. What is going on?”
Pops and I put our ears to the crack in the door so we could hear. “The power went off… there is an accident out on the interstate, a refrigerated truck hit a moving truck head-on, and one of them flipped, and crashed into a utility pole."
“So, what about here?” Pops asked.
“They are working on it. You guys are stuck and there is one more. Just hang on, we will get you out.” Nick called.
It got quiet outside the door. Pops looked at me. “Well, baby, they are working on it.”
“Meanwhile, we are stuck in a metal box hanging by a cable or two,” I breathed in and out, as I felt the panic attack sneaking up through my blood.
Pops must have noticed. “Hey, we've been talking about spending more time together, well, here we go. Come on, let’s sit down.” He moved to the back of the elevator, and slid down the wall, until he was sitting flat on the floor, with his legs stretched out in front of him.
I sat down next to him – as ladylike as I could in my suit dress. I leaned my head down, close to my legs, and started breathing in and out. Pops leaned over and rubbed my back. “Come on, you have got this. Breathe in and out.”
Since I was 19, I had been battling anxiety and panic attacks. It was the result of hormone disorder, and some traumatic events in our life – my mom was injured in
a senseless act of violence that year, my dad had a heart attack not too long after that, I had cancer and, then, me and Pops were caught in the house when the tornado came through, and took the roof off. So, folks said it was understandable for me to have this, and I went through lots of therapy and found a ton of coping mechanisms.
But sometimes, like now, I would just have one and have to muddle through.
“Baby, put your head up.” I looked at him. He handed me a Lifesaver – butterscotch. I took it – my hands were a little shaky. I put it in my mouth, and leaned against the wall.
“I am sorry, Pops. I thought I had a better handle on these,” I inhaled and exhaled like a woman giving labor.
My grandfather turned, and looked at me, took my hands in his. “Look at me, come on. Now stop that labored breathing – you're not pregnant. Wait, you are not pregnant, are you? You and Nick have not been doing ...”
“POPS! That is not something I want to talk about with my grandfather,” I was shocked. Yes, Nick, our producer, is my boyfriend. Think 'Mary jane' and 'Justin' from BET-TV's 'Being Mary Jane.' Except we are so rated PG compared to the show.
He laughed. “Breathe slower.”
We sat in silence, as he held my hands, and breathed with me. The buttons above the door glowed even in the dimness.
Pops started laughing – already hysteria? “Pops?”
“I probably shouldn’t laugh, what with your issue here, but it seems like in the last 15 years, you and I have been through a lot of misadventures together – the tornado, the day the canoe turned over in the pond, the day we got turned around on the interstate and ended up in Georgia ...” Pops patted my leg, and rubbed his eyebrow with his other hand.
The racing thoughts in my mind started to slow down a bit with its chaotic thoughts. I smiled, looking at the floor. “Pops and Buttercup.”
My grandfather paused. “Pops and Buttercup … that was going to be the title of your children’s book series you were going to write.”
“Why haven’t you written those yet?” He asked the very question that I asked myself daily. Why hadn’t I written my book or the short stories? Fear … Fear of being a failure … Fear of opening that much of my life – even thought it would be fiction – was scary.
I shrugged. The elevator made a noise. We both looked at each other wide-eyed. Pops took a paper towel out of his pocket, and handed it to me. I wiped the sweat from my forehead.
“You scared?” He always knew what to ask.
I looked at him. “Of this elevator falling to the ground floor? Or of writing a book?”
“What do you think?” He asked.
I fiddled with the paper towel. “Pops, I am scared of a lot of things. You're always so certain. Look at you right now. We are in an elevator, stuck, there is no power and we have no clue if they will get us out or when.. And you're so calm."
My grandfather paused. His silence even spoke volumes. I knew something good was coming – something wise.
“Buttercup, I am scared of a lot of things too,” he confessed. “I worry too. Neither one of us has the knowledge of how to make this work … if your dad was in here, he could probably do some of his magic and figure it out, but we don’t have that gift.”
“So, we are kind of powerless, right?” He nudged me. I nodded. He continued, “But, I know someone is out there working in our favor – your boyfriend, the people on the maintenance crew … they are going to figure this out.”
There was a banging on the door. We both jumped. “Callie, we are working out here. The fire department is here too.” That was Liz.
Pops and I looked at each other. “I wonder if they called Dad’s house?” My dad was the fire chief for one of the firehouses.
“Or your brother’s?” My older brother, Mackenzie, was a lieutenant with a fire rescue squad.
As if she heard us, Liz said, “And Callie, your dad is on his way. Your brother’s crew just pulled up.”
Pops and I giggled.
“CALLIE? Can you hear me?” Liz called.
I called back, moving my legs out in front of me. “YES.”
Different noises could be heard outside the door. “So, back to your story.” I said to my grandfather.
He coughed. “Anyway, I finally had to get my mindset right, and realize I didn’t have to try to fix things – especially things that I know nothing about. I just need to trust in God. and just rest in His promises. That peace He gives is amazing ... kind of reminds me of sitting on the dock at the lake watching a sunset."
“Pops. Sometimes, it is hard,” I said. My grandpa gave me a side hug. "Life wasn't promised to be easy. I hate cliches. Look for the good, OK? Just look for the good."
The doors of the elevator opened just a little bit. Pops and I stood up, and in a minute, Nick's face appeared. "So, whatcha' doin'?"
"Eating bonbons, drinking whiskey and reading magazines ... What do you think we're doing, son?" Pops asked.
Nick said, "Well, the fire trucks are here."
“Callie, Dad?” I heard my dad’s voice. Nick grinned, and moved out of the way.
My dad, in his fireman turnout gear, knelt down, and looked in, “Are you guys OK?”
“Son, we are fine.” Pops said. I nodded, “We're good, Daddy, now that you're here."
My brother’s face appeared above my dad’s. “What a way to get attention, little sister. Hey Pops. Can you guys move over toward the left corner – we are going to have to pry the doors open, and when we do, we will get you out.”
Pops and I stood in the corner where Mackenzie pointed. We watched as the crew started working on the doors. The elevator was a little shaky at times, but the crew knew what they were doing.
It didn’t take the fire rescue crew long – maybe five to eight minutes – and they had the doors open. We were stuck between doors. They were going to have to lift us out. Mackenzie and one of the other firefighters slid through the doors.
My brother had a grin on his face. “So, you guys want to get out of here?" Pops shook his head, and said, "No, we thought we would move in." We laughed.
Pops was the first one to get out of the elevator. There were paramedics to check him – just precautionary.
It was just me, my brother and the other firefighter left in the elevator. “Hand me your shoes, grasshopper.” My brother said. I had on heels. I handed them to him. “Dad. Liz. Can you take these?” Mackenzie threw the shoes over the threshold.
Liz reached down and took them. My dad was standing there, hands out. “You ready, girl?” He asked me.
Getting out of the elevator wasn’t so bad, and having my daddy’s arms wrap around me took away all the panic. “You’re OK, baby girl. Daddy is always going to be here.” He whispered.
Resting in my dad's arms, I knew what Pop had been referring to - about trusting God and 'resting' in God's promises that He would take care of us - that peace that Pops had talked about - I figure it feels the same as my dad's hug.
I smiled, and patted his shoulder. We moved out of the way, so Mackenzie and his partner could be hoisted up. Liz put my shoes down in front of me, and I stepped into them. Nick was standing next to Pops, with the paramedics. They were giving him a little oxygen – it was typical for a rescue.
Daddy said, “Go get checked.” He nudged my shoulder. The crew was going to have to start the rescue on the other elevator car. Liz and I walked over to the paramedics.
Nick smiled at me, and held his arms open. I let him envelope me. “You are safe now.” He kissed my forehead.
“Pops, you good?” I asked. Pops had on a mask. He nodded, and took it off. “You need to try some of this too.”
The paramedics were already checking my pressure, and eyes. They gave me a a little mask, and I breathed in and out. Nick stood next to me, and Liz, seeing we were OK went back to the production offices.
After a few minutes of breathing treatments, we were given the OK. Pops sat on the bench, and watched the fire crew work. “You want to stay here, Pops?” I asked. Nick had already headed to the newsroom.
“Huh? No. I'm coming. I've seen enough elevators for a while.” He got up, and we walked together toward the newsroom offices.
We walked together toward the hall leading to my office - I had my arm slung through the crook of his. When we got to my office, Pops sat in the chair in front of my desk, and I slumped down in my big leather chair.
Being stuck in an elevator with no power for an hour wasn’t so bad … I did get to spend some time with my grandpa.
After a few minutes of silence, Pops stood up. "Well, I think I am going to head out, girl, and met everyone at the house."
"You got Dad's key?" I asked standing up, and walked with him out the door. He nodded, and said, "Yeah. I think your mom is at her sister's until Friday, right?"
My mom was visiting my aunts. "Yes."
"OK. Well, I love you, baby." We were at the hall that led to the other elevators, and the door to the stairs. Everything was back in working order.
He looked at the elevators, and then the door to the stairs. "I think I will take the stairs."
Can't say that I blame him.