I normally don’t skip dinner. I think somewhere deep inside I knew that if I did eat, I wouldn’t go to the gym. I’ve had a rough time getting back to “normalcy” after 2 months in Europe. My patience with myself was wearing thin so I changed and headed to the gym. 2 hours and lots of sweat later, I landed back in the Portland apartment I have been housesitting for the last 9 days for a coworker.
I normally only locked the top bolt of the door but, in my impatience with myself, I locked the door handle for a change. In the moment, it felt faster and more efficient. When I returned still deep in my thoughts, I struggled to unlock the door. A forceful “MEOW” shocked me out of my head and I quickly got distracted by the adorable cat in front of me who must have heard the fuss I was making trying to get inside.
I am a fairly disciplined person and decided on the walk home from the gym that I would take the trash out. As I got settled and thought about dinner, I waved off the thought in favor of the trash. I took my time with it collecting receipts and little bits of trash that somehow builds up. Before I left, I cleaned the kitty litter to make good use of taking the trash out. Thankfully (you’ll see why later), I made sure the cats had all the water and food they could want right before I walked out the front door.
Still relatively in my head on the short walk back from throwing away the trash, it startled me when the door didn’t open. I tried it again. The door handle didn’t budge. Unlike the previous “MEOW”, this firmly grounded me in reality and out of my little head. I was locked out without a phone, money, and ID. Shit.
To top it off, the way the complex is set up you need a key to get in and out of the apartment building along with going up any of the elevator floors. This meant I had a “one way” direction decision – unless I stayed right where I was I would lose access to more options no matter where I went. At this point, it was 10pm at night. I wasn’t confident someone on my hallway would be able to help and was too shy to knock on any doors. I gathered my sweaty and hungry self. The lobby. I need to go to the lobby.
I didn’t spend too long in the lobby until I saw a woman who seemed willing to help. At this point in this saga, I still felt too shy to ask just anyone for help. I hate asking for help almost as much as I hate striking up a conversation with strangers. Let’s call this woman “Lisa” because I think that was her name. Lisa let me use her phone to call numbers I found on a piece of paper mentioning emergencies. The first number on the list went to voicemail after listing their opening hours. The second number rang until I got an operator. At one point, this kind but not terribly aware human said:
“What number can I call you back at?”
“I don’t have my phone… remember?”
Later, my favorite:
“Why don’t you go crash in your apartment?” He knew I was house sitting. I had to explain again I wasn’t from here and, frankly, don’t have an apartment of my own anyway. We agree that he’ll send a security guard to come by “sometime” to let me know if he was able to get in touch with maintenance who should have master keys. The woman wishes me good luck and returns up the elevator.
At first, I had a very zen and resigned attitude. “I’ve been through worse” I told myself. While this is true, it’s not a good barometer. Pretty soon as the sweat dried and the minutes wore on, I began to realize how cold I was. I sat on the tiny love seat in the lobby rubbing my hands together.
As traffic through the lobby died down, I eventually curled up in the fetal position on the love seat with my arms inside my shirt shoving warm air into my shirt with my out breath. During this time, I learned the cycle of the A/C. 15 min on. 15 min off. I found the vents and closed them as the situation sunk in more. Around 12:30am I heard a knock on the lobby door and jolted awake.
This security guard was the least helpful. He was also the bearer of bad news which I’m sure is why I question how helpful he was. When I explained I was worried the cops were going to be called on me, he said, “Oh, don’t worry! The worst they can do is ask you to move outside across the street.”
I glared at him stunned – “That sounds really bad.” Sigh. He came to tell me they couldn’t get in touch with the maintenance people and they couldn’t get in touch with a locksmith number they had. He eventually left after leaving me with a slip of paper with a phone number a cop could call to validate my story. As he was leaving, I asked if there was a bathroom anywhere nearby. He said no as he shut the door.
This is when reality really hit me. I was fully at the whim of others. I decided then and there before curling up back on the love seat that if another human walked through those doors that I would ask if I could use their bathroom. It didn’t matter who they were. I would ask. I didn’t think I’d be able to make it to 8AM without going to the bathroom.
At around 2AM, I hear the door open and I proceed to scare the shit out of this poor guy.
“HEY! CAN I USE YOUR BATHROOM?!” I said this as I didn’t have both arms out of my shirt. Startled, he eventually smiled at me confused asking what was going on. As we started talking more, I realized he must have been out drinking with friends as I could smell alcohol on him.
This is when everyone has the right to tell me I’m an idiot for now until eternity.
This guy – whose name I did not know – told me he had a futon I could sleep on. I told him I just needed to go to the bathroom. He countered with a “let’s head up to my place and figure it out from there.” As I climbed into the elevator with him, the panic set in.
“I’ll just use the bathroom and leave.”
He swung open the door to his place telling me to make myself at home. I was laser focused: bathroom, say thanks, byeeeee. By the time I went to the bathroom and was fumbling to head back downstairs, he had already gotten a glass of water for us both. Being the polite and OH SO stupid woman I am, I grabbed the glass and drank nearly half of it before I realized I had no clue if he put anything in there.
I still didn’t know his name at this point.
At this point, I began to ask him every question I could think of. I know what he does for work, his name, his alma mater, his brother’s name, his age, his favorite baseball player, etc.
“I have an extra toothbrush – here!”
I think this is what won me over. I stayed on this complete stranger’s futon even after I repeatedly described how gross and sweaty I was. As we both curled into our respective beds, he said, “I can’t wait for you to wake up tomorrow confused about where you are. It’s so nice to have a house guest!” See – friendly. He reminded me of my guy friends – a bit oblivious as to how I might be feeling right now as a woman in a strange man’s apartment but incredibly kind with a heart of gold. At one point, I said to him:
“Human to human, thank you.”
My anxiety wouldn’t let me sleep much. I could tell by the light in the morning when it was about time to head back down to the lobby. The operator promised me he would send a maintenance guy to help. I didn’t trust it but I still wanted to be there just in case. I tried to tip toe passed my sleeping host but he somehow was awake too. I declined using his phone although I really needed to. I decided to try my odds in the lobby instead.
After 15 minutes or so back in the lobby, a couple came inside with a dog and a young child. I nearly didn’t say anything as I didn’t want to be an inconvenience to them during an obviously busy morning. Desperation won. I asked for help from what turned out to be the one person in the building with a set of master keys!
To wrap up a long winded story, the master keys didn’t work due to recent lock changes but they helped me call a locksmith. In a full circle moment, Lisa and the man who let me stay at his apartment both walked through the lobby as I sat waiting for the locksmith. They felt like old friends as I caught up with both of them.
When the locksmiths finally opened the door, I immediately had to go straight to my computer for a 1on1 that I was 20 minutes late to. My first message to her:
“HI. I am so sorry im late. I just had an absurd night.”
Even now, I am so thankful for those who were willing to help me. I reflect on how the whiteness of my skin and the blondness of my hair likely aided my efforts. I have never been so at the whim of humanity before. While I don’t recommend it, I can say it reaffirmed my faith in people genuinely wanting to help one another.
My only hope is that I can pay forward this kindness shown to me by so many.
I’m not sure who was happier about my return: me or the cats.