My kids have a terrible habit of yanking the door open before they’ve fully turned the knob. Always in a hurry, those two are. Thanks to them, the bathroom doorknob is broken. This resulted in me finding myself locked in the bathroom last night.
I turned it to the left and pulled. Nothing. I turned it to the right and pulled. Nothing. Repeat as panic begins to set in. Our bathroom has no windows. I suffer from cleithrophobia. I must always have access to an escape. I cannot even be the person who sits on the inside of a booth.
There I was, locked in the bathroom. The tiny bathroom. I’m tapping out shave and a hair cut on the wall, the door, the wall again. I’m begging for somebody to hear me and come get me out of there. Suddenly, I’m simultaneously locked in the bathroom and locked in my uncle’s bedroom in the basement of my grandparent’s house long ago.
A Cleithrophobe is Born
It’s summertime. The family is gathered at the grandparents’ for dinner. The children are sent down to the basement to play while the grownups do the boring grownup stuff upstairs. Their uncle is allowing them to play on his bedroom floor and listen to his records. There are only a couple of rules to follow. Don’t touch anything and never close the door.
Eye of the Tiger is playing in the background. A young girl of around eight sits cross-legged on the floor. She wears a white cotton tank top with bright red strawberries printed all over it. The thin cotton straps are as red as the strawberries. Her cotton shorts are the same bright red. Her feet are bare. Her long hair is bound in a ponytail.
Spread out before her are the pictures she has drawn. She is using her grandmother’s Mr. Scent markers. She has a stack of blank white paper, the kind that comes each sheet connected to the next. She enjoys removing the edges of the paper with the holes in them. She folds them into hard little squares and flips them between her fingers as she thinks. She is flipping one between her fingers, now. The scent of grape still hangs heavy in the air.
Her sister and cousins all play nearby. She looks around as she stands up to go to the bathroom. Everyone’s having fun, playing at different things. She hopes no one will take the markers while she is gone. She reaches for the doorknob, forgetting entirely that they aren’t supposed to close the door.
She turns the knob to the left. Nothing. She turns the knob to the right. Nothing. She turns it to the left again and the knob just spins freely. She holds tightly to the knob as she shakes the door, trying to force it open. It doesn’t budge. She really needs to go to the bathroom. She’s starting to panic.
Her sister in all her wiseness, being older by almost four years, pushes her out of the way and tries the door herself. She has no more luck than the younger girl. Their cousin, a strong seven, is certain that a boy can do it, so he comes over and throws himself at the door. It shakes but does not open.
They begin to bang on the door, shouting as loudly as they can. Surely somebody will hear them and come investigate. Right? The young girl is beginning to worry she’ll have an accident. She’s wearing her favorite summer clothes. Her red jelly shoes match them so perfectly. What if they never get out of here? What if she wets her pants right here on her uncle’s carpet?
She pounds harder on the door. She screams at the top of her lungs. She looks around the room. Is it getting smaller? It’s so hot in here. Why is it so hot in here? She struggles to breathe. Her vision is getting cloudy around the edges. She has to get out of this room.
The adjacent wall has a window. She climbs up on her uncle’s bed and is barely tall enough to reach the lock and slide it open. She turns her face towards the opening, which is about even with the tip of her nose as she stretches her face towards the fresh air. She gulps in lungfuls of it. It has a calming effect. Desperate for more, she attempts to pull herself up through the opening, but she cannot.
Her sister is tall and skinny. She begs her to climb out the window and go get a grownup. She’s too big for the small opening. They start yelling help out the open window. They’re screaming. Still, nobody comes.
They don’t know how much time has passed. It feels like they’ve been screaming for hours. Their voices are growing hoarse. They start to formulate a new plan.
“She could fit.”
“But she’s only three.”
“She likes to ring doorbells.”
“How would she know what to tell them?”
“We can write them a note!”
It’s settled then. After all, they are out of options. They write a note in grape marker. Door won’t open. They give it to their little cousin and then slip her through the open window. She gets stuck on her overfull diaper and they almost have to bring her back in, but she suddenly slips through and is in the front yard. She stands up and turns to them with a huge grin. She is still clutching their note.
“Go ring the doorbell,” they all encourage her in their sweetest talking to a baby voices.
They wait with bated breath as she tottles across the yard, still clutching the piece of paper. She stops, turns around, and starts walking back towards them.
“No. Go back.”
“Ring the doorbell.”
“Ring the doorbell and get grandma.”
She giggles as she turns back toward the front door. Soon, she is out of their sight. All they can do is wait. Still holding their breaths, they listen for the sound of the doorbell. They breathe a collective sigh of relief when they finally hear it.
Directly above them, they can hear the muffled sound of footsteps and then voices. There is a stampede of heavy footfalls coming down the basement steps as the men all scramble to free the children, who have now been locked in the bedroom for nobody knows how long.
All’s well that ends well
My husband was able to jimmy the door open and get me out. My whole ordeal lasted no longer than five minutes. As a kid, we weren’t so lucky. The hinges were on the inside with us. My grandfather, father, and four uncles removed the doorknob. Alright, I’m sure not all of them did the work, but they were all gathered around the door when they opened it and I bolted for the bathroom down the hall.