I hate elevators.
I am waiting for an elevator in a Sheraton in San Diego. It will take me to my room, and I’ll get ready to go dancing for the second night in a row on what seems like an impossible dream for a single mother: a long weekend away.
A tall, gangly boy stands a few feet away, his hands tucked neatly behind his back. In a split-second, I take this in, along with his tightly cropped blonde hair and the shy way he ducks his head to acknowledge me. Parade rest.
Nearly fifteen years ago, I met my would-be ex-husband in the airport just across Harbor Drive, not spitting distance from where I stand right now, looking at his doppleganger.
The elevator door opens, and he gestures politely for me to enter the elevator before him. Stepping in front of the control panel, he asks me, “What floor, ma’am?” Then he obediently pushes the “4” and stares straight ahead, his hands once again behind his back in parade rest.
I normally find this sort of mannerly deference utterly knee-weakening, but I am old enough to be his mother. I use the dead space in the elevator and the gap between our ages to study him.
“Are you in the Navy?” I ask.
“Actually the Marine Corps, ma’am.”
I nearly say, My husband was in the Navy. But that is not true. My ex-husband was in the Navy. And this correction unleashes a torrent of things I almost say but do not, starting with, You look just like him. Fifteen years collapse into a space the size of an elevator.
The elevator chimes. Floor four. In the beat before the door opens, I smile at him and say, ”Your manners are very nice.” I feel like Bea Arthur.
He blushes so hard his ears must hurt. “Thank you, ma’am.”
I step out; the door closes behind me. I burst into tears.
By the time I am back at my room, it takes all of my effort not to call my ex right now and say to him: Just give me one weekend alone together in San Diego again. Let’s fix this. Let’s erase the past fifteen years. Let’s start over.
That’s ridiculous, of course. It's grief talking. We had plenty of weekends alone during our marriage, plenty of do-overs. It was never enough. Our marriage, in the end, was like an elevator stuck between floors; I had a bad case of claustrophobia.
I am willing to bet the Marine I just met is a simple boy. He wants simple things—fresh on shore leave, a burger, a beer, and a lay are probably at the top of that list. I picture the next fifteen years telescoping for him, and I hope they will bring him to a good place.
We were simple, too, and young. We wanted simple things, and saw no reason why we wouldn’t have them. We stepped in and pushed the button, confident of our destination. But we had no idea when the doors would open, or where.