We rode in the elevator in silence. My dad carrying the laundry basket; me standing next to him quietly, happily. I couldn't have been more than 3 years old. We got to the lobby of our apartment building and the elevator doors opened. My dad got out and headed for the laundry room. I started to follow, but then hesitated. I stood there for a moment, my foot poised to step over the threshold of the elevator. But I couldn't make myself take that next step. I thought, what would happen if I did nothing? If I just stayed here?
My dad was now out of sight, the lobby was deserted and I was alone for what felt like the first time in my 3-year-old life. There was this weird feeling of pleasure. I wanted to be the "captain" of the elevator and push all the buttons without getting in trouble. I even reached out my hand to do so. But I stopped because the elevator doors were slowly beginning to close.
I began to panic. What if I got lost? How would I find my dad again? Why was I just standing here, frozen?
A couple entered the lobby and saw me in the elevator as the doors were still closing. I must have looked terrified, realization dawning on me that I was heading for the unknown - alone and frightened. The man quickly ran across the lobby and pressed the UP button. The doors reversed their direction to open back up. He looked at me with kind, concerned eyes. I was rooted to the spot, staring at his fringed leather jacket and his long beard, watching his lips move as he asked if I was lost.
I stared for a moment more, taking in his kindness and his beautiful wife, with long hair down her back. I said nothing, and I ran out of the elevator and into the laundry room, barely hearing the faint cry of, "Wait!". I squeezed my dad as tightly as I could, flooded with relief. I don't think he realized what happened at the time as this flashed by in a matter of moments (though, I did tell him later). But he started the washing machine, and squeezed me back just as tight. And just like that, all was right in my world again.
This happened over 3 decades ago, but I still think about that moment. Standing at the threshold, detached, yet full of wonder; fearful, yet steps away from safety.