We all get stuck from time to time. We can get caught in the jaws of a desperate situation and feel there is no way out. When that happens, take a time out, close your eyes – and breathe. The answer comes to those who take a moment to decompress.
While taking care of business in the ladies room of the magnificent Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo, circa 1860, I was astounded with the opulence of my bathroom stall. Cream colored marble floors and walls, gold door knobs in the shape of animal faces and toilet paper that felt like silk. Flipping the switch to the goose head handle, I locked myself into what felt like the waiting room for a visit with Prince Rainer.
“Wow, I could almost live in here! There’s enough room for a party.”
Finishing up, I took one last look around my private domain, for I knew I’d never have a bathroom experience like this again. It was time to move onto the rest of my evening. In the hotel’s five star restaurant, I was dining with a close friend and her glamorous work associates from all over the world. The women were in gowns, men in tuxedos, all with bejeweled limbs and perfectly coiffed hair. I needed to stop lollygagging in this luxurious boudoir and get back to the main event – the food.
Grabbing the handle, I began to twist it to the right, then the left. “Hmmm, which way does this go?” I mumbled as I tried again and again. “I know it’s not locked. Why can’t I get out?”
Several minutes later (but which felt more like an eternity) I pushed, I pulled, but to no avail. Then completely frustrated, I proceeded with what seemed to be my only course of action. I slammed my shoulder against the solid wood plank hoping to make my great escape.
“Shit!” I cried, as my high heeled body flew across the water closet, hitting the opposite wall, ending up sprawled on the ground. Regaining my composure, I picked myself off the immaculate floor and called out, “Hello, is someone out there!”
Now becoming frantic, I wondered how long would it be before anyone at the dinner table would notice I was gone? I was in a foreign country and the people who really would miss me were half a world away.
“Madame?” a voice lyrically called through the door.
“Do you speak English?” I cried out.
“English! Do you understand English? I’m stuck in here!” I yelled violently shaking the door.
Not only was there no response this time, but the sound of her spiky heels could be heard as she ran away from what I assume she thought was a crazy person.
Leaning my body against the door, with the back of my hand across my face in true Sarah Bernhardt fashion (the dramatic French actress in the late 1800’s) I thought, “Oh my God! I’m going to be left to die in here!”
Desperately trying to pull myself together, I thought back to all the other situations I’d been stuck in. This wasn’t the first time I’d had the feeling of being trapped with no way out. In my youth, there were those relationships I suffered that were going no where, but didn’t end because I was afraid of hurting someone’s feelings. There were the jobs that had no upward mobility where I’d be caught forever at the same desk repeating the same routine day in and day out. Then there were those times with my children where I was wedged between them and their father, always the middleman trying to appease both sides so peace would return to the home front.
“Ok Jackie, think…think. There has to be a way out. Just stop and think?”
After taking several deep breaths to soothe my frayed nerves, a feeling of calm came over my hyperventilation. The spasms in my breathing subsided and the sense that I was about to pass out faded. I took a moment to let the sweat, clinging all over my body, dry and soon I became centered, grounded, calm and my brain clear. I knew there had to be another solution.
Turning back to the door, I took a deep cleansing breath, wiped the hair that had fallen out of it’s locked and sprayed position off my face and pulled down at the hemline of my dress, which had ridden all the way up my waist. Ready to try again, I noticed the gap at the bottom of the door and thought, “Why didn’t I think of this before?” Shimmying my body on my hand s and knees through the opening, I escaped.
“YES! I’m out of here.” I yelled jumping out of the stall.
Before me I was faced with a line-up of perplexed women who were waiting for their own lavatory experience. I put on my “actress façade,” smiled as if all was right with the world and walked past the fancy cast of characters to the porcelain sink.
“Are you OK?” the woman next to me asked while rinsing her hands.
“I’m just fine. Why do you ask?” I replied pretending nothing had happened.
“Well, it sounded like quite a commotion. I thought maybe you had someone in there with you.”
Imagining that visual, and all it’s implications, I knew I had to come up with some smart aleck response – not that I just couldn’t open the door. “I’m just fine, thank you. My date and I got stuck in there, but since he wasn’t cooperating I flushed him down the toilet.” Rolling up my paper towel in to a small ball and tossing it into the trash can, I smiled at the face of this horrified woman and simply said, “When you’re in a tough spot and things aren’t going your way, you need to take a breath and think. The right solution will come.”