Coming to the end of our journey through the “water closets” of the world that I have, so far, been privileged to explore, we found ourselves in a roadside stopover somewhere in Israel.
This was one of our longest shore excursions, somewhere between 9 ½ and 12 hours – mine and Bill’s memories differ on just where we were on that given day, and my notes aren’t crystal clear on that point either – the downside of seeing so much in such a short span of time on each of our first two days docked in Haifa and our third docked in Ashdod. We covered a tremendous amount of territory those few days – from the Sea of Galilee at our most northern point to Masada on the Dead Sea at our most southern point, and everything between.
Arriving at our roadside stop, my friends and I cued up in two long lines for the women’s restroom while the men’s restroom was virtually empty. The men were able to get in and out in no time at all, but it’s not as easy or as fast for women. Most of the women I know agree that women everywhere should have two full-size restrooms at their disposal for every one the men have, not only lessening the time we must wait but that which men must spend waiting for us, as well. This should be the case in all public spaces where there are lots of people: airport concourses in particular, along with concert venues.
On this day, we were lined up discussing the odds on our tour leaving without us when one of our guides, a male, told the back half of the women’s line, which we were in, that we could use the men’s room and he would stand guard for us. Two at a time in, two out. As long as no men needed to go.
This place was the equivalent of a Stuckey’s-like operation one finds on that interminably long stretch of highway I-70 that runs across Kansas where there is absolutely nothing else to look at for the entire 8 hours it takes to cross the state by car. Unless there’s a tornado. A view of Stuckey’s (though they may have changed hands since last I traveled through Kansas) is preferable to a tornado on the horizon, though it can be pretty boring when that’s all there is to look at. I think anyone who’s had to drive across Kansas would agree.
Anyway, our guide kept watch and sent in a couple of women a little ahead of me as there were no men waiting at that moment. Our line, at last, was beginning to move a bit. I was getting close when another man came up and offered us the use of the separate, and singular, handicapped restroom.
As most of us were leery about going in the men’s room, there were a few also a bit leery of doing this, as well. Doing something we’re not accustomed to doing. Could it be more egregious than using the men’s restroom? So I offered to go first, opening the wide door to the extra space allotted for wheelchairs, crutches, and the like. It was a one-person at a time venue, an entity unto itself, and I was immediately overcome with an impending sense of doom. I considered the possibility this might have been a mistake but managed to push that aside as I’d come this far already, so I locked the door with the key that was already in the lock for just that purpose – to keep others out. I reasoned that, with my usual luck, someone would likely walk in on me if I didn’t, though with Suzanne’s experience on our last trip on my mind, I tried to convince myself everything would be okay.
Her experience would not repeat itself by casting me in the starring role on this occasion. It would be fine. I knew this.
But when I turned the lock back to open the door, it wouldn’t go. My gut reaction was panic. Claustrophobic panic. The door, as many are there, including those on our ship, was floor to ceiling. I wouldn’t even be able to crawl under it. Nope, not even in the realm of the possible. There was no way out, and this room, now quite unexpectedly, did not seem nearly as big as it had when I first walked into it. I pounded on the door and, managing to maintain control of my voice as if nothing at all were troubling me, asked for help. I didn’t even know if anyone was still in line out there.
I couldn’t hear any voices, and my panic began to rise. I pounded again and someone said to do this, or try that – all of which I did. Until, that is, the key broke in my hand. Yes, the metal key, probably as ancient as the country I was in, broke in my hand, my half falling on the floor.
Now I was reaching the point where I couldn’t breathe and wanted desperately to scream, to break down and cry, to get out of this box I was in. They would all be finished by now, grabbing drinks or souvenirs and getting back on the bus. It felt like an hour, maybe even two, had already gone by. I closed my eyes and tried to maintain some modicum of self-control. I could not let this get to me.
Had I been caught on a Candid Camera clip? What a ridiculous scenario to be starring in. I should have been laughing, bowing to the audience. I might have been laughing had I been able to breathe.
Fortunately, someone got an employee to come to the door, and he told me to slide the key under it so he could get it. What? He had to be kidding. I couldn’t even see light under there. Another question crossed my mind – Was this the only key there was?
I was never so glad to hear the sound of someone’s voice, though he was a bit difficult to understand, his heavy accent muffled as it was by the thick door between us. I wasn’t at all sure the key would go under there, there was so little space I couldn’t even see light, but I managed to force it through. Which only meant, of course, that if he failed me, I was without a single sheet of a toilet paper’s shred of hope and on my own, stuck inside.
I wondered how much air was left in here.
Honestly, I am seriously claustrophobic and had to force myself to control the panic that threatened to take over. To inhale deeply, and slowly, to regulate my breathing so as not to hyperventilate. What good would I be to my own rescue if I fell apart now?
The man attempting to help me tried working with what was left of the key I’d slipped under the door. Several long minutes later, the male voice on the other side, assuring me he’d be right back, left to get more help. I never felt so alone in my life. Did they have a crowbar? Would they have to break down the door? Remove its hinges? How long would he be? How long would the others wait for me?
At last my temporary knight in shining armor returned with another key – a whole one that didn’t break when he used it from the outside – freeing me from my restroom prison. I felt a little like Sleeping Beauty whose curse ended with a kiss by a prince. Or Snow White who awakened from her poisoned state when kissed by her prince. But it was my prince who held the key to my kingdom!
I tried to walk out calmly, like a normal person, rather than screaming like a banshee or running toward the light (not that light, though). All I could think was: Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, I’m free at last.