One minute, I was a 31-year-old part-time music teacher. The next, I turned into one of my Pre-K students, sobbing uncontrollably, wishing my mom and dad would come rescue me. That’s what claustrophobia will do to you.
My parents were home. I was trapped in an elevator in a Manhattan high-rise. All alone. This was exactly what I’d feared when my best friend asked me to come see her new apartment. Unless I wanted to climb 15 flights of stairs, this metal box was my only way up.
So I said a prayer and went for it. I was doing OK . . . until the elevator car jerked and then came to a halt between floors. What a cruel trick to play on me.
I tried taking deep, cleansing breaths.
Feeling faint, I sank to the floor and tucked my head between my knees. Close your eyes, go to your happy place, I thought.
Maybe because the next day was Father’s Day, I thought back to how my dad used to comfort me when I was a little girl, “Catch the kisses,” he’d say.
He’d blow the biggest kisses, and I’d chase them around the living room, grabbing handfuls of precious love. It always took away the scary.
Had I ever told him what those moments meant to me? I might never get the chance. Not if I suffocated in here.
I opened my eyes. Blinking away my tears, I spied a little door below the button panel. Emergency Phone. Thank God! I snatched up the receiver, “I’m stuck in here! Please get me out!”
“We’re working on it, ma’am,” a voice responded. “I know you’re upset, but the longer we stay on the phone, the longer it will take us to free you.”
I hung up immediately.
I rummaged through my purse for a tissue. I came across the mini-tape recorder I used for my classes. Make this time count, I thought. It will be a good distraction. So I decided to tell everyone I loved what they meant to me.
I started with my dad.
“Dad, I remember you at the playground, how you stood at the end of the giant blue slide, waiting to catch me. I’m all grown up now, but I continue to count on you to be there for me when I’m scared. You never let me down.
In my mind, you’ll always be the giant who met me at the bottom of the slide . . . and I’ll always be your little girl. You’re my hero. Happy Father’s Day, Dad. I love you.”
Clang! What was that? The cable snapping? A panicked heartbeat later, the elevator doors slid open. An EMT was waiting. I nearly leaped into his arms. He looked me over and led me downstairs to the lobby.
I buzzed my friend’s apartment. She came down with some photos of the place. “I’m sorry,” she said. “But really, what were the odds this would happen to you?”
I told my parents all about it when I saw them on Father’s Day. Then I handed my dad a gift. He looked surprised. “A tape recorder?” he asked.
“Press play,” I said.
He listened to my message. “This is the best gift you could have given me,” he said. Now he was the one blinking away tears.
Little did I know that would be our last Father’s Day together. My dad was diagnosed with leukemia and succumbed swiftly. It took a while before I could bring myself to sort through the bag of belongings he’d brought with him to the hospital. Some magazines. His father’s watch.
At the bottom, I was surprised to find the tape recorder I’d given him. I rewound the tape and pressed play. That time in the elevator had been terrifying, but it gave me the chance to tell my dad how I felt before it was too late.
I thought of my words comforting him in his final days, the way he’d always comforted me.
My message ended. But then there was the sound of someone softly clearing his throat.
My dad’s voice came next, steady and clear:
“Dear Princess. When you find this recording I will no longer be here. Know that I love you more than life itself. You are the greatest blessing a father could hope for.
When you close your eyes, listen for my voice and know you are never alone. I am with you always.”
Just before the recording clicked off, I heard the unmistakable sound of him blowing a kiss.
I reached up and grabbed it. I have never let it go.
Read this next: Living Without My Dad Never Gets Easier