From the time the youngest of us is moving independently of a parent, Gina, Mary, Mia and I are seen as a small, drifting quartet of cousins at family gatherings. Two distinct gene pools, one common goal: to discover new spaces and unknown places, where no eyes and “No!”s could block our intentions.
Not to sit and behave, but explore the dark closets and dusted cabinets of quiet rooms far from grown-ups, though never far from mischievous brothers.
Gina usually rouses us to expand our adult-free borders; opening doors and waving us through – and when things don’t kill us – boldly stepping past us. Reassuming command.
And we follow.
Just as we do when she leads us out the door of Nonnie and Papa’s apartment and down a long, humdrum hallway of dubious hues, and thick, padded carpet that silences our patent leather footsteps and makes us whisper.
Without any wear on my new, leather soles, I slip and I slip as we pick up the pace of our great escape, past dark, numbered doors behind which come the murmurs of TVs and mumbled voices, and other people’s lives.
Our little flock focuses on the big, brown, metal door at the end of the hall which will lead us to uncharted worlds and unsupervised floors; to a quiet, pristine lobby where unsat-on furniture needs to be sat on, and plants are dusted; and the floor is so highly polished, it glitters and gleams like a magical, marble lake that I want to skate in my stockinged feet.
Mary presses the button with the arrow pointing down. The elevator hums and clicks and begins to move, and the newly learned numbers over the door blink in slow succession, until the lift stops and the door slides open.
In our reluctance to fully accept our independence, we hesitate and the door glides shut. But there’s an unspoken allegiance, so Mary re-presses the button, and back open it slides.
Pushing us into the small, room with dark wood panelling, Gina reaches for the lowest button, and off we go to the little known land of the lobby. I can see its floor before the door is fully open. It shimmers and shines and lures me from the safety of my flock and the moving box.
We watch her tiny body disappear behind the sliding, metal door.
Mary and Gina’s big, brown, Italian eyes go wide and I feel something – panic – suddenly rise. The elevator starts moving, the numbers start lighting, and Mia’s now off on her own adventure – without Captain or crew, or even a clue, as to where she’s going.
At a loss for what to do, we just stare at the door of the moving contraption which slowly ascends to the top floor and stops. Will she get off and try to find her way back to Nonnie and Papa’s? Does she even know what floor they live on?… Wait… Do we?
With this grim realization, the once strong lure of shiny floors and silky chairs is now replaced with powerful thoughts of Mia and Mom and home; of familiar faces, full plates of pasta, filled candy dishes.
And facing consequences.
Worried and wordless, we hear the elevator again click into motion and anxiously watch the numbers descend, kind of hoping when the door slides open, we see a familiar grown-up, or… Mia!
Standing in the exact same spot in center of the elevator where she’d been deserted, looking slightly startled, but happy to see us. Before losing her again, we jump in and watch the elusive lobby disappear behind the sliding door.
Now all we need to figure out is what button will lead us home.
Gina presses all of them.
When the elevator next stops, we hope to recognize something or someone, but nothing and no one is there. The next floor offers a replica of the last and I feel tears bubbling just below the surface. As the door opens to the third floor, it reveals a sight I thought I’d never be happy to see, Jim and John, sent out to search for their sisters and cousins.
“WE FOUND ‘EM!”, Jim hollers, as the boys race back down the brown and beige hall, to the front door of the apartment where Nonnie stands shushing… and waiting… with oven mitt and apron, and a look of consternation.
A scolding is at hand.
Gina smiles at each of us, then turns toward Nonnie.
And we follow.