I don't remember if it was winter, but I do remember the cold. That dark, nearly-windowless cell in which I spent uncountable ... minutes ... awaiting my fate.
It was probably around 2001. I was 13 and we lived in Kingston. For whatever reason, I was in the basement bathroom one evening when there was a knock at the front door and Mom and Dad came downstairs with the missionaries — two elders, one of whom I had a major crush on. Geeky side-parted hair, ill-fitted suit and all. Mortified at the possibility of him seeing me without makeup and in my pajamas, I slowly creeped toward the bathroom door, pushed in the lock (because you know how Elders are, always barging into bathrooms without knocking), and decided to wait it out. How long could they talk? What could be that important?
As five minutes turned into 10, I began to get nervous. The cement and drywall that surrounded me in that tiny half-bath mocked me. "You're never getting out. You're going to die in here, with all the BYU Creamery buckets of forgotten toys, the over-sized orange Scouting sleeping bags hung from the ceiling, and the spiders. Oh yes, the spiders. Daddy Long Legs, who are neither alive nor dead in their dust-covered webs."
Determined not to let the voices taunt me to an early grave, I looked at myself very seriously in the mirror. "Get it together, Elizabeth." Finding some bits of chalk in the (very organized, thanks Mom) piles on the floor, I amused myself with drawing on the drywall. Having recently watched "West Side Story" I began with graffiti of the Sharks insignia and then the Jets. Having completed that, I realized I had no idea what time it was. No clock, no watch, no cell phone (were those even invented back then?) I reckoned it had been at least 35 minutes, and the conversation sounded as strong as ever. This is when the desperation started pushing against my chest. With the last bits of chalk I wrote out how many days I'd been incarcerated — one mark, two, five? I scratched out encouraging sentiments and last words. I decided future generations would know my story!
And then, from the abyss I heard the conversation outside my door coming to a close. Could it be? Freedom was near!
"Well, thanks for coming over, Elders," Dad said. "Why don't we gather everyone for family prayer?"
Maybe they wouldn't notice my absence. Maybe they would just go on without me, assuming I'd fallen asleep in my room. But that day, luck was not on my side. One-by-one the siblings came downstairs and waited. And second-by-second I waited and prayed that they'd get on with the prayer.
"Where's Elizabeth?" Mom asked.
"I don't know," came the answer all around.
"Please, please, please, please," I whispered, eyes heaven-ward, hands clasped in front of me.
"Why don't you go get her?" And off they went, looking for me.
"She's not upstairs."
"She's not in the garage."
"ELIZABETH?!" Kelsey called out the front door.
And then, my worst fear was realized. I could picture them all slowly turned their heads toward the closed door just 10 feet from them.
A knock came, my face feeling the vibrations as it was now pressed up against it in agony.
"Elizabeth? Are you in there?"
"Have you been in there this whole time?"
"Seriously? ... Well, it's time for prayer. Come on."
"Uh, I'd rather not," I finally replied.
"Open the door, Elizabeth."
And so, with all the strength I could muster and the courage of an Amazonian warrior, I opened the door. But like a cockroach in the squaller of the Houston slums, I shrunk from the light.
"I'll just kneel right here." Out of sight and on the cold cement floor that had been my home for the past hour (yes, it had only been an hour), I knelt. Someone said the prayer, the missionaries said goodbye — said goodbye even to me in the bathroom, still beyond their vision and completely mortified — and left. And then, from the pit, I emerged. A free woman. A changed woman.
[You're welcome, future generations.]