“If I see a car rolling fast into its stop, it hits me. Hard. I see the headlights appearing out of nowhere. I smell the burnt rubber. I hear h—her cry out… God. It’s like getting punched in the face without warning. Earlier this week I had the right of way, you know that intersection on Midland and East Spencer? A Silverado came in fast to the stop at my left. I cut hard on the breaks and started sweating. It honked at me a couple times, and I just sat there, wanting to cry. Eventually it sped through. Cars coming up behind pulled down their windows to look at me as they passed. They all wanted a look at the freak who can’t drive a car because she can’t get over an accident from twenty years ago. I—I … I don’t know. That’s all I have to say. Thanks, guys.”
“Thank you Lauren,” the moderator, Carlos said, nodding and exchanging sad smiles as he looked around the room. “It was brave of you to relive that with us right now.”
Lauren dried a few tears as people to her left and right in the large circle of chairs patted her gently on the back.
“And a massive thank you to everyone who has shared today,” Carlos said, folding his hands together. “I know this isn’t easy. We’re not going to fix any of this before we go to bed tonight. But we also don’t have to! My hope is that hearing each other’s stories, all of them different, all of them worth sharing, will help us realize that we’re not alone.”
“As for next week’s sessi—“
“Hello!” A man poked his head through the door. He wore a full suit and was soaking wet. He looked just south of thirty, and scanned the room chaotically, with the wild eyes of a cornered animal.
“Hello, sir!” Carlos recovered quickly. “Are you here for the Knights of Columbus meeting? I think they reserved the space for 8:30. You should have about a half hour.”
“Knights of Columbus?” the man pondered. “No, no, I’m here for the PTSD and Recovery Group Session! Am I too late?”
“Oh, welcome!” Carlos beamed. “Yes, we actually start at 7:00, but we can all stick around for a few more minutes, yeah, gang? And I can get all your info down for official registration after, Mr. …?”
“Dover,” the man said, walking in graciously, “Matthew Dover.”
“Frank, do you mind grabbing Matthew a chair? Looks like there’s a couple by the closet over there–“
“No, no,” Matthew said, walking to the center of the circle. “I’d rather stand.”
“Uh, of course,” Carlos said, staring at the soaking wet man in front on him.
“How do we do this?” Matthew asked. “Should I jump right in?”
“Whatever makes you feel most comfortable.”
“Very well, then.” Matthew rotated slowly. There were about fourteen people in the group, all ages and sizes, and he looked each one square in the eye before beginning.
“It was November 18th, 2016. My girlfriend Megan had scored tickets to Late Night with Seth Meyers. Megan was always good about entering those raffles. We got to 30 Rock around 5:30, and one thing I especially remember is seeing the Christmas tree. It wasn’t decorated or anything yet. It was just sitting there… waiting. We showed our tickets and were brought to this waiting room with the rest of the audience, where the NBC pages revved us up for the show.”
Matthew wiped the rain from his eyes and exhaled.
“It was a good show. Jeff Goldblum was the special guest. The band sounded great. Seth was a gracious host. By the end of it we were all jazzed up and Megan couldn’t stop smiling. You know those kinds of dates that are just absolute home runs, where it all seems effortless?”
The group murmured in acknowledgment.
“We cheered with the rest of the crowd, and walked out of the studio riding high. And that’s … that’s when they funneled us back towards the elevator.” Matthew took a breath. “Studio 8G is up on the eighth floor, just down the hall from SNL, and there are two elevators to get back down to the street. The pages divide everyone into groups of maybe twelve or thirteen. We were led to the second elevator, where we stood in the back.”
“The elevator filled up and the doors closed. It was a little crowded and a bigger guy at the front immediately said ‘Couldn’t shell out for another elevator, NBC?’ He got a huge laugh from the group. Like I told you guys, it had been a great show. We were all jazzed. For a few seconds, the elevator wasn’t moving and a girl next to Megan joked ‘How I Spent the Night in an NBC Elevator.’ Then the guy next to her said ‘A Vice exclusive!’ The elevator was absolutely on fire. Eventually, it started heading down, but not before the big guy pitched a show where a bunch of late night audience members are interminably trapped in an elevator. He yelled, ‘What should we call it … Floored?’ And then the whole group was chiming in with ideas. ‘Ups and Downs!’ ‘Easy Listening!’ ‘Next Level!’ Megan shouted, ‘How about Push My Buttons?!’ The group just loved that.”
“We reached the first floor. It had been a wild ride and was done too soon. I would’ve gladly ridden a hundred floors with those people. And that’s when I said it. Seven words that completely ruined my life. The elevator rumbled to a stop, everybody cheered, and I blurted them out. ‘Do you guys want to get drinks?!’”
Matthew took off his suit jacket and let it fall to the ground. He looked again at each member of the group before settling on Carlos.
“Sudden silence. Just deathly quiet. Everyone kept their eyes glued to the floor. Not even Megan would look at me. The doors opened and another page was waiting for us. She cheerfully pointed down the hall, towards the gift shop, but immediately stopped talking once she saw the looks on our faces. It was the big guy who spoke first. He muttered, ‘Alrighty then …” and walked away. One by one, the rest of them followed suit, all looking horrified.”
“Megan dragged me past the page and through the gift shop. There were a couple Seinfeld shirts I would’ve bought, but I barely noticed them. It wasn’t until we got outside into the cold air did I realize I was trembling. Megan whirled me around and grabbed me by the collar. ‘What the hell was that?!’ She was crying. ‘Why would you say that?! Drinks?!’
“I tried to think of how to answer to her question. But I didn’t know how. There was magic in that elevator. Hadn’t she felt it? Hadn’t she joined in? I tried explaining this to her. But it only got her more upset. ‘It was an elevator ride, Matthew,’ she said, ‘That was called banter. And those people were strangers. What, now we should invite them to our wedding because we all laughed at some shitty puns?’
“‘Our what?’ I said. My mind was a million miles away. I’d said the wrong thing. Again. Megan pulled me to her and kissed my forehead. ‘I can’t do this anymore,’ she whispered. ‘Go grab drinks with your elevator friends.’ She walked away, and I stayed in that same spot for another hour, staring at the bare Christmas tree.
“It’s been over two years,” Matthew said, “and I’m still haunted by that night. I moved out of our apartment that same week, and now live at home with my parents. I had to quit my job. One day my boss Craig asked if the sales team would like to get drinks and I fainted. This is the first day I haven’t worn pajamas in over a year. I wanted to make an effort for you guys,” he said, gesturing to his suit, “but I had to walk here in the rain. Cars are too confined for me. They remind me of elevators.”
“I played it safe,” he said, shaking his head. “I went to the right school, I got the right job, I thought I was dating the right girl. But now I spend my days eating cereal out of a frisbee and finishing multiple adult coloring books a day. There was one night, about a week ago, that convinced me I needed help. I left the house to pick up some Chinese at Man Lin Dynasty in town, and I saw Megan. She was sharing a plate of lo mein with the big guy. From the elevator.”
The group gasped.
“He was telling a story and she couldn’t stop laughing. I watched them as I waited for my sesame chicken. And you know what, guys? She was happy. Truly happy. She finally had a man who knew how to tell a joke. A man whose elevator banter comes as easy as breathing.”
“Matthew,” Carlos said, wiping away a tear, “It’s impossible for us to understand what you’ve been through. But we’re going to do our best to support you and help you heal. Is there anything people here would like to say?”
“I served two tours in Afghanistan,” one woman said, standing up, “and I just thank God I never experienced anything like the horror you’re describing.”
“You definitely didn’t,” Matthew agreed, “thank you for saying that.”
“I watched my dad fall through the ice in our backyard when I was six,” an older gentleman said.
“And I’ve never recovered. But that pales in comparison to this,” he said. “I’m here for you, Matthew.”
One by one the group relayed their trauma, and their commitment to Matthew Dover.
“You see? We’re all here for you, Matthew. Now. Is there something you’d like to ask us?” Carlos said.
“Yes,” Matthew nodded and cleared his throat. “Do you guys want to get drinks?”