What I Learned from Getting Trapped Inside My Apartment on Black Friday

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

I’ve been “stuck” both physically and metaphorically before: trapped in an elevator, caught in an awkward situation, stuck in a soulless job and even cornered in my own head. This Black Friday, I was able to add getting trapped in my bedroom to the list. Ridiculous, yet hilarious . . . I know. While it’s fun and therapeutic to laugh about it now, this was by far the most physically and mentally draining predicament I have ever found myself in (yes I’ve lived a very fortunate life.) Even with my first world problems, I feel like an enlightened survivor and have some learnings and laughs to share.

What Happened?

On the morning of November 24th, 2017 I emerged from my slumber at around 9:00am ready to conquer Black Friday in spite of my fractured right foot (that is another story) and post Thanksgiving food coma. I followed my usual routine of rolling around solo in bed for twenty minutes before conjuring the motivation to get vertical and release my full bladder. I popped on my sexy Terminator like boot (#2018trendstowatch) and hopped towards the handle of my bedroom door. I cleverly closed it the night before to help insulate my room not knowing the trouble it would bring,

As I reached with my right hand doing what I’ve done a hundred times before, I turned the knob clockwise and pulled … but nothing happened. So I tried and tried again, then I tried some more, but still no cigar. Fifteen minutes later, I laid out my options:

Handiwork of the previous tenant. This wasn’t me.

Option 1:

Call my brother for help. He had an extra set of keys to my apartment for situations like this and could try to open the door from the other side. The problem: I had bolted my front door.

Option 2:

I could try to climb from my bedroom window and jump across an eight-foot wide interior shaft to another window leading into the hallway on the other side of the door: something Jason Bourne could easily do. The problem: I was working with a fractured foot, have a fear of heights and I didn’t have the key to unlock the gate on the window.

Option 3

Ask a neighbor to use the fire escape to try to break into my apartment from my kitchen window. The problem: After spending my childhood watching Law & Order SVU (#asianparents), I added extra locks to the windows leading to the fire escape.

Option 4:

Call the fire department and have them break down both my front door and bedroom door. The problem: these firemen had real problems to combat, and what the hell would I say to them when I called?

After this brainstorm session, I came to the conclusion that I did an incredible job in making sure no one got into my apartment (or out.) I was left with no other noble option than to figure out how to MacGyver the situation on my own. I’ve built IKEA furniture, played with LEGOS growing up and have been going through a DIY phase. It couldn’t be so hard, right?

Over the course of the next hour, I scavenged my apartment for tools. I used Metrocards, a Blick art store saving’s card, scissors, rulers, twine and a cable to try to pry, pull, unscrew and unlock that damn door.

Working it!!!

A couple of blisters and a chipped door frame later, I felt defeated. I gave into calling for help. The problem: my iPhone had been acting weird and I could not send or receive calls. I had procrastinated fixing it for a few weeks. I also left all of my computers outside of my bedroom because I was trying a “no electronics in the bedroom” challenge beyond my broken cellphone. Luckily, texting and weirdly Face-timing worked. I sent an SOS text message to my brother, sister, aunt, uncle, parents (who were in Australia) and friends. Everyone responded within a few minutes and my aunt and uncle agreed to bring over a Phillips screwdriver and hammer. The problem: how would I get them?

I live on the third story of a walk up building. It would have been deadly for an average person to try to climb it. My last resort involved throwing a rope I hacked together by tying seven sheets, an extension cord and a belt with a lunch bag attached at the end out of my window down to my aunt. She placed the emergency supplies into the bag and I slowly pulled the rope back up while praying that it wouldn’t fall apart.

For the next fifteen minutes I unscrewed the disfigured doorknob and then started hacking away with the hammer. As I swung the last hit that pushed the defective lock out of the door, I felt a rush of energy. Freedom never felt so good. It was 12:30pm on Black Friday and I was free at last.

What I Learned:

1. Don’t procrastinate the important things like a broken phone and storing away your air conditioner during the fall when you’re supposed to.

2. Always be prepared, even in your own home. Having supplies such as a hammer (which can also function as a weapon), flashlight and bottles of water (to drink and store fluids) in the room you spend the most time in your home can really come in handy.

3. But do not over prepare. In my rare case, I over-secured my home without having an exit plan. Always make sure that in the event there is a fire, you have a means of egress.

4. Stay calm. While hacking my way to freedom, I had a panic attack, which provoked me to stupidly use a pair of scissors to try to pry open the door. Lesson learned: do not use scissors for anything beyond what they are meant to do: cut things. I lowered my heart rate as I dressed my wounds by listening to Jack Johnson tunes and practicing some deep breathing. A friend even sent over a funny Bumble exchange for comedic relief.

5. It is ok to ask for help.

6. My family and friends are awesome.

Wow, you got through this overly detailed escape tale. Hopefully I inspired some laughs and provided examples of what not to do.

If you have a similar tale to share, drop me a line at tongcindyy@gmail.com. Writing can be therapeutic and it’s always great to know you’re not alone.