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The Night My House Broke Up with Me

It was a dark and stormy night.

Actually, it was a frigid January night, and all the homes in our old neighborhood were shut tight. As tight as the skin on Joan Rivers’ face.

I was in the bathroom bathing the kids, then ages 4 and 2. Roger was out of town and not due until the following night. His absences were particularly hard during those early years, and I would celebrate his return with a quick peck on the cheek (well, not consistently) as I headed out the door to go, well, anywhere alone for several hours.

Our home was, at the time, 115 years old, a majestic Victorian with “character” in Denver proper. The sole bathroom was on the second floor, a small postage stamp-size with limited cabinet and towel-hanging space. It had a row of windows that faced the south.

An old Victorian, but not OUR Victorian. By Steven Martin via CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The kids played for a bit and once they were  squeaky clean I pulled them out and bundled them up in their ducky towels. Reed, the 2 year-old, was the first to be ready to leave the steamy room. He pulled on the doorknob — original with the house — and it came off in his hand, to his delight.

“Look, Mommy!” He presented me with what he thought was a glorious unexpected windfall.

My eyes grew wide in horror as the implications washed over me, drowning me in dread.

  • I was locked in a bathroom.
  • With two small children.
  • For 24 more hours.
  • No food, blankets, pillows, clothes (for them), diapers (for Reed), and with only a few bath toys for entertainment.

This was in the time before ubiquitous cell phones.

Can you feel my horror?

Looking for a way out, I opened the creaky windows and a blast of arctic air rushed in. I yelled, “HELLO? CAN ANYONE HEAR ME?” several times, hoping against hope that someone was out and about in our neighborhood as evening bordered on night. What I thought they could do to help, I did not know. My call was greeted by calm silence that belied what was going on inside me.

I managed the panic the best I could and resigned myself to our fate. It would be HORRIBLE but not life-threatening. Hopefully. I mean I HOPED I would not threaten anyone’s life in the coming 24 hours, especially my own. I began to contemplate how we would all sleep in the bathtub with only two ducky towels, a hand towel and a washcloth to serve as mattress, blankets and pillows.

It was going to be a loooooooooooooooooong night. I was filled with hatred for the house.

Suddenly, with one stroke of genius, Tessa saved the day. “Mom! Look!”

She pointed at the phone (landline!) I’d had in my hand as their bath started, now sitting on the counter under an unused washcloth.

Hear the sounds of angels singing a four-part chord, bathed in a warm heavenly glow?

My adrenals unclenched as I dialed my parents. I found Mom and Dad at home, told them my plight and asked if they would let themselves in with our spare house key and release us from our prison.

Thirty minutes later we were sprung. We slept in our beds, our amazingly comfortable, warm and spacious beds. In the morning we ate a delicious breakfast — Cheerios never tasted so good.

I love my parents. Can’t say the same for that house. I’d been thinking of moving for awhile, trading in for a younger, roomier model in the ‘burbs. Did my house want to be the breakER rather than the breakEE? What-ev.

We sold it 4 months later. Doorknobs and all.

Lori Holden, mom of a young adult daughter and a young adult son, writes from Denver. She was honored as an Angel in Adoption® by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.

Find Lori’s books on her Amazon Author page, and catch episodes of Adoption: The Long View wherever you get your podcasts.

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28 Responses

  1. bwaaahahahaha! You have to love the old houses with “charm”. Ours attempted a similar (but not as scary) break up. The front door knob broke less than a year after we moved in. Irreplaceable. We have to get a whole new door which (of course) has a charming arched top. That’s a bill we don’t feel like facing yet. Thank goodness for security screen doors and deadbolts! I’m guessing you’re much happier now that you’ve traded in for a younger model?

  2. At first I thought, “why didn’t you call me?!”

    And then I realized why it was so important for you to carry the phone into the bathroom.

    In the frigid January of 2005, you were waiting to hear I was on the way to the hospital to give Reed and Tessa a cousin.

    No wonder I’ve never let you bathe him. 😉

  3. One of my doorknobs broke off this week. Door and doorknob are more than a century old. It’s a door that we never ever closed before; now we use it many times per hour as it serves as a barrier for my little crawlers to stay in their play area. I bet that doorknob never got this much use in the previous 100+ years.

    Luckily there is another way in and out of the room, and I have now fixed the doorknob. I figured out a way to keep using it without the missing screw, but my husband didn’t know the trick, and every time he’d use the door he’d “remind” me that the knob might fall off and bonk a baby on the head.

    Your story is far more exciting.

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  7. This is why I don’t close doors in our house…no really it is. 🙂
    I love the name of the post and all the “feelings” in it…it really is hard to be rational in those moments isn’t it????

    SO glad you were sprung,,,phones make all the difference or doors that don’t close. 🙂

  8. What a good story! I would like more of these please. I need to find some stories like this from my life that I could blog about.

    Do you ever listen to This American Life? This reminds of a story that would be on there.

  9. I guess the universe sends us messages ALL of the time. Sometimes we are FORCED to pay attention.

    So glad you were sprung!!!

  10. I can so relate. I was not feeling well last weekend (cramps) and was in the bath for several hours in the middle of the night. During that time I kept adding a bit more warm water but never anywhere near the top. That morning when we went to eat breakfast my husband noticed a huge soggy crack in our dining room ceiling. It appears the previous owners never connected the overflow to anything so 3 hours for bathwater was going into our ceiling. This was more a bad flip than an old home issue but the old home is definitely coming into play! Love this story!

  11. I had an older hosue that had a cheap doorknob on the bathroom. I learned that if I put the part with the post on the inside of the bathroom that when the knob on the outside fell off that I could stil escape. I still remember one of our parties where a neighbor got locked in the bathroom for a while. We had loud music so nobody noticed. Your story taught me 2 lessons: #1 carry your phone to the bathroom and #2 have the person with your house key programmed into the phone. We have some neighbors that have a key, but since they’re neighbors I’m not sure I have them in my phone…

  12. HA! I can only imagine the horror! But to look at the positive side, it would have been a great opportunity to potty train?

    Glad the house bathroom didn’t swallow you up 🙂

  13. I smiled as I read this because today our dog had a door shut behind him. In clawing the door to try to get out he managed to flip a lock (he apparently is smart enough to know to claw the doorknob). My husband had to use a pocket knife to unlock the door to get him out. 🙂

  14. I love this story! I’ll bet the house was beautiful but don’t blame you a bit for selling it later – doorknobs and all. Wow, thank goodness you had your phone and your parents had a spare key! Yikes!

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