I always wondered how I would deal with being trapped in a small space or held prisoner. The part that worried me the most, strange as it might seem, was what I do to pass the time--with nothing to look at, nothing to read.
If you’re stuck somewhere but can control your environment you’ve brought a book. If you’ve got your phone you can check out Facebook and read your emails. If all else fails, you can find some paper in your purse and write a paragraph for the book you’re working on or even compose the first scene of a new one. If nothing else, there’s always a grocery or errand list that can be composed. But what if you couldn’t do any of those things? What if you were trapped with no outside stimulation? And you’re not allowed to move?
A number of years ago I had an MRI. It was long enough ago that it was in an enclosed tube with a small opening where you slid in. That MRI gave me the opportunity to learn how I would handle such a situation, deprived of all outside stimulation and unable (or in this case, not allowed) to move. I never thought of myself as claustrophobic, but as those of you who’ve had MRIs know—at least if it was twenty-five years ago—it’s cramped and scary inside that tube. On the bright side, it was an opportunity to see how I would deal with being forced to remain motionless, sightless and alone with my thoughts for what seemed like an endless stretch of time.
I’d read stories about prisoners who recited poetry. Unfortunately, I only know a few poems by heart, all learned in grammar school, so as I lay there, in an increasing state of panic, I nixed that idea. Reciting Joyce Kilmer’s “Tree” wouldn’t work.
Instead, I tried doing something that I was confident about: directions. I pictured myself driving to my aunt’s house in New Rochelle, New York from my house in Maplewood, New Jersey and imagined the roads I would have to take. I would go from the Parkway, to the George Washington Bridge and so on. But I was still anxious. Recalling directions was not going to be a good enough distraction.
That’s when I came up with recipes. I’m a cook. Maybe not a great cook, certainly not a chef, but I know how to cook and enjoy it and like most mothers and wives, I’ve cooked many meals and know the recipes for my favorites. Beginning with pasta with broccoli, my family’s favorite, moving on to chicken piccata and risotto, I went through my regular inventory, picturing myself mastering each meal. And the recipes almost saved me. But not quite. One of the technicians called out my name, asking me how I was doing, and I was back in the reality of the dark tunnel.
My recollection, it was about 25 years ago, is that I then proceeded to think about song lyrics and got through a few Broadway tunes before my name was called again, only this time, happily I was finished and on my way out of the tube.
But back to that question, what would I do if? I write romances, books with happy endings, but even in romances, it’s not a good story if there isn’t something for the protagonist and the reader to worry about. Better yet, a challenge for our heroine to face, to defeat. Which brings up that the question, what would my heroine do if I put her into a situation where she’s trapped and unable to escape? Would she get hysterical and fall apart? Or is she brave and resourceful intent on saving her dwindling resources for the next challenge?
Deborah Nolan is the author of SUDDENY LILY and CONFLICT OF INTEREST published by Montlake and SECOND ACT FOR CARRIE ARMSTRONG published by Desert Breeze Publishing.