The Elevator Priest
The poetry in writing is the illusion it creates.
(© 2017 by the author)
The author retains all rights. No reproductions are allowed without the author's
consent. Comments are appreciated at...
As told by Allen Henkin
I was minding my own business when I got into the elevator on the 34th floor. When I got off of the elevator in the lobby, I was no longer minding my own business. I stood for a moment and watched the young man walk through the lobby and exit through the revolving door.
When I first got on the elevator I hardly noticed him. Just a young man, dressed in black, riding the elevator, like me. I noticed he was carrying a briefcase which looked like it might contain a laptop computer. I did not look at him. Well, maybe a peek, a quick one. I was minding my own business.
What happened between floor 34 and the lobby is still a mystery. It began when I felt he was staring at me. Maybe not staring, but definitely looking. You can feel it when people do that. I didn’t mind. He seemed harmless. It was clear, however, he was not minding his own business.
I had recently extracted myself from an unpleasant relationship - I caught the bastard cheating on me, and I was not about to look at anyone else, at least not for a while.
By floor 24, I changed my mind - I looked. It was a priest for God’s sake. I saw the white collar and looked away so fast I almost got whiplash. I hoped he had not noticed.
Why the hell was he looking at me? Were my sins that obvious? Next thing you know he’ll be asking to pray for my sins. An elevator to hell and back again would not be long enough.
He was still looking at me. The length of his looking was longer than would normally be proper. Yes, it was definitely inappropriate looking. By floor 15 I could no longer stand it, I looked again. He not only was looking at me, he was smiling. Oh jeez, he knew something. I flipped through my mental sin file trying to decide which one was the worst.
He had a nice smile, so I smiled back, “Hi.” I regretted doing that.
It wasn’t morning, it was late afternoon. By the time we reached floor 3, where the elevator stopped to pick up a passenger, he began talking. “Haven’t we met?”
“Oh no, I don’t think so.” Certainly not in any of the haunts I frequented.
“Oh, my mistake.”
He had such a pleasant voice, I had a twinge of regret that I did not know him. The elevator door closed, no one had gotten on, we continued to the lobby. I let him out first. “Well, you have a pleasant day.”
I thanked him with “Yeah sure.” I had watched Fargo on TV and was into yeah sure and you betcha. He exited through the revolving door, paused and waved to me.
I waved back without thinking. Well, what the hell, why not. It was just a wave, not a lifelong commitment. Nothing was going on and never would or so I tried to convince myself. He disappeared into the crowd. I had just gotten away from the fires of hell, and here I was contemplating the possibilities with one of God’s own.
I decided I was not a well person and should dismiss the wave as nothing more than a compliment from a nice spiritual person. Heaven knows I needed the compliment after the last chapter of my failed romance with that cheating son of a bitch. I felt better and went about my day a little more cheerful.
Well, I’ll be damned if he wasn’t on the elevator the next day. I recognized him and could not ignore him. So I gave him a cheerful, “Hi, how are ya?” He was dressed the same, same white collar, same briefcase. It was like déjà vu.
“Oh, I’m fine, thank you. Nice to see you again.” Yeah, sure he was. After one brief meeting, he was soo glad to see me again. I faced the front of the elevator and pretended he wasn’t there.
“So, are you through for the day?” He asked at floor 23. So much for ignoring him. Was I through for the day? Why did he want to know?
“Yeah sure,” I replied and wished I hadn’t. It opened up a conversation I did not want to have.
“I’ll bet you saw Fargo, didn’t you?”
Now, what was I supposed to say? I was not going to say yeah sure again. So I said something even more inane, “How did you guess?”
By the time we reached the lobby you would have thought we had been friends since childhood. But, and I hate to admit this, I was smitten. He was a good conversationalist and not at all threatening. My reaction had to be rebound from my sociopathic ex- experience.
I walked to the revolving door with him but had the feeling I was following him. Jesus, could I be more pathetic? But, he was good looking and I was enjoying the conversation. I had the insane vision of my tongue hanging out, and I was drooling.
As we passed through the revolving door I intended to go in the opposite direction from where he was going.
He was nice about his farewell. “Well, I’ll be seeing you. Have a nice day.”
I replied in proper English. “Thank you. Likewise, I’m sure.” Then I wondered if that was proper English? It didn’t matter, he was gone, and I was on my way to the “L” Station and home to my apartment.
I was waiting for the next elevated train when I heard a pleasant voice behind me. Oh, Christ - it’s him, who I thought I had skillfully avoided. Evidently not. Was he following me?
“Looks like we’re headed in the same direction.”
I stumbled over “Yea . . . it sure does.” I felt an attack of lame coming on.
“So, where are you getting off?”
“Diversey. And you?”
“Well, that’s a coincidence, so am I. We must live in the same neighborhood.”
“No,” I lied - and to a priest. “I’m visiting a friend.”
“Ah, I see.” From the tone of his voice, I don’t think he did see. He knew I was not telling the truth and would write it down somewhere.
The train pulled into the Diversey station, the door opened and he got off, I did not. The door closed and the train moved forward. I glimpsed him as he turned around and looked in my direction. Oh God, what an idiot. I’m sure I would run into him on the goddamned elevator and have to explain why I did not get off.
But do I care? I don’t know this person, this priest. What do I care what he thinks? Just because I have lame written across my forehead should not make it any worse than it already was. Well, it made it worse, a lot worse. I got off at the next stop and onto the next train going back to Diversey. I looked both ways as I got off of the train to make sure he wasn’t waiting for me, and then skipped down the stairs and almost knocked someone over at the bottom of the stairway. Oh God, it was Saint Peter the Priest.
I stopped and had no words. He did.
“Did I do something wrong to make you miss your stop?”
“Who me?” Was I going to tell him the truth or add another lie to my lopsided Karma? I fessed up and let the pieces fall where they may, hoping he would laugh at me and walk away. I could deal with that. But, as my luck would have it, he did not laugh nor did he walk away.
“Padre, or Father or whatever people call you. . . “
“It’s Barry. You can call me Barry.”
He was so polite and caring I could have kissed him. “Barry, I apologize for my behavior. I just got over a horrible relationship and I haven’t gotten my feet on the ground yet.”
“Hey, I understand. Why don’t we go somewhere and you can tell me about it?”
“Like a confession?” Jeez, I did not believe I had said that. What a nimrod.
“No, not like a confession. Just two people talking together. You might not believe me, but I’ve been there.”
“You have?” I was surprised. “Yeah, sure I have.” He grinned.
He was mocking me. I was not going anywhere with this guy. “Well, thanks, but I . . . “
“Hey, I was kidding. Please, come up to my place and we’ll talk. I would like it if you would. The first time I saw you in the elevator I figured something was weighing on your mind.”
“You did?” I was surprised he noticed, let alone remembered.
“Hey, I’m a priest, that’s what we do.” He smiled that lovely smile again.
“Well, okay, but only for a few minutes.”
“What’s your name?”
“It’s Allen, Allen Henkin. You can call me Al.” I chuckled at the crazy thought he was about to ask me for my social security number.
“What’s so funny, Al?”
“Oh, nothing. I’m a little crazy - you might as well know it up front.”
A few minutes? A few minutes my ass, I was up there for three fucking hours, used up a whole box of his tissue, and felt like a million bucks - I was getting to like this guy - he was good. I promised to replace the tissue box and left his apartment after a big farewell hug, and a promise to meet him again - with a new tissue box.
I waltzed home like I was on air, hadn’t felt that good in a long time. Here was a gentle, caring person, who didn’t want to bed down with me. He cared about me as another human in distress. I could not have been happier.
We saw each other several times in the park and along the lake front. And then I began to feel differently toward him. I reasoned it was rebound and made excuses not to see him. No use making his life miserable if I drooled all over him.
We had gone running and biking a few times, his body was definitely worth drooling over. He was Catholic and a priest, unfortunately, so that would not happen. Best to break it off - for his benefit. The first unselfish thing I had done in a long time. It felt good, but I missed seeing him.
A month went by when I noticed an article in the newspaper. It was an announcement – the Reverend Barry Petersen had been elevated to the title of Monsignor Petersen. I was pleased for him and almost called with congratulations. I decided not to open that box of worms.
His new duties as Monsignor took him to another location in Downtown Chicago - far away from me, thank God. I was off the hook of running into him on the elevator. But not off the hook of running into him.
There are over a million people roaming around Chicago at any given time and I had to roam into him. I was on my way home when someone touched my shoulder. “Monsignor.” I was surprised to see him.
“Ah, you know. Barry - please.”
“I was so pleased to read of your nomination. You must be doing a cracker jack job for the Church.” Somehow Cracker Jack didn’t seem to fit. I didn’t correct myself, and he didn’t seem to notice.
“Thanks. Hey, I miss seeing you. Perhaps we can get together someday – soon.”
That pause followed by - soon - almost sounded like he was pleading with me. I decided I was wrong. “Oh, that’s swell of you but I…”
He was pleading. “Well, sure, if you…”
“Okay, how about this weekend, if you’re not busy.”
“Saturday would be perfect. What time?”
“Anytime. You name it.” Something was going on, and I guessed I would be the last one to find out – as usual. He seemed almost desperate.
We decided on a run along the lake at 11 a.m. My mind went into overdrive trying to figure out what he was up to.
Saturday dawned a mild and hazy June day, punctuated with a gentle breeze from Lake Michigan. I arrived early and watched Barry running through the park toward the agreed upon meeting place. He wore a black tank top and running shorts which were far too short for my eyes and running shoes at the end of those beautiful legs.
Dear God, I could see this was not going to be a fun time for me with this half naked man. As we ran, he would sweat which would make it even worse. His tank top would cling to his pecs and abs. The muscles that weren’t covered would be glistening in the sunlight with his sweat. You may as well dangle a Popsicle in front of me and dare me to lick it. There would be no licking this Popsicle. If I had only insisted on lunch or dinner with clothing. But here I was – trapped like a thirsty rat. Why the hell I consented to this meeting in the first place was beyond me.
He arrived, we exchanged pleasantries, walked a little way, and then jogged. I was about to ask him why he wanted this meeting when he stopped and began pacing back and forth. He was obviously struggling with something in his head. “Barry, what in the world is wrong?” He shook his head and kept pacing. I was becoming somewhat pissed. “Well, for God’s sake, what the hell is it?”
He sat down on the cement ledge and hung his head. All I saw was the back of his neck and his muscular shoulders glistening in the sunlight.
“It’s you,” he whispered.
“Me!” I almost shouted. “What the hell did I do?”
He shook his head and remained silent. I sat down next to him, close enough to lick the beads of sweat off of his glistening shoulders. “Well, if I didn’t do anything, what is it?”
He still wouldn’t answer. I saw he was in agony about something. “Okay, come on - let’s go to my place. Now it’s my turn to let you talk.” We half walked, half jogged to my apartment.
The front door closed, I went to the kitchen to make coffee. Why, I don’t know, because he didn’t like coffee. Well, he’ll have to be satisfied with water – out of the faucet. I didn’t have bottled water on hand.
When I noticed he hadn’t followed me, I looked into the hallway and saw him standing by the front door, staring at me in a way which frightened me. This was not the Barry I thought I knew.
I went up to him, “Barry?”
He looked into my eyes in a way that scared the hell out of me. It felt like he was looking through my eyes and into my soul. I was on the verge of panicking when out it came. His voice was like a child pleading for help.
“Would you hold me, Allen?”
“Would I what?” Oh, my God, I grabbed him, pulling him into a tight embrace. He was still sweating, now I could smell him, and I liked it. I loved it. I wanted this man more than I realized. I was on the verge of getting dizzy. You can’t do this Allen. You have to get away from him somehow.
He rested his head on my shoulder and began sobbing so pitifully I cried along with him and wasn’t sure why. I tightened my grip to let him know I would not let go.
It seemed like we stood there forever before his sobs subsided. It was getting dark. He took a deep breath, “I’m sorry Allen. I didn’t mean this to happen.”
I pulled away from him. “Didn’t mean this to happen? Would you mind telling me what the hell is going on with you?” I walked into the kitchen and turned on the lights. He looked a mess. “Barry, sit. Okay, let’s have it. Here’s the box of tissue I never returned to you – in case you need it.” I poured coffee for me and water for him. He sipped the water. In gut-wrenching disjointed sentences, he began revealing the sadness within his soul.
The long and short of it, he loved being a priest. It was the celibacy thing that had been drilled into him which became a burden he could no longer bear.
He told me the first time he saw me in the elevator something clicked inside of him. His attraction grew and grew until he did not know what he would do.
“Why in the world didn’t you say something?”
“Why not for heaven’s sake?” I was still in shock at what was happening.
After a pause, he began again, unsure of himself. “In seminary, it’s called formation. They almost brainwash you until everyone comes out looking and feeling the same. I was 18 when I entered the seminary. When I graduated I was in my mid 20’s, and trapped into what they had made of me.”
“When I saw you the first time, it unraveled a little. I denied it, prayed over it, it would not go away.”
“When you stopped calling me, I was thankful but miserable. Then, when I saw you on Michigan Avenue, I almost kept going, but couldn’t. So I turned around and touched you. My knees were shaking so, I wasn’t sure how much longer I could stand upright. When you turned around and I saw your face after such a long time, it all burst back on me. I probably made a fool of myself pleading to see you again.”
“You did.” I agreed and laughed. “You looked so pathetic I couldn’t refuse.”
“Did I look that bad?” he smiled.
“Oh yes, you did. But I doubt anyone noticed. You know how people are on the street - they ignore each other.”
He looked across the table. “Allen – will you hold me again – and not out of sympathy this time?”
I could have burst out crying. Instead, I put on my serious face. “Well, I don’t know. You being a priest and all.” My intention was to stretch it out as long as possible, to see how serious he was. The pain on his face told me I should not have done that. He was serious. I tried to lighten the mood. “Penance! There must be penance for not telling me sooner. What say you, priest?” I smiled enough to bring him out of his dark mood. His sense of humor returned.
“I don’t know. I have a candy bar in my backpack.”
“A candy bar for a hug. Is that it?” He liked to play, so did I.
“Yeah. Too much, too little?” He grinned.
“No, not too much – I’m easy. Go get your candy bar.” He returned with a box of Cracker Jack in his hand.
“What?” I pretended I did not understand the symbolism.
“You didn’t think I caught that smart ass remark you made when we met on the avenue.” He was enjoying himself, and so was I.
“Well, I…” I grabbed the box of Cracker Jack. “Okay, your penance is paid. Come here.”
At that moment I realized how much I cared for this man, not only his body, it was the stuff between his ears that grabbed me. Much to my relief, I knew what I felt was not rebound. It was for this man, this priest, this man dedicated to God. Wow – I could not imagine it getting any better than that.