Keys

Keys and I have always had a complicated relationship. I grew up in a small town and my folks grew up in an even smaller town. I don’t know about no one ever locking their doors, but we rarely did. Keys were a thing grown-ups did. I rarely locked the house I raised my daughter in. I rarely lock my car. But I love the look and sound of keys, especially old ones. I have trouble throwing them away, even if the building or car they open doesn’t exist anymore.

They still signal doing grown up right
.
The problem with keys is they don’t follow me everywhere like a besotted puppy. They stay behind – usually right where I left them, dammit—instead of being where I need them. I have become adept at breaking (or weaseling) my way into places – apartments, theaters, churches, schools – without my keys. I have climbed piles of old tires, boosted myself off car hoods, dropped to basement floors, jimmied locks and woken caretakers.

But keys and I had a particularly rough morning today.

These keys won't open my apartment.

These keys won’t open my apartment.

I left the apartment about 7:45 am. Not so much late for a meeting across town as cutting it close. I wasn’t even all the way down the stairs before I realized I’d left my coffee on the kitchen counter. A few steps back up and I realized what I’d done. I went down and around the back, hoping I’d forgotten to lock the back door (to which I don’t have a key) the night before. No luck.

Luckily I had my car keys. Because it wasn’t that I’d left my keys behind. I had my keys. It was that I’d taken my front door key off my key ring when I went to get duplicates cut. For the third time. Because the first two times, they’d been cut wrong. And I’d probably left my key on the table when I drop the key and the new duplicates in disgust when I discovered they’d been cut wrong again.

I was getting new duplicates cut because my daughter, my boyfriend and myself were locked out just two weeks ago when we relied on the first set of duplicates, which I had made because I wanted them to have backup keys in case … well, you get the idea.

None of these are the right keys,

None of these are the right keys,

I made the call to deal with this right away and get it over with quickly, which was a good thing because it turns out my landlord is in Germany for the month.

Luckily, Jason is a small town kid too and after much Midwestern mutual apologizing he gladly talked me through finding his spare house key, disabling his alarm, and digging through the box of extra keys. Not so luckily, Jason lives about 20 minutes away in the other Twin City (or across the river as we locals say). So I bought some iced coffee and hit the road. Found Jason’s house keys, lost the race to disable the alarm, grabbed a fist full of loose keys (Jason was pretty sure it wasn’t on a ring) and headed home.

Where none of the keys worked. In either door.

Back over to Jason’s. Grabbed the two over-loaded key rings I found there. Back home.

Where I got in! Got my key! Put it on my ring! Grabbed my travel mug! Success! Left (and double checked I had my key) for Jason’s to return the spare keys.

These keys are just lies dressed up as keys.

These keys are just lies dressed up as keys.

Where I realized I had left the keys to Jason’s house on my table when I put my key back on the key ring.

Back home, back up the stairs, back down the stairs, back across the river, back into Jason’s house, back on the road.

Total time from realizing I was locked out to returning Jason’s keys to their super-secret hiding place: just under four hours.

I tend to see losing my keys – especially not being able to find them first thing in the morning – as a sign that I am too scattered, running too fast, too busy. The thing is, the church I work for gave everyone a week long sabbatical this week. I haven’t been doing anything in a rush. I pondered this as I drove back and forth.

I also pondered my theory that every event in your life should fall into one of three categories: it should be fun, it should teach you something or it should make a great story. This morning was landing squarely in the last category. But my spiritual practice lately has been Noticing. And I was noticing a reluctance to share this story, even as I was writing a hysterical version of it in my head. I tried to just watch that reluctance as it rose and fell and see if I could see what was behind it.

Then I realized it was shame. My ego has taken several hits over the last year. I didn’t want those closest to me to know I had screwed up again. I didn’t want them to know I was a flake, a scatter brain who couldn’t do any number of things adults are supposed to be able to do, even simple things like keeping track of keys. (Did I mention I lost the keys to storage unit on moving day? And have managed to lose them again post move?)

Just sit and notice, that’s the practice. Notice the shame. Notice what’s behind it.

Slowly I noticed it wasn’t my nearest and dearest who thought that of me. It was me.

It’s been a rough year. Facebook reminded me that a year ago today my house – the house where I raised my daughter and cared for my aging parents – went on the market. The house that became too expensive for me when I lost my job seven years ago. The house that refinancing and loan modifications couldn’t save. The house that had too many things wrong with it to rent. The house that wouldn’t sell. The house I ultimately lost. Throw in a lost (very part time) side job and it’s no wonder a lost key has me doubting my ability to grown up correctly.

For those of you who are familiar with the enneagram, I have a strong 7 wing. One of the things that means is I can make the toughest situations fun. I can make a jokes during tense situations and turn mishaps into a game. It’s a survival skill that got me through being a single mom and taking care of two elderly parents with minimal bitterness. It gave my daughter a fun-filled childhood despite everything.

But 7s have a dark side. Their jokes and charm and fun are a way of avoiding some very deep pain. I know this from reading about it, but today I noticed it in myself. I saw how I use jokes as a smoke screen to keep my shame at being a screw up hidden from others, but mostly from myself.

So, what to do with this shame? Nothing. I noticed it. That will do for now. To try to fix it will just engage my Inner Critic even more, and I have heard enough from her for one day. I’ll notice when it arises and say “Yup. I feel like a fuck up again. Whaddya gonna do? It is what it is.” I’ll get on with my day. The shame will fade for lack of fuel. Until next time.

And tomorrow I’ll look for a new locksmith.

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