Monday, August 25, 2008

Show Us Your Keyring

Keys of Destruction

Since being confronted by my mother with a photo of my key ring, the image of that tarnished and de-jeweled bird has been free-falling through my psyche. I was asked to write on what the key chain says about me. I knew right away what I had to say: my life has been destroyed.

Three years ago it was my husband who confronted me about my keys. There were so many of them on my ring, he was convinced their weight would harm the ignition switch when I stuck my car key in it and let the others hang. “I’m sure you don’t need those all anyway,” he said. I counted them out for him. There were four keys to my father’s house, two to my mother’s, one key for each of our three cars as well as one more to my mom’s, a key to each of two classrooms as well as their media cabinets, a key to the office I shared -- and to the office building bathroom of course, and two keys to two different mail boxes. Schooled in the sum of my responsibilities and entrustments, my husband was uncharacteristically speechless.

When I went back to law school in 2005, I had no more need for classroom keys. In 2006, my car was obliterated in an accident that also wrecked the lives of seven people. In 2007, my father’s wife died, taking with her any desire I had to enter his home. My mother, whose truck was totaled later that year, now lives with us in a home that requires only one key, my copy of which has been turned over to the maids. And earlier this year I turned over my keys to the office – and its bathroom and mailbox -- when I had a disagreement with my best friend and officemate. Voilá: a life deconstructed, one key at a time.
There were other things on my old key ring that have been lost as well: the supermarket tags and gift souvenirs that cluttered my memory and routine.

When I switched to my new key ring, I decided not to bring my club tags with me. The supermarket can identify me by my (outdated) phone number. My Office Depot tag became meaningless the day I quit teaching. And as long as I was reducing my life to its essentials, I had to admit that after eight years if I had never been able to purchase ten of the same type and size of cat food bag within the short time allotted me by Petco, I never would, and thus relinquished all hopes of earning the elusive eleventh free bag. Bye-bye Pals card. Bye-bye idealistic youth.

Other items on my old key ring were a metallic miniature Wheel of Fortune Tarot card, and two souvenir charms from Louisiana and Texas. After living through the havoc the wheel of fortune wrought on my life via its close association with my keys, I decided to stop its turning for a while. As for the other mementos of happy trips without me, they were cast aside as unnecessary, boastful in the Amish sense. What does it mean to be remembered by someone else on her vacation when you don’t have a life?

So there is my life laid bare in that photo: keys to cars that aren’t mine and one key to my husband’s garage-cum-office. They are hung together on a bird that was a gift from my mother, tarnished and missing its blue glass bead decoration. I resist all temptation to read into the bird. Is it grounded? Can it fly? Are those few keys too heavy for it to carry? It doesn’t matter. The bird was given to me by my mother and safeguards keys to things my husband owns. That says what you need to know. I have now only what I was born with: the body my mother gave me (showing its age) and a deep desire to love and be loved by family.

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