Happy families lose their keys; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way, but can undoubtedly locate a front door key with little difficulty.
Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina, Chapter 1, first line
Last Friday night, we needed a key to our house. Most, if not all of you, probably have such a key and could locate it in a matter of seconds. “Why,” you might say, astonished at such a ridiculous query, “it’s on my key ring in my purse! Where else would it be?” Those of you given to athletic feats of organization might also be able to cite the location of duplicate keys at the homes of trusted neighbors and friends, under a potted plant near the front porch, or hung neatly on some sort of pegboard or set of hooks, shining rigidly in the hopes of future deployment. Here, among the savages, there is no such certainty.
We needed a key because, for my son’s fourteenth birthday party, we elected to use my husband’s hotel “points” to get two rooms at a nearby Comfort Inn. One was for six boys to stay up all night playing Call of Duty, eating Cheetos, drinking Mountain Dew and calling girls on their cell phones. The other (adjoining, of course) gave us a base from which to monitor them through the connecting door and utter variations on “keep it down” approximately 7,000 times between 7:00PM and 11:00AM. Although we knew we could easily dispatch one adult back to the house to feed and walk our dogs, it occurred to us that we should probably lock the house between those visits. Again, those of you leading traditional lives are widening your eyes and thinking, “well of COURSE you have to lock your house! Don’t you lock it every time you leave?”
The answer is pretty much that we do not. When we moved into this house eleven years ago, the inspector told us that the beautiful, original 1912 front door with its gracious woodwork and central pane of glass would make it incredibly easy to break in. “Replace it,” he said, “or get a big dog.” I wanted the door, and I always want dogs, so the next time Rob left for a work trip I repaired immediately to the Humane Society where I adopted not only the dog I had seen in the newspaper and intended to add to the family, but the rambunctious beagle-terrier mix who seemed so improbably happy to see Sam and me looking through the bars of his cage. Problem solved: we had two dogs, one biggish and one small, both loud enough to scare the living daylights out of anyone foolish enough to attempt to burgle our house.
Between the dogs and the fact that all of our neighbors are undergraduates who are awake (and often outside smoking various things) at all hours, we felt fine with our policy of leaving the house unlocked when we went to the grocery store, or out to dinner. We didn’t travel much, as a family, and when we did leave for longer than twelve hours we had to hire someone to take care of the animals, and we gave that person a house key. Because at one time, we had some house keys. I had one on my key chain, Rob and Sam each had one, and several were disbursed to reliable pet-sitter types who either kept them between times, or left them in the mailbox for us so that we could return them to the neat row of hooks next to the door.
I don’t know what happened, it was some sort of incremental Loss of Key Consciousness, but by Friday, when it occurred to us that one dog was stone deaf and the other was likely to be sleeping under the covers upstairs when the intruder smashed the door in, there were no keys. My key had fallen off the gigantic key ring I carry, which features a bead, which unscrews to “open” the ring to admit new keys. Unfortunately, it unscrews at inopportune moments, and some time in November it disgorged everything but my work keys and my car key into a snow bank at the edge of the mall parking lot. I think. Sam’s key, along with his entire key ring was confiscated by his gym teacher because of his refusal to “dress out” for class, whatever that means. (If it were “dress up,” I would care, but “dressing out” sounds really aggressive and gym-teacherish). There were no keys on the hooks by the door. I started calling everyone to whom we had ever given a house key, realized that more than half of them now lived in other states, and gave up. Desperate, I even called my father who organizes his saw blades by diameter and his handkerchiefs by whiteness, and asked if we had ever given my parents a key. “You don’t have a key to your own house?” he asked, incredulous. “You won’t even be able to get copies made if you can’t find at least one.”
Defeated, slatternly, courting danger, we left the house unlocked, took the boys to an R –rated movie, and carted them off to terrorize small children at the hotel pool before eating toxic junk food. Around 11:30, as I lay on the King-sized bed watching “Criminal Minds,” Rob returned from the dog walking mission. As he took his coat off, I told him I was kind of worried about leaving the house open all night.
“Oh, it’s locked” he said as he picked through the melting ice and unwrapped a plastic cup. “I found a house key on my key ring. I didn’t think to look there.”
That key is the seed, the hard, glittering embodiment of promise that some day, somehow, we will grow a new crop of keys, place them confidently, proudly cite their respective locations, and be Proactive towards life. After my nap.