Keys

You couldn’t pay an infant with a year’s supply of applesauce to let loose a set of keys. Once they are in the tight clutch of a baby’s hands, it is nearly impossible to pry them free. However, along the way to adulthood, something happens to the grip on those keys. They no longer intrigue us like in the good ol’ days. In fact, the way we carelessly place them anywhere and everywhere, it would make you wonder that, perhaps in some unconscious way, we are determined to create a situation that is guaranteed to drive us nuts.

I am one of those lost infants…

I’m on schedule for taking my son, Brandon, to his first high school football practice. We all know what happens if you are late: it’s an hour’s worth of God-help-me fatiguing exercises: Gut Busters, Back Breakers, Bone Crackers, and the infamous Suicides. And if that’s not enough, at the end of Camp Medieval, the coaches will make sure you have a nice cool-down with a two-mile run….in pads. Brandon needs to be at practice at 8:20am. It is 7:30. We have plenty of time since I know it takes exactly twenty-one minutes to get from our house to the high school. My thoughts are rational and clear:

Hmmm. Can’t find my keys. No problem, I’ll just check the little hook thing for keys on the wall by the door to the garage—the hook thing that I bought at the hardware store to hang my keys on so I would never lose them.

The keys are not there. But it’s really no big issue, as I usually leave them on my dresser. With plenty of time, I casually walk back to my bedroom. Along the way, I take the time to pick up some dirty clothes that my kids have left strewn throughout the hallway. One of the items is my underwear. Quickly, I snatch it as I want to remain an example of how we shouldn’t leave clothes laying about. “Kids, there are dirty clothes in the hallway. Let’s put the dirties in the laundry basket.” I shove my underwear into my pocket, gather up the clothes, and then continue my way to the bedroom. There, I find that my dresser countertop is clean.

“Hmmm. That’s strange. I could’ve sworn I left them here.” I check my watch: 7:33. Plenty of time to get Brandon to practice. But where are my keys?

I take the pile of clothes to the laundry room located at the other end of the house. My three kids are eating breakfast as I pass through the kitchen, repeating my dirty-clothes-let’s-be-responsible announcement. A nearby television is on. With their eyes glued to Animal Planet, they shovel spoonfuls of Captain Crunch into their mouths. (By the way, Captain Crunch does no adult any good to remind their kids about dirty clothes when, as they crunch, you might as well be whispering to them through a sofa cushion.)

In the laundry room, I notice a pair of my pants in the laundry basket. I check the pockets for my keys. There are none. Were these really the pants I wore yesterday? How soon I forget.

And that, right there—when you begin to question what it was you were wearing the day before—is the first sign that finding the keys might be an uphill climb. While there’s still time to get your son to football practice, your brow narrows, your lips press together and, like an upset bull, you blow a quick, frustrating shot of air out your nostrils.

The hunt begins. You walk around all the obvious places where you have found the keys before. This includes all the countertops in the kitchen (under the pile of mail and coupon pages, behind the bananas next to the toaster, and under your wife’s purse). Sure, the bananas are a stretch, but they’ve been there before. Looking under the mess of post-it notes, a heap of junk mail, and an empty AA battery package on top of the microwave are no keys. There’s an open phone book next to one of the kids slurping milk from the bottom of the cereal bowl. You flip it over to find nothing.

Sure was a great idea I bought that little hook thing for keys at the hardware store.

The time is 7:41. I need to leave the house by 7:59 to make it to the high school. (Trust me, after 6,000 trips to the school, a parent gets to know the clock quite well.) My wife, who has been curling her hair, streaks through the kitchen. “I’m late. Gotta go to work. Please take out two frozen packages of ground turkey for tonight.”

Like a worried puppy I look at her and say, “Have you seen my keys?” This is the second sign that searching for the keys is getting worse because it shows dependency. But at the same time something stubbornly dumb inside of me wants to man it up like: Ah, I don’t need directions—I know how to fix it. Or, I don’t need a map—I know how to get there.

“You lost your keys, again?” It’s that “again” that kills you.

“Again?” I say, “Whatever. Look, I didn’t lose them. I just can’t find them.”

“There’s a difference?”

“Yes.” But that’s all I can say. I have nothing to back up my one word answer. Nor do I want to. I’m running out of time and I need help. “Can you take Brandon to the high school?”

And that’s sign number three —asking others to do what you were supposed to do. You now know that your inability of finding the keys has marked you a failure.

“No, I can’t take him. I’m late as it is. That’s ten minutes out of the way. Did you look on the dresser?” She asks several obvious places where I know the keys aren’t to be found. Then, in the wink of an eye, she’s gone. I sink into a living room chair, next to the TV where, on Animal Planet, a snow rabbit is running frantically away from a mountain lion, dashing left and right in deep snow, helplessly trying to find a way out.

Likewise, frantically looking for my keys, which are my way out, I realize that I am that fluffy fur ball of a snow bunny. It is a bitter pill to swallow. I turn off the TV and quickly silence any objections. “Look,” I say, “No more TV until we find my keys. Has anyone seen them?”

“I saw them.” says the nine year old.

“Where?” I ask, full of hope.

“In Florida.”

“Florida?   We live in Texas. What do you mean Florida?”

“The Florida Keys. Get it? Ha, ha, ha, ha…”

It’s a pretty clever joke for her age, but cleverness isn’t what I’m after. Just keys!

The time is 7:52.

I have seven minutes left. Judging by my escalating impatience, you would think that someone had placed a detonating device in the house, and if I didn’t find the keys—the kids, the TV, Captain Crunch, and my floppy little bunny ears—were going to be blown to the moon. Worse than that, though, is the fact that as I sit in the chair—slumped into what is quickly becoming a massive senior moment—I have surrendered to the fact that the keys are in a place that is anyone’s guess.

What happens next is the fourth and final sign that not only are your keys lost, but your mind is as well—you are the master of your nuthouse. You begin looking for them in the most obscure places: under the bag of cotton balls in the bottom drawer of the downstairs bathroom, inside a tissue box atop a toilet, behind a jar of pickles in the pantry, and even under a bag of egg roles at the bottom of the deep freezer in the garage. Then, as if it couldn’t get any worse, the avalanche of blame hits town. The time is 7:58. “HAS ANYONE SEEN MY KEYS!!!!?”

“Take a chill pill, Dad,” says Brandon, “You act like it’s our fault.”

Remember, because I’m going insane, it justifies my replying, “Oh and like I lost them? I didn’t lose them. I just forgot where I put them. But they were put somewhere, which means someone has moved them.”

Brandon, who’s going to make a fine cross-examiner one day, says, “From where did someone move them?”

The idiot on trial says, “From where I put them.”

“And where was that?”

Lost minds are hard to repair. My mouth stutters and stops, eventually spitting out Shakespearean gibberish, “From the place whence came them.”

It’s a losing conversation. We both give up.

Brandon is only fourteen. Unfortunately for him, he will have to endure whatever Hell it is that his drill sergeant coaches demand of him. The time is 8:03. Even if I found the keys at this point, I would have to run every stop sign through town to make it to the high school on time. That would also be the last great thrill of Brandon’s life. “Awesome, Dad, awesome! Drive faster! FASTER!! The cops would chase us. The news helicopter would film us:

We are live in Chopper Five, following a white Honda mini-van that has just blown through seven police barricades en route to what we believe is the high school. We now have information that the vehicle is occupied by a father and son. The father, who is a psychological train wreck, is trying to get his son to football practice on time. Rumor has it the bozo’s late because he lost his keys. Too bad for this guy though—his son’s going to be late, as we can see from up here that the team is already in their warm-up formation on the field about a quarter mile away. Yep, not only will this kid probably never walk again due to the gut-wrenching, Butt-Buster Suicides he’ll have to do, but after he crawls home tonight, he’s gonna finish his dad off with an axe. You go kid—we’re rootin’ for ya!   Live from the skies, this is Chopper Five reporting!”

“Dad, what’s that in your pocket?” asks the nine-year old.

I shake the news helicopter out of my mind. “What?”

“In your pocket. That looks like underwear sticking out? Why do have underwear in your pocket? Why don’t you wear it? Are you weird?”

I had forgotten that I shoved the underwear into my pocket when I was picking up clothes. Still in a Chopper Five daze, I pull it out. In doing so, I hear a metal jingling at the bottom of the pocket—my keys. This is about as sad as it gets being a dad, a father, a man, a loser. Brandon throws up his hands in absolute disbelief. Because of this, my son will return home on crutches, and then most likely end my life with an axe. Chopper Five will get a national reporting award for capturing the whole event.

At 8:11 we jump in the van. As I back the car down the driveway, something dawns on me. I turn to Brandon and say, “Hey, have you seen my wallet?”

Copyright Ros Hill 2015

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