I lock myself out of my house, on average, once every three months. I realized this as I was standing atop a ladder trying to (unsuccessfully) break into a second story window of my house. It was the 4th time in one year. It was the 4th time since Amy died. We used to have a spare key, as most do, for such occurrences. Now I don’t. Not because I don’t think it’s a good idea. It’s a very good idea. But this is one of those small, seemingly trivial chores that Amy took care of. She took care of it for a decade. One of countless little tasks we unconsciously divvied up. There were the bigger tasks like cooking meals, taking out garbage, cleaning, picking up and dropping off the kids. Those tended to have an owner but required ongoing communication and negotiation as timing and schedule conflicts arose. But there were those other tasks: buying birthday cards for relatives (Amy), making the morning coffee (John), replacing the old phone book with the new phone book (Amy), watering plants (John), and returning the spare key to the hiding spot in the yard (Amy).
Beyond the frustration and annoyance of being locked out was a wistful memory of this one seemingly small task that Amy handled that I barely noticed. It was her house – she had bought it before we met – so she had found the hiding place for the spare key. And then I showed up and she shared her house and the hiding place for the key. In the past when I’d lock myself out, I’d dig up the spare key from the hiding place and let myself in. I’d later tell Amy and she’d ask where the key was. I would tell her and some time later the key would magically return to its hiding place. I was hardly aware that any of this happened until the next time I’d lock myself out and I’d retrieve the spare key. “Yes, there it is! Just as it always is!” I actually recall the first couple times it happened being really excited that the spare key found itself back to its home! I didn’t have to do anything. Then it happened a few more times. Then I got used to it, then expected it.
And so it was about a year ago that I locked myself out, dug up the key, let myself in, pocketed it or otherwise laid the key somewhere and forgot about it. Only some months later – about three I estimate – did I lock myself out and not find the spare key. Goddammit! Of course, I thought, it’s not there because Amy is not here and I have not compensated for that fact in this seemingly small way. It took two more lock outs and another year to take action and find a new hiding place for a new spare key.
I can’t decide if a year is a long time or a short time to take responsibility for something like this. I imagine if a friend told me he had locked himself out of his house four times before taking some positive action I’d be incredulous.
“Really? You are that distracted or that busy?”
And if I were asked that question I’d probably say, “Yeah. Kinda.” But another way to answer the question is to talk about the small things that go missing and lost when someone dies. The big things are obvious. A person is gone. A wife, a lover, a mother. That is crystal clear. Who picks up the kids, cleans up, buys new clothes for the kids, keeps track of the daily schedule, laundry, and so on. Those questions get answered fast. It’s obvious and there are few options. But the spare key? I was barely aware of the maintenance and management of that key. At least not until I was standing there at my front door with no way in.
Someone said, "It isn't the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it's the pebble in your shoe." At some time it is about the details, the small things. Now seems a good time to remove pebbles from my shoes.