Keys

March 31, 2020

In October, a few days after Alex and I decided we would separate, we were out and about somewhere local. Probably having a beer to commiserate. The chimes come through our phones to notify us that someone is ringing our doorbell. It was our neighbor, an elderly man with broken English that lived in the house next door with his wife for over 50 years. He stayed, banging at our door long enough for our panic to rise. We assumed something really bad must have had happened.

We rushed home to find the man’s wife outside their house. She told us that they were locked out, no phones, no car keys and her husband was walking to the closest locksmith. 3 miles away. We managed to convince her to let us help them, got her in the car and set off to find how far her husband had gotten. Turns out, only around the corner considering he does not walk well and needs a cane for support. It would have taken him into the night to come back with a key. I will never forget his astonished face when we pull up next to him, with his wife in the back seat. She talks him into getting in the car and they chatter loudly in Greek. We cannot understand a word. It gets quiet and he tells us we are going to Harris Teeter instead, to pick up their daughter, she has a key but no car to get to them. They know the way and Alex blindly drives, listening for the next sputtered direction to keep us on course.

The car ride is silent aside from their bickering remarks. We don't understand most of it, but she is not happy but he did all he knew to do. It occurs to me, This is what 50 plus years of marriage looks like. Are they still happy? Do they still love each other? At what point did they feel the shift, if ever?

These are the thoughts looping in my head as we miraculously pull into the Harris Teeter parking lot to find their daughter walking out the entrance, just ending her shift. The husband gets out of the car to greet her as Alex’s car would be unfamiliar. The three pile on top of each other in the backseat, spewing remarks we still cannot understand. The daughter speaks better English and thanks us for our generosity and tells us we can take them to her aunt's house to handle the rest of the situation at bay. She says she is going to make them extra keys to hide around, since it sounds like this isn’t the first time a key has been misplaced.

It occurs to me that I’m not sure how one locks themselves out of their own house, but I let the thought pass. Instead, I look across to my own husband, handsome as ever as he listens patiently for new directions, and think, Would this be us 50 years from now? Would we be happy? Would we love each other? How did we even get here?  

They chatter in Greek the whole time and 10 minutes later, we make everyone back safely to the aunt’s house, only a block away from where we live. Our backseat company, completely done with one another, disperses.

We look at each other and think, What the hell just happened? We let the weight of the deeper meaning hang heavy in the air.   

I am overcome with grief that this will be the last interaction I will have with this crazy, forgetful, beautiful family and the last random adventure I will have with my husband. 

Ever since buying the house, we had talked in circles about what it will be like, when their home is gone and a new million dollar house is built next to ours and then next to theirs and the whole block is flipped. Can you image? Think about the new value of our house. Think about the turn of the neighborhood. Think about the great investment we made. Think about next, next, next, greater, greater, greater, us, us, us.      

But I didn’t want to think about any of that anymore. I want the couple to keep their home, messy and old as it may be. I want them to continue to get locked out and come to their neighbors for help. I want to believe that they are still happy as can be in their marriage, because they aren’t chasing the bigger, better, next. That there is a universe still where this is possible. Where people can love each other through the thick and thin. What I needed was this hope to grasp onto, to know everything would be okay. 

Today, as I am playing in the backyard with Wylie, he comes out with a beer in each hand and tells me he lost his wife and would I like a beer?

Yes.

He tells me it was a month ago, my husband hasn’t told me? I tell him through many tears for his loss that no, we separated. He nods and tells me his daughter is in the hospital. I ask if he needs anything but really, I'm the one that can’t stop crying. I’m probably making him uncomfortable. Why can't I just hold it together and be there for this man? He lifts his beer to cheers me and walks back inside, waving a final time. 

In a full wave, I am back to that day in October with the lost keys and I feel, I feel every single moment in between and think,

What the hell just happened?

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