When I take Juliet for a walk, I always have a house key with me. That might seem a little odd, especially when my wife is home, but I don’t like to face the prospect of accidentally locking myself out. It happened once before, and it was not a pleasant experience.
I grew up in the era of unlocked front doors, at least in the suburbs of Boston. I’d come home from school and just burst in the door. I don’t think I even had a key to, well, anything until I was ten years old or more.
When your parents get a divorce and it is a messy divorce, suddenly a house key is an important thing. My dad had to move out. My mom changed all the locks. I was trusted with a key.
I really didn’t like living that way, but it is not as if my opinion was important. Again, back in that era, the feelings of children didn’t matter, especially when it came to divorce. In those days, children were as if a car or household item; something to be fought for, divided and used as a pawn.
For the most part, I was good at keeping my key chain with me. Until one night when it got a bit bent out of shape. I’d tried to put an especially large key on it and it bent.
I took it down cellar and put it in the vise in my dad’s shop. I figured, if I left it in there overnight, it’d be fine. Here’s the thing, I wasn’t used to having a key; I forgot it.
When I came home, I found the house locked tighter than a bank vault. My mom was out the house sealed. I tried all the doors, the windows and even the crawlspace under the back door.
What made matters worse was that Rex, my dog, was in the cellar, that is, locked in the house, alone. She could hear me and I could hear her whining for me, which broke my heart. There was also the fact that I was hungry, which only added to my misery.
I found that a cellar window was unlocked, but blocked by a pipe. Well, by then I was so upset, so flustered and emotionally distraught, I just couldn’t take it anymore. Kneeling on the ground, I just wept and, finally, decided I didn’t care what the consequences of my actions would be. I broke the window off its hinge and got in. Never was I happier to be with my dog.
The thing that truly hurt was that my mom was not upset about the window. No, she was sure I had left my key down cellar so that my dad could come by and make a copy. No matter how many times I explained why I left it, she wouldn’t accept that answer.
For a little boy, I was already confused and saddened by his parents fighting and screaming at each other. To have my mother not believe me, it was a knife thrust to my soul. It was one thing when she called me out on a lie, of course, a child can accept that.
That’s when you knew your mom and dad were doing their job, when they caught you in something like that. When you looked them in the eye and swore you were telling the truth and it was the truth, well, that caused a pain that no kisses, no compassion and no amount of time could ever heal.
Even today, when I step out the front door to go check the mail at our little kiosk or walk Juliet, I make sure I have a house key. There is just the tiniest twinge of ache to my heart. I hope I’ve never caused my child anything like that. May you never do so either!
Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.
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