My wife is in her third year of medical studies with the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine. In third and fourth year, the students are no longer chained to a desk in a classroom, forced to endure hours of lectures that ostensibly are for the students’ benefit but which sometimes amount to a professor reading his lecture notes, which he’s already given to the students, verbatim. Instead, the students are set free into the world to rotate between various hospitals in various states where they can study the various disciplines of medicine on a more personal and hands-on basis. They’re also able to schedule vacations between rotation sessions. And it was from just such a week long vacation, spent resting and relaxing on the beach without me, that my wife recently returned home. She had two weeks of vacation scheduled, so she had spent one at the beach and then was spending one with me to make up for my not being able to spend the one with her at the beach. Unfortunately, this final vacation week was scheduled to coincide with three days of pre-testing her school was planning to unleash upon the third year class to help them survive the upcoming OSCE national exams. So all of her fellow third year classmates had returned to the area from their far flung rotations like birds to the roost.
On Thursday evening of that week, the wife phoned me from the school.
“Poo, can you come pick me up. I’ve lost my keys.”
I hopped in the car and headed over to find my the wife traipsing up and down the drill-field of the school, looking for her keys in the freshly mown grass. (This school used to be a military academy, which explains the presence of a massive and otherwise unnecessary drill field in the center of its campus.) She was pretty sure they’d fallen out of the pocket of her sweater when she was walking between buildings, but the grass had been mown that afternoon and she was none too hopeful that she would find her keys in once piece. We both searched for a while, but didn’t even find any bits of them. We gave up and went home, content that if the keys hadn’t been shredded they would turn up at lost and found the next day.
It troubled the wife that she’d managed to lose her keys after so many months spent not losing them. My wife, you see, used to be an Olympic champion-level loser of keys, perhaps even beating out Paula Mabry, my high school drama teacher, who lost her keys at school on a daily basis and for whom we had to pool money and buy one of those key chains that will beep when you whistle. The wife’s key loss ability mostly stems from the fact that she hates carrying a purse, barely tolerates a pocketbook and doesn’t always wear clothing that equipped with proper pockets to store her keys in. That and her habit of laying her keys down in a different place every time she comes home has lead to many a key vanishment and much teeth gnashing on my part. I used to beg her, in the name of all that’s holy, to please just put her keys in the same place every time so that she would always know where they were. I don’t know how she finally managed it, cause she still sets her keys down in a different place every day, but the wife eventually developed some sort of system that kept her from losing them cause it had been a couple of years since the last key-loss incident. (Either that, or she just wised up and stopped telling me about them.)
Sure enough, on Friday evening we got a message that one of her fellow students had picked up a set of keys by mistake. Unfortunately, the student discovered this only after she was back home in Ohio. Still, no worries, the student said she would mail them to us. In the meantime the wife would use the spare house and car keys we have so she would still be able to drive to her psychiatric rotation scheduled the following week up at the crazy hospital in Weston.
The following weekend, The wife braved the two and a half hour trek and soaring gas-prices to return home from Weston. She didn’t much relish spending the whole weekend locked in the student apartment in the crazy hospital. (“Let me tell you,” she said, “those people are crazy.”) Another reason for coming home is that I was scheduled to sing in the spring concert of the Greenbrier Valley Chorale at Carnegie Hall, WV, on Saturday night. It’s a grand affair, requiring me to get tarted up in a tuxedo and highly uncomfortable shoes.
Saturday afternoon, while putting on my tux for the gig, I decided that my giant wad of keys would thoroughly trash the lines of my pants. To remedy this, I removed the sub-ring containing only my house key, car key and the key to the universe. (Yes, I do have the key to the universe. It’s an over-sized skeleton key that has, over the course of the 15 years it has been in my possession since I purchased it from Wal-Mart, tarnished and lost much of its original gold veneer. At some point I’m hoping to find the lock to the universe, and when I do you will all rue the day, I assure you.) This slimmed down key system fit nicely in my pants pocket without being lumpy. For the same fashion reasons, I left my wallet, checkbook and watch in the car.
The concert went brilliantly. The wife said it was her favorite of all the ones she’d seen so far and that she was terribly jealous that she didn’t get to sing in it because of her topsy-turvy schedule. Afterwards, the chorale held a wine and dessert reception downstairs in the Old Stone room of Carnegie (which is another oddity, as the room appears neither old nor to be made of stone). The wife and I were planning to be good and stick to our low-carb lifestyle at the reception. However, there were no diet soft-drinks to be had. My logic suggested that if we were going to have to be “bad” and drink something with sugar and lots of carbs, it may as well be wine, so I grabbed a couple of glasses and went back to find The wife. Turns out she didn’t want any wine, so I was forced to drink both glasses on my own. Having not had much to eat for the past few hours, the wine immediately went to work on my head and soon I was feeling rather pleasant. Shortly thereafter, we stepped over to the dessert table on the premise that we would allow ourselves one small treat from it, but of course came away with brimming plates full of sugary goodness upon which we feasted until our hearts and bellies were content. I then suggested to the wife that she drive us home, as I was too euphoric and tipsy to attempt it myself. I gave her my keys and home we went.
The following morning, we decided to be heathens and skip church. We rarely do this, but there was a lot to be done—laundry, plant-watering, plant-planting, plant-repotting, etc—before she could return to the crazy hospital. I helped her with the chores and she was able to leave by mid-afternoon and shortly thereafter I settled back in for another week of a semi-bachelor lifestyle, (i.e. a steady diet of bad food and bad TV).
At noon on Monday, I decided it was probably time I left the house. I needed to mail some packages and hit the grocery store for more hamburger patties and pepperoni. Plus, the rest of my week was pretty booked solid. In addition to my grueling three-day work schedule, I was starting rehearsals for an upcoming play Monday night, with further rehersals Wednesday and Thursday nights, plus I was also scheduled to be out of town for most of Tuesday for library software training in Union, WV and Tuesday night brought a second concert with the chorale in an opera house up in Marlinton, WV. If I was to get any errand running done, it would likely have to be Monday afternoon.
Imagine my horror when I went to pick up my keys to leave and found only half of them there. Missing was my ring of car, house and universe keys… a ring last seen in the possession of my wife the key-loss tri-athlete.
Not to panic. She had probably just laid them down in a random place in the living room when she came in. Only when I searched the living room, they were nowhere be seen. They also weren’t to be seen in the kitchen, nor on the dining room table, nor atop her dresser, nor my dresser, nor the bathrooms, nor my office, nor her office, nor, once again, the living room.
Where the hell had she put them?
Maybe she gave them back to me and I just forgot and left them in my tux pants, I thought. Nope. My tux was hanging in the closet with pockets upside down and there were no keys in them nor in the jacket nor on the floor beneath. Well, maybe they’re still in her clothes then, I thought. I tracked down what I thought were the pants she had worn on Saturday, but they contained no keys. Then again, she had tried on a similar looking pair before we left Saturday night, so these might be the doppleganger pants instead of the real ones. However, the only other pair of similar looking pants seemed to be missing from both the closet and the laundry. My as yet unspoken fear was that she had taken the pants and my keys with her to Weston.
No, don’t panic yet! They had to be somewhere else. The alternative was to horribly true to consider.
The car then? I didn’t know whether to pray that they were or weren’t. My wife did have a habit of leaving her own keys in her car, on the logic that no one in their right mind would want to steal a beat up 1991 Ford Escort Station Wagon. But would she have left the keys to my 1999 Chevy Malibu in it—a vehicle no longer pristine and semi-possessed by the evil spirit of my former vehicle, known as the Bent Turd? Of course, if the keys were still in the car then chances were excellent that the car would also be locked. Come to think of it, my wallet, checkbook and watch were still hidden in the car too. I ran down and checked the car. It was unlocked, but no keys were within.
This left only the horribly true alternative of the keys remaining in The wife’s pants, now with her at the crazy hospital. I would be trapped in the house during my week without a single free-night to spare. I would have to bum rides just to get to work. Or to play practice. Or to the concert in Marlinton. And the true irony of it all was that if we hadn’t skipped church in the first place we would have figured this out on Sunday when the keys were still in town.
All search avenues exhausted, I picked up the phone to make the fateful call. Even before I dialed the number, I was convinced it would bring nothing but sadness and frustration. The wife probably did have my keys, which was a complicated prospect of which I didn’t even want to think about the full ramifications. I saw many phone calls to my insurance company and possibly to Fed-Ex in my future. And even if she didn’t have my keys, she wouldn’t know where they were here. Heck, she’d probably be hard pressed to tell me where HER keys were, let alone mine.
“Hello?” The wife answered from her apartment in the crazy hospital.
“Um, Swee…” I said. “Um… do you know where my, uh… my keys are?”
“Yeah. The one’s you… uh… last had when you drove us home Saturday night? I can’t find them anywhere.”
“Oh,” she said, and I could hear the full weight of understanding behind her voice. In that one word, she had comprehended the entire situation down to its fibers and extending to its unpleasant consequences. “No. I don’t know where your keys are.”
“They’re not still in your pants are they?”
She thought for a minute. “No, I don’t think so. I’ve already unpacked everything. I don’t know where they are.”
At this almost all hope fell away from me. She didn’t know where they were. They weren’t even with her there, which meant they were hopelessly lost here.
“Unless, maybe they’re in the chair?” she added.
“Huh?” I said.
“The chair…” she began again. “Yeah. My keys were on the back of the chair and when I picked them up I thought I heard another set fall. They might be in the cushions.” I raced down the hall with mobile phone in hand, running to get to the big, overstuffed green chair in the living room. I reached it and started yanking overstuffed green cushions. At first, I saw nothing. Then, from deep within the ass-crack of the chair, I spied the tarnished, formerly golden edge of the key to the universe. I was saved! Hallelujah! Once again, the sweety had come to my rescue and saved the day! And from the crazy hospital, no less.
Copyright © 2004 Eric Fritzius