The Keys

She looked down at her hands. “These are not my car keys,” she said. She turned her gaze to the room around her, taking it all in. A man walked in to the room.

“What’s going on?” she asked. He paused, “what do you mean?”

“Where am I?” The man looked at her. She was standing in the middle of their living room, her purse over her shoulder, her keys in her hands. “Are you ok?,” he asked as he approached her.

She backed away. “I’m sorry, I’m… I’m….” she turned around looking for something, found a chair and sat down. “I’m….” her voice trailed off.

The man walked towards her, “are you ok?” he repeated. “I don’t think so,” she shook her head and sank into her chair.

“What’s wrong?” “I… don’t know.” He waited. “These are not my car keys,” she said holding up the keys to him.

“Yes, they are,” he replied. “I don’t recognize them.” He could see a trail of fear make its way across her face, her steadfast reason grappling with her urge not to panic. She had struggled with panic attacks her whole life and he recognized that battlefield on her face.

“What’s gong on?” he asked as he sat down across from her. He could hear her breathing deeply, trying to calm her anxiety.

“I’m not sure.” “Do you feel ok?” She didn’t answer and he reached out to touch her, “Honey, what’s wrong?” “I don’t know where I am,” she said as she looked around. “Help me.”

She started to cry, that slow stream of tears that marked her failure to win the struggle against the panic that had successfully overwhelmed her.

The man reached his arms around her and hugged her, he could feel her breathing in his scent as he pressed his cheek against her mess of curls. This was what always grounded her, the contact of his skin and his scent. His arms wrapped tight around her. They sat in silence, she cried against him as he held her. When she pulled away, she said, “I just suddenly looked down and it was like I didn’t recognize anything…”

“Do your recognize me?” his voice quavered for a moment at the dawning realization of what was slowly unfolding before him. “Of course!” she said as she looked into the familiar brown eyes that she had been gazing at since she was 25. “I just don’t recognize any of… this” she swept her arm around the room.

“I don’t recognize that view,” she pointed out the window to the yard that they had completely transformed over the course of many summers, a blossoming metaphor for their life together. When they first bought the house, their yard was a tangle of overgrown greens and brittle browns, a mess of long-forgotten plans and abandoned dreams. But it was a huge yard and a lovely one and they knew the kids would love it. So, over time, they cleared the decay and conquered the lushness, bringing a certain order to this otherwise majestic urban wilderness. She planted hydrangeas that bloomed in bright balls of color across the yard, he painted the fence white, they found the perfect playset for the kids and spent countless hours building it. He looked out at the yard, remembering how they had miscalculated when they built the sandbox beneath the playset and as a result, the sandbox jutted out way a little far and the kids were always tripping over the corner.

“I don’t recognize any of this furniture,” she went on, her eyes panning their living room “or these keys,” she held them up again for him to see.

“What do you recognize?” She looked up at him, “you and…” she looked around, “where are the kids?” “They’re upstairs playing.” “Can you call them?”

The man walked over to the stairs, “Hey guys, can you please come down for a second?” Nothing. “Boys, I need you for a moment, please come down.” She heard the pounding of steps above her and the familiar rush of feet spilling down the stairs. She saw the boys come around the corner to the living room, “what is it Dad?” one of the boys asked. He looked at her expectantly. She looked back at two beautiful children, her children. “They… they are so old!” she said and he noticed the flash of panic on her face again.

“And the baby?” she asked.

The boys looked at her, confusion marking their faces. “What is Mommy talking about?” the youngest one asked. “It’s ok,” the man said. “Why don’t you two go upstairs again, we’ll be up shortly.”

“Where is the baby?” she asked again.

“Honey…” he said, pausing.

She began the slow cry of mourning. “Where’s the baby?” She began to wail. He walked over to her. “Where….” her voice broke. He held her as she sobbed into his shoulder, waiting for her to look up at him. “Don’t you remember?” he asked. She shook her head.

“The baby died.”

She felt her heart break, each tiny shard of love cutting her with a pain so heavy, so sharp, so very crippling that she stopped breathing. “Wh… wh… when… why?!” she sobbed. The keys dropped from her hand, heavy with a sadness so profound that it left little room for words. “Why?” was all she could mutter.

“Honey, that happened three years ago, she was barely four months old. Do you really not remember?” She shook her head.

“She,” he paused, “Chloe went to sleep one night and didn’t wake up.”

“But that doesn’t make sense,” she uttered between gasps, “I saw her yesterday, we were playing on the rug, you know… the cream one in the living room?” She looked down at the blue carpet at her feet. “Not this one,” she said as she rubbed her foot over the surface. “I remember she was holding my hand as she tried to stand up and she was practicing her walking… ” she was looking at him but saw only the baby.

“No honey,” he said, “yesterday you took the boys to the museum, remember?”

“No, the baby had just turned one and she was wearing her new shoes, the yellow one’s we gave her for her birthday… and then I gave her lunch and she laughed because every time I would turn around she would drop her food on the floor and make me pick it up. She had pasta sauce all over her hair and clumped into her pigtails and on her face and the floor was a mess. I remember I got mad because I stepped on some pasta sauce and I didn’t realize it when I went into the living room and then I got sauce on the carpet…. the cream-colored one… and, and we were having people over that night so I was really angry because we had this huge pasta stain on our floor.” She pointed at the floor and then shook her head.

“I left the baby in her high-chair and I went to get something to clean out the stain but.. but…” her words came slowly now, intermingled with gasps. “I… I… I didn’t secure the tray and while I was gone, she knocked the try to the floor and then she… she fell out of her chair. She started wailing,” she paused. “She started wailing and wailing and then, then she just stopped and… and she just stopped and I didn’t know what do and she just lay there and I ran to get my keys but… but the keys on the counter were not my keys and I couldn’t find my keys and I looked all over the house and the whole time the baby was just lying on the floor… not wailing anymore, just quiet.” She let out a wail of grief and as she heard him say, “No, sweetie, that’s…” she fell to the ground.

A noise startled her and she opened her eyes. “Mom!” she heard, “what is wrong with you today?” She looked around at her kitchen and at the source of the sound. There she stood, her beautiful teenage daughter, a brilliant force of life before her. She had her father’s big brown eyes and a head full of gorgeous curls. The girl rolled her eyes and gave a sigh of exasperation, “can we leave now?”

“I’m sorry honey,” her mother said, “I just didn’t get a lot of sleep last night.” She grabbed her purse and put her arms around her daughter’s shoulders. “I love you so much,” she whispered as she leaned over to plant a kiss on her daughter’s head. Her daughter rolled her eyes again and sighed, “Me too.” “Can we please go?” she added.

“Yes, let me just get my keys…”

All content is copyrighted by Karla Valenti. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is expressly forbidden.

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