Searching for the Key

key, keys, searching for the keyI’m about to leave the house at 5:45 a.m. for a long seven-hour drive to Delaware to visit my mom.

I shower and dress and gulp down a quick cup of “wake-me-up” tea quietly so I don’t wake up my sleeping guy. I even tiptoe while hunting for my shoes and lugging my suitcase to the trunk of the car.

My mom is anxiously awaiting me. At 92 and diagnosed with dementia, days and hours and weeks all merge into one long wait for her. I want to get there as soon as possible for the weekend visit.

I walk to the hallway table, the one whose drawer holds all the keys to our life: cars, house, mailbox, and a few that are “mystery keys” (as in, what the heck does this key open?).

I reach for my car keys and stop in horror.

They are not there.

My keys are always in that drawer when I’m home.

My mom has dementia and I CAN’T FIND MY CAR KEYS.

My mom has dementia and will be pacing the hallways by 9 a.m., even though I told her I won’t be there until after lunch.

I need to leave, NOW, but I can’t find my keys.

I race over to the kitchen to see if for some ungodly reason I left them on the counter.

No keys.

I run into the hall closet and check the pockets of the coat I wore the night before.

No keys.

I begin to hyperventilate. keys, car keys, searching for keys

I retrace my steps. Always, always, when I arrive home, I get out of the car, go through the inside garage door to the hallway, march straight to the “key table,” open the drawer, and place my keys inside, rather romantically, next to my guy’s keys. They lie together contentedly, waiting for the next trip out.

Didn’t I do that last night?

I rack my brain for anything that would have changed my routine. I come up blank.

I have to leave NOW. My mom has dementia. She won’t understand why I’m late.

Then I realize it must be my guy’s fault, right? I mean, one time before, months ago, he used my keys to go on a quick errand and mistakenly kept them in his coat pocket when he returned.

So, that must be what happened now. I get off my tippy toes and stomp into the bedroom, waking up the sound-asleep man and demanding (nicely…kind of): “Do you have my keys?”

He denies the deed immediately, of course. But he also stumbles out of bed to help me search.

First, I trudge back to the key drawer. Maybe it’s hidden way in the back.

No, still not there.

We check my office desk and his office desk.

The bathroom counter and the top of our dressers.

My usual yogic-breathing sounds more like I’m in labor.

WHERE ARE MY CAR KEYS?

Psychologically, of course, I’m not looking forward to this long drive through Massachusetts and Connecticut and New York and New Jersey. Psychologically, did I throw the keys away?

But it’s my mom who has dementia.

As my guy begins to pick through the trash, I decide to return to the car, sit behind the steering wheel, and retrace all of my steps the night before.

As I sit in my car seat, taking in long slow gulps of air, I notice a glint of silver.

My keys.

In the ignition.

Where they’d been sitting, all night long.

I’ve found my keys.

And my mom’s the one with dementia.

Just waiting to remember what she’s waiting for.

mother and daughter

95 thoughts on “Searching for the Key

  1. I felt your anxiety, breathlessness and fear of the gene pool. We’ve all been there. Frustrating! Your guy getting up and helping you is commendable! Your near empty drawer is astounding to me as I’m a pack rat! Now that I can take a breath, since you found your keys (whew!), I hope you have a wonderful time with your beautiful mom. I also hope the anticipated horror of such a long drive changed to a pleasant trip (eeek, I felt your hesitation for taking that trip and yet your need to get going immediately). Well done Pam! I lived those fearful moments with you!

    • Thanks for ‘being there’ with me, Sandi. Great visit with my mom once I reached her. Went all too fast before it was time to drive back. But at least I had my keys with me!! xo

  2. We’ve all done this. In fact once, I lost my keys on a business trip and couldn’t even get back into my car. Talk about panic. I had to call BCAA (like AAA) and they found them in the ignition! I felt so foolish. What was even more embarrassing is the car wasn’t even locked!!

  3. Well told Pam – we’ve all done it (or similar) and the relief is real once they surface. I’ve been meaning to get a spare apartment key cut for years but my procrastination will come back to haunt me. Best wishes to you and Mum.

    • I know, ‘best-laid plans’ and all that. The idea of the panic that will be set off if we lose our keys isn’t enough to prevent it by planning ahead, unfortunately. Ah, I guess that’s human nature.

  4. Loved your story and the progressive hunt along with all the attached emotions.
    Have you ever hunted high and low and found the keys hanging on the hook just like they are supposed to do?
    Mine tend to get put down along with everything else I’ve carried in which means I’m forever ‘looking for them’ and am so surprised when I find them on the hook!

    • I think that’s the worse time – when we look and look for something, and then find that something exactly where it’s supposed to be. I have decided (along with many who have also experienced this phenomenon of not remembering WHERE WE PUT STUFF) that we all have just made our lives waaaaaaay too busy. We need to stop, look, listen, and relax more.

  5. Lately, I’ve been misplacing / losing things. Car keys and house keys send me into a panic. I felt your panic and tension throughout this piece. Glad you found them. I left mine in my car ones, locked it and left the motor running. o_O XX

  6. What a funny story. I had a feeling they might be in the ignition. When I lose my keys, they are usually right next to my purse, because I’ve already taken them out! Hope you have terrific time with your mother. Sweet picture.

    • Yes, I’ve done that one too, Patricia. Sometimes I plan so well, I forget how well I planned and STILL think I’ve lost something that’s right in front of me. I wonderful if that’s a metaphor for our life??

  7. I can only imagine how that must have felt! And then the relief when you found them. These things happen when our mind is focused on other things and your mom is so lucky that you were so focused on getting to her. I hope the car trip was easy from that moment on.

  8. Oh my gosh, Pam, you had me hyperventilating right along with you! If I had a dollar for every time I’ve “lost” my keys, I’d be able to take a cruise with the money right now. Usually, they are in a coat pocket — or a compartment of my purse where I don’t usually put them. Sigh…

    Oh, and did I ever identify with the mystery keys! Surely ONE of them is the key to a treasure box, dontcha think?

    • Wow. Are you just saying that to make me feel good? You’d be able to take a CRUISE for all the times you’ve lost your keys? Well, the way it’s going, I’d be sitting on the cruise lounge chair with you. 🙂
      Maybe the mystery key opens the lock to our suite on the cruise ship. 🙂

  9. Pamela, it doesn’t help for me to say, but this happens to all of us. One of the places that I look for them are in the front door. Yes, I’ve left the keys inserted in the door lock.

    And when I venture out, the words go like this, “Phone, wallet, keys.”

    It wasn’t always such a challenge.

    • I love your mantra: “Phone, wallet, keys.” Smart!
      And yes, I’ve left my keys in the front door too, and been lectured about THAT so badly I’ve broken myself of that habit, at least. :-0

  10. Oh my goodness I felt like i was hyperventilating with you! How distressing. I have a bowl our keys go into by the door and like you would be completely distraught if they weren’t there especially before a trip. I love the photo of you and your Mom. i hope you had a lovely weekend once you arrived.

  11. Oh , how I love this. I was laughing reading your story and the comments. Now, I don’t feel so bad when I hyperventilate looking for things I have lost.. Have a wonderful time with your mom.

    • From the comments I’m receiving, there seems to be a pandemic of people losing everyday things! Either we’re all losing our marbles, or more likely, our heads are too full of marbles to keep count of!!

  12. That’s why we have a second set of keys in a small plastic box in the closet. Walter is just so damned organized!! What would I do without him??? He NEVER loses anything because he is so methodical!!! Not me!!

  13. Loved you description as I read with baited breath to the finale. We all relate. Thinking of the last time I saw your mom in Sausalito at Book Club. Such a lovely woman. By the way, Happy Birthday ❤️

    • Thanks for the Book Club memories, Jeanette. She loved that visit! That was her last time to CA. Her chapter DE sisters are so wonderful to her in her new place. But that doesn’t surprise us, does it?

  14. Oh, I just KNOW what that feels like. Been there so many, many times! The worst was when (unbeknownst to him) they were in my guy’s pocket the whole time he was berating me for having lost my keys AGAIN!

  15. Love this anecdote. Hope you had a nice time with your mom. I seem to leave my sweaters in restaurants, my sunglasses on counters in stores, and my mail in various stacks of papers around the house. I LOVE organization, but evidently not enough to actually get organized! 🙂

  16. My wife does the most amazing things with car keys. She leaves them dangling in the front door. She buries them in forgotten coat pockets. She once left them in the freezer.

    But her favorite spot is in the ignition…while she stands on the wrong side of a locked car door many, many miles from home.

    Here’s hoping your journey from that point forward was without incident.

    • Mike – if your wife wouldn’t be TOO upset with you, I think you need to write a story about her and the lost keys. I mean, refrigerator? Even I haven’t left the keys in the refrigerator. The oven, maybe, but never the refrigerator!

  17. I tend to try to put my keys in my left pocket of my jackets. I have zipper pockets on my 3 favorite coats. On the occasions when I wear a special occasion coat, I worry constantly about throwing the coat the wrong way and losing my keys. If I put them in my purse it seems like they are hiding from me. 🙂
    My Mom has had dementia for 3 years, slowly diminishing her short term memory. Once we get off the telephone, I write her a letter repeating the date and time I will arrive. She often will tell people she cannot go to meals or leave where she is sitting, even. Sometimes for days.
    Mom doesn’t have any concept of time but remembers poems from childhood. We are blessed to have our mothers, Pam. I give her tasks to do like translating Spanish into English. She taught H.S. Spanish, English and world literature. She cannot remember the day of the week since the Cleveland paper cut back to 4 times a week. I cross off days but we are nearly 3 hours away. My brother is the executor and he chose her to lie closer to him. My kids, grandkids and hone for nearly 30 years are here. Take care, I feel we are all in this world to “lean in” together.

  18. At least you haven’t reached the stage of walking round the house looking for your house keys that are actually in our hand at the time.
    I’m so glad you found your keys where you’s left them. I suspect one day you might live it down but not just yet.
    I hope you reached your Mom OK and the drive wasn’t too onerous.
    xxx Massive Hugs Pamela xxx

    • My dear hug-infused friend. You are just saying that to make me feel good. Right? You didn’t really look for your keys while you were holding them. Did you? If so, I wouldn’t tell anyone about it. Just like I would NEVER write about leaving my keys in the ignition. Tee hee. xoxoxoxoxthanksforthehugxoxoxoxo

    • I think looking for something that SHOULD BE THERE does induce tears – of frustration when looking, of humor once found. 🙂

      My mom’s memories are lost – that’s so much worse than a set of keys. But I sat down with her with an old picture album, and we returned those memories, at least for a short time.

  19. Love the romanticism that you mention of the keys lying side by side.
    Also love the photo of you and your mama. I hope you have a good stay with her and that she’ll shock you with all she remembers and how she sees her little girl in your watchful eyes. That’s how my dad saw me ~ dementia and all ~ right to the end.

  20. I was talking with family about things we think of people always saying – Linz said she remembered her Nana – my Mom – always saying “well, I would say we were all well remembered indeed after opening Christmas presents. We all agreed we could hear her saying it!
    Almost 7 yr old Celia – our oldest grandchild then said “I know something my Gramma says all the time!” We urged her to share and she put her hands on her hips and said “I hate when things hide on me!” Guilty. There aren’t too many days when nothing hides on me and, yes, I hate it when I cannot find something I KNOW is there! Tonight it was a container of yogurt I was going to have for dinner with the delicious granola blend my sweet daughter in law made for us sprinkled on top. I ended up having leftover Chinese takeout – good, but not yogurt….Bruce joined in the search and had no luck either! We are at an age when if we forget something or cannot find it we wonder if it means something serious medically. My Mom died from complications of Alzheimer’s and Dad had garden variety dementia or senility as they used to call it 😱 Hope you found your Mom in good shape and you know where I am if you can stop by on the way back 💖

    • I’m sorry, Carla! I’m laughing so much of Celia’s description of her Gramma putting hands on hips and exclaiming, “I hate when things hide on me.” Too funny!!! Too true, also. Perhaps that’s the answer, things are just hiding on us; it’s not that we LOST them. ❤
      One of these days when I get to come to DE for more than a weekend, I would love to stop by and see you at your beautiful lakeside home.

  21. Oh, Pam. Those “lost things”. Seems to be happening a bit more as we all aim for 92 and our dementia. Sometimes I’m convinced I have it now. You know, not reading many blogs anymore, every single time I remember and read one of yours I am SO DELIGHTED you exist!

    • Tingles. You just gave me tingles up and down my spine. THANk YOU for your your spirit, your sharing, your understanding, and your loving words. I miss your blog more than you will ever know. But no pressure….:-0

  22. Oh gosh… don’t you hate it when things like that happen? *goan* especially when you “accuse” the spouse and it turns out to be OUR fault? Happens to me too. There! Feel better? 😀

  23. I am a stickler for having things in their place also. I have “lost” my keys when needing to dash out to not be late for work, etc., and it is quite frustrating. Stress and an early hour most likely contribute to forgetting where we put those keys…

  24. I’m so glad there was a happy ending to this one…very well told! I hope you and your Mum enjoyed some precious time together. I’m trying to remember my best keys story…oh yes, I left my flat key at work (an hour’s bus ride away at the time) and I lived alone at the time. My neighbour found me swearing and in a bit of a state outside the front door. When I told him, he asked if there might be any windows slightly open (there were, on the first floor) then he got a ladder, climbed in and opened my front door from inside:-) So kind! Hugs, H xxx

    • I can’t imagine you stressing over those lost keys, Harula. You’re so calm and meditative and … well, see? I’m right. All you need to do is stand outside the door chanting (no, swearing? can’t believe it) and a kind neighbor appears to help you out. Kindness begets kindness, my friend.

  25. Glad you found your keys! I always panic when this kind of thing happens to me, and despite learning to put things in the same place every time, I still make mistakes when I’m in a rush. Hope you had a nice visit with your mom!!

    • My mom has no idea of the panic that preceded my visit. We played cards and ate candy and looked through old family albums. Phew! I think no matter how hard we don’t want to misplace things, when we need those things the most…they hide. 🙂

  26. I’m terrible for key losing. It’s such a relief when you find them isn’t it! What I seem to do fairly regularly do is when I arrive home in the car, the first thing I do before getting out of the car is get my phone out of my bag to check if there have been an texts or anything (because, you know, I haven’t been able to look at my phone for about half an hour, so it’s pretty urgent to check!). Then after I’ve checked my phone I go to take the keys out of my ignition to get out of the car and they’re not there! How can they not be there? They were there a minute ago or I wouldn’t have been able to drive? And then I eventually find them either in my lap, or my pocket, or my bag, so I’ve clearly totally absent-mindedly taken them out of the ignition on arrival without even being aware!

    • The drama of keys – it seems it’s a universal theme. Are we all really just searching for the key to LIFE? Personally, I think our brains play tricks on ourselves just to get our attention. Something like: PAY ATTENTION! 😉

  27. I could relate to every step of this post right to down ‘blaming’ Husband and finding them someplace that screams I’m an airhead.

    Glad you found them, hope your dignity was still somewhat intact by the time you finally hit the road.
    … and hope your visit with your mom was a good one 🙂

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