key·way (kēˈwā) n. 1. a groove or slot cut in a shaft, hub, etc. to hold a key (metal piece to fasten a wheel or pulley to the shaft) 2. The slot for a key in a lock operated by a flat key.
My childhood bedroom was locked using a skeleton key. I remember holding the wrought-iron key in my hand and feeling there was something exotic about it. The way the key inserted in the keyhole and the substantial turning of the lock was way more satisfying than with a plain old dead bolt. I would stand there, only slightly taller than the knob and turn the key back and forth, practicing locking and unlocking.
I knew the key was old. I knew it was different than other keys. I was a kid and had neither the fear required to lock my door or anything to hide, but the fact that I had this thing that could give me privacy, that could keep my things and myself stored away, made me feel important.
That room no longer has a door, no longer has walls. The floor that had been covered in brown carpet is stripped down to bare wood. And the key is gone as well. I’m not sure when I lost it or where it got tossed, amongst knick-knacks and cleaning supplies in the bathroom closet? In a spare drawer?
* * *
The front door of the house had been warped by the humidity so that you had to hold it in a little when you turned the key in the front door. Otherwise the latch wouldn’t lock or come unlocked.
I remember fighting with that lock over the years:
When, on a trip from the grocery store as a child, my mom handed me a key and asked me to unlock the door.
When, returning home from a date in high school, I tried and failed to make a seamless and graceful exit and had to resort to banging my hip up against the door.
When I came home for holidays on break at college and moved in and out of the house, going out to hear music and then returning home to visit with my parents.
When I unlocked the front door to bring in Christmas trees and furniture, to let in family members, best friends, and potential suitors.
When I unlocked the front door to allow myself inside.
* * *
The side door, like the front door, was wooden with glass panes. It used to be the back door but then my parents added on to the house when I was eight. We hardly ever used the side door except when going to the side yard to or to the shed. Sometimes, we would open the door to let the dog out.
Now, when you look in, you can see crumbs of sheetrock lying on the ground. The rooms are no longer rooms but a skeletal wooden frame. The house looks much smaller this way, without all of our stuff to take up the space.
You can see straight through from the living room to the dining room to my bedroom to the guest room. You can see all the way to the front of the house to the kitchen, without walls to block your view. You can see the entire house at once and yet you see none of it.
* * *
When we arrived there on October 1, 2005, there was a large yellow X spray painted on the front of the door. And there were numbers. The numbers were code for rescue workers. Zero dead bodies. Zero dead animals.
The house had been filled with five and a half feet of water. But now the water was drained. So there was only the reminder of the water, in the form of wet furniture and mold covering the walls.
We put on masks and went in through the side door. We surveyed the damage. We carried our possessions out the front door and dumped them in a heap on our front lawn.
When we left that day, my dad locked the front door. Out of habit? Surely there was no longer anything worth taking.
* * *
Every time I come home, I drive to my old neighborhood. I park in front of my childhood home. I get out and walk up the front stairs and peek through the front door. I don’t know what I am expecting, to see our house as it was before brought back to its original state? Maybe I just need to be reminded of what’s gone so I can handle missing it.
* * *
I talked to my mom just an hour after my parents had sold our home to the city of New Orleans. They had met with a Road Home officer and after they signed the paperwork, they gave her the keys to the house.
Afterwards, my parents went to the house to say goodbye. My mom told me that before she left, she walked around the house, taking pictures.
I picked up some stuff we’d left at the house, she said. Remember the books there. I took all that. And I don’t know why but I took a picture of all the doors. I just kept thinking of that image. Doors closing. Doors opening.