Strings of keys dangle from the ceiling, just low enough for most hands to reach. Gold, brass, silver, stone, they each bear their own weight, their own purpose. They unlock pain and laughter, memories and secrets, dreams and wishes. Every one of them different, every one of them crafted with the utmost care.
My sister collects them, she has always had a desire to explore the tangled paths and dark corners of the unknown. Her heart longs for learning the new, the strange, and the different. Her soul is one of an adventurer.
The first key she found unlocked her wandering feet. It is made of dark green stone, with tiny forests and mountains etched into its surface. I keep it near a window, dangling from a silver thread.
It never worked on me, as it is not meant for every person. My heart was always too attached to home for the key to fit.
The door opens and a boy walks in. I watch him, and before he opens his mouth I know what he is here for. There is pain on his shoulders and dragging at his feet. I know he wants a key to lock it up, to put it all away and forget about it like a dead pirates’ treasure.
But the keys do not work that way.
He slowly walks among the keys with a lost look in his eyes, and I ask him how I can help. He shifts on his feet, his fingers fidgeting with the hem of his shirt. He can’t be much older than thirteen.
“I need a key, I think.” he says.
I smile and place a guiding hand on his shoulder. “Let me help you find one that fits.”
We search the room, and as I watch him reach up to touch the keys, I start pulling out his story. He does not give me specifics, but I do not need them. I hear his words ringing off the keys, and lead him towards the loudest ones.
This pain is one he has not felt yet, and so it is terrible.
I reach out for a slender gold key hanging from a dark blue thread. He tries it, but it will not turn. Not the way he wants it to.
“You cannot lock it.” I tell him gently. He looks up with frightened eyes, and I cover his hand with my own. “It is already locked. Try turning it the other way.”
That was something I learned the day my sister returned with the first key that fit me. The keys do not lock.
My first key unlocked the dreams I’d been too scared to go after. I remember the surge of hope and fear they gave as they danced around me. They still lock up once in a while, and I have to pull down the key to use once again.
Most of life is terrifying, and so we often lock parts of it up.
His hand is shaking now, and I give him a moment before asking if he would like help turning it. He struggles to speak, eventually ending up with a shrug and a shake of his head.
He is not quite ready, and I am not one to push.
“Take it home with you.” I tell him. “Turn it when you can. Bring it back after it’s over.”
He pulls it out and nods, and I watch him leave with the gold key wrapped in his fingers. I have seen such a sight many times, and it always makes my heart ache in a strange way. It might be awhile before I see that key again, but I hope the boy will eventually come back with a healing heart.
Most of the time, they do.
Making them turn the key is not my job. I am only here to keep the keys safe and help others find the ones they need. Iron, copper, wood, steel, they dangle from the ceiling waiting to unlock laughter and pain, secrets and memories, wishes and dreams.
They wait for you to come for them.