I found myself fidgeting with my keys while waiting in line to order a white mocha today. I don’t know what moved me to fix my undivided attention to them, but I acknowledged what was on my keychain for possibly the first time.

I first noticed a small bit of faded orange fabric with a buckle on the end, which was all that remained of an old Oregon State University lanyard I use to own. Royal blue plastic drew my gaze to the top of the first key on my keychain. It unlocks the door of an art gallery and artist’s studio in downtown Corvallis. I used to sell art there while the artist was out running errands or working on new artwork. I sometimes sat in the cozy space for hours, beams of natural light entering through the floor to ceiling windows. I people-watched from my perch on a tall barstool, sitting behind a modern, wooden table pushed against the glass. The tabletop was always scattered with sketches from the artist. It sported a wooden box full of expensive drawing pens that I was too afraid to waste on my own doodles.

My eyes moved to the next key, a dull and tiny bronze piece of metal I hardly ever use. It opens a neglected box where mail piles up. I used to avoid opening it for fear that medical bills or loan statements awaited me. I think I was pretending the bills didn’t exist, or that they would simply disappear if I never went to retrieve them. Despite the passing of those difficult months, I still neglect my mailbox. Nothing important is sent to me anymore since the letters from foreign friends have ceased and my debts are paid. Paper printed with junk is the only thing that accumulates there now.

I noticed two small, plastic rectangles after the bronze key. One is a rewards card for a movie theater with bad popcorn, but comfortable seats. The other one is a Petco rewards card that depicts a cartoon dog and cat cuddling with one another. I got it right after I adopted my dog Shipley and took her to Petco for the first time. I remember she relieved herself on the tiled floor, which drove me to relentlessly apologize to the unlucky sales associate who had to clean it up. Mortified, I slowly approached the cash register and bought all of Shipley’s new goodies. When I received the small keychain card, the embarrassment from Shipley’s accident dissipated and was replaced with unexpected glee. The card would indicate to everyone who saw it that I was officially a pet parent. It wasn’t until I got home that I realized I had walked out of the store without paying for the harness Shipley was wearing, the price tag glaring at me. Oops.

My attention shifted to two, nearly identical silver keys. One gains entry to the first apartment I have ever lived in by myself. It is overpriced and has forced me into a never ending battle between me and three sliding closet doors, and me and a defective bedroom light switch, but the apartment is completely my own. It is a place of solace. The interior is decorated to my liking, and everything within is absolutely mine. I received my college degree while living there. I learned to enjoy my own company and how to be by myself during a long, lonely summer there. Surrounded by books and artwork abound, unfinished paintings, a dog that constantly needs attention, and a lovely boyfriend I’m always pleasantly surprised to see sprawled out on the couch, I can gladly call the apartment my home.

The other silver key twin opens my boyfriend’s apartment, located in a building that resembles a castle, mature vines snaking up its brick exterior. It’s where I spent the most time when first getting to know him. It’s where something foreign stirred and awakened inside of me when I hadn’t known I’d been sleeping, waiting for something more. Through the man who lives in the castle, my disregard for what people thought of me was amplified. I learned to be courageous and completely myself again, aspects of my identity that I somehow lost with the passing of time. Whether he knows it or not, he taught me to be more independent and sparked the return of my outgoing, fearless personality. He pulled me from the depths of a life I hated living, and for that, I will always be grateful.

The last key was not as delightful to see, because of its power to tarnish good memories. In fact, I forgot I had been carrying it all of these years. The bronze key used to open the doors of a humble home situated on my family farm in Texas. I used to antagonize my younger sister by chasing her around the house and yard with grasshoppers. I would practice softball in the front yard with my father once he got home from work in the evenings. We would play catch and practice grounders and pop flies, from the golden hour right before sunset, until dusk. There was also a short-lived garden I helped my him start, but it quickly became my responsibility to care for, alone. It eventually disappeared without a trace, due to neglect.

We also had a pool in the backyard, which is where I spent my summers. Next to it was a trampoline that my friends and I used as a place to tan our skin and sun bleach our hair. The bouncy, black surface was also where my two best friends and I had lain on our backs, staring up at the clear, blue sky the day after my father died. I wasn’t ready to go inside yet, so we lay there while the grownups broke the news to my little sister in her bedroom. After that, the house felt too empty and quickly became a place I hated and desperately tried to avoid. I grew up way too fast and spent many lonely nights babysitting my sister there, too afraid to go to sleep while my guardian was out with friends until the later hours of early morning. When I got really lonely, I would go into my father's personal walk-in closet, turn on the light, shut the door, and sit on the floor. Somehow, it was comforting to be surrounded by his clothes and things while I spoke to him, or no one.

I was surprised by the rush of powerful memories and emotions that surfaced from the sight of the small pieces of metal and tiny plastic rectangles. When I returned home from the coffee shop, I removed the larger bronze key that used to open the doors to my home in Texas. After a short hesitation, I discarded it into the trash, letting go of everything that I wasn’t aware I was holding onto.