The Journey Home – Part I.

The first installment of my journey home from Tucson.

It is always all or nothing with me. This is not a decision that I have ever consciously made, but rather one that has been seemingly predetermined. Leaving Tucson for the summer proved to be no different. After a challenging (yet rewarding) year both academically and personally, I was more than ready for a few months back in a familiar climate. Neil flew in on Saturday. My house was already packed up into boxes to be transported into storage, only a mattress wearing nothing but a fitted sheet laid on the floor. I picked him up at the airport, we drank a beer and I expressed how excited I was for him to go out and meet my friends that evening. We Ubered there and we Ubered home; both of us were in the mood to be drunk.

We did not stay out late, arriving home from the bar before midnight. Liquored up, I happily skipped down the pathway to my door. It only took a brief second to realize I did not have my house key. Annoyed with myself, yet confident that it must have fallen off in the Uber, I plopped down in the dirt to call our driver. Neil, a man who prides himself in being able to break into his own house, circled my casita convinced their was an alternative route in. Our driver did not answer and I left a seemingly calm message (and then two more of increasing levels of panic). Neil had managed to find some scrap wire that he fashioned into a hook, but was no closer to breaking and entering. I was laying in the dirt at this point remembering my spare key that sat on the kitchen counter. This is when the drunken tears began to flow.

Neil was doing a lot of pacing. He called the bar – not there. He called a locksmith who would only come out for $250, and then another whose quote was even higher. After calling my landlord to learn via answering machine that he was away on vacation, I declared that we needed a real adult and so I called my mother (who is three hours ahead of us) at 4am on Mother’s Day. She jokingly suggested breaking a window; Neil had already been seriously considering that. It was decided that the bathroom window would be the smartest option; it was the smallest and we assumed the cheapest to replace. Neil perched himself on top of the washing machine beside the window and we held a debate about whether or not his head would fit through. We came to the conclusion that ‘yes it would’, but not without a few serious gouges to the face. The next smartest was my bedroom window that sat directly above the lone mattress. A mattress that had been calling my name since before we had left the bar. Neil decided that it would be responsible to call the cops to let them in on our plan so that they would not be alarmed when they received calls about suspicious activity. They were not overly amused (to be fair, neither were we), said that they could not help us and that they would definitely still show up if called. This is when I had my second panic attack of the evening.

We did not break the window.

Defeated and with no apparent solution at hand, we headed out towards the van (which had already been packed with the storage unit’s first load). Unable to recline the seats, I sat awake for the next five hours sobering up while Neil slept soundlessly beside me. At 6:30 I awoke him by calling our first Uber driver (an option that never even tried to occur to either of us the night before). He was currently driving, but pulled over to check the back seat – no luck. A voicemail from our second Uber driver waited patiently in my inbox and went on for over a minute describing in great detail of all the ways he searched his car before he revealed its lack of success. I emerged groggily from the backseat and climbed into the driver’s seat to drive us back to the bar in a last ditch effort to find what had been lost.

We pulled into the dirt parking lot and raked the earth seemingly in vain. They were not anywhere on the pathway leading up to the door, so we headed out back towards the dumpster. There, 10 feet from the road, buried in dirt and bent perfectly in half, sat my house key. It was nothing short of a miracle. Neil reached down and gently scooped it up into the palm of his hand. I watched carefully as he slowly gripped both ends in an attempt to flatten it back out. I watched even more carefully as the metal snapped cleanly in two. No longer functional, we had the key in our possession. A broken key seemed better to me than no key at all.

With the two pieces of key tucked safely into his pocket, we drove to a hardware store. I smelled of skunked beer and had purple bags forming under my eyes, Neil’s shirt was wrinkled and his hair stuck wildly in every direction; it was my hope that someone would take pity on us. The first store did not, neither did the second or the third. At the fourth store the man behind the counter took one look at us, let out a low pitched noise that resembled some sort of a chuckle, and said, “No one in town’s ever gonna touch that”. His doubt made me angry and we power walked out of the store. The two of us sat beneath the cracked windshield of the van for a few minutes before I was filled with sheer determination. “We look like shit, someone in this town WILL TAKE PITY ON US”, I cried. We drove back to a hardware store that had previously been closed and marched with confidence to the key counter. A man with a hearing aid and a slight limp greeted us. His jet black hair had been slicked back and he looked far too young for the shape he was in. He asked us what we needed, it was barely 9 in the morning and we were still dressed for the evening, performing our pseudo walk of shame. After explaining our misfortune, for what seemed like the thousandth time that morning, he looked at us and said, “I can try, but I am not promising that it’ll work”. I looked him dead in the eye and replied, “All I have ever wanted was someone to try”.

He cut the key and told us stories of his time spent as a paratrooper in the Army, all of his jumps, the invincibility of youth. We were not charged for the key. He said that it did not feel right since he had no idea whether or not it would work. We thanked him for his service and he wished us well. Key in hand, we walked out towards the sun.

Our newly minted key required no force and it did not stick. “Just like butter”, Neil said. He called the paratrooper to thank him once more and tell him of our success. I found my mattress and immediately fell asleep.


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