"Daddy, do you know what happened?" Beatrice asked. Her cautioned excitement was evident as she came in the house and took her shoes off.
"What?" I said.
"Mommy dropped her keys in the street drain by the mailbox."
Beatrice eyed me closely while she said the words, waiting for my reaction. Her words shot back and forth in my head like a metal ball in a pinball machine, hitting random bumpers and making incoherent lights flash.
"You did what?" I asked the Mama (what I lovingly call my wife).
"Yes, I dropped them right down the grate into the drain."
"How are we going to get them back?" Bea asked. Bryce was oblivious playing a game on her iPad.
More metal balls flying in all directions in my head -- the bonus round -- except the points didn't add up. They were being deducted quickly. A myriad of "oh shit, these are the things we'll have to do next" rode those shiny speedy pinballs through multiverses and back again. And we were supposed to have a date night in less than an hour, something we both always look forward to and don't have enough of.
"Oh my God. I can't believe it," was all I could say.
"I know. Sorry. What are going to do?" said the Mama.
"I don't know. We'll have to call the city."
"But it's Saturday."
"Oh my God. I do not know. To replace the car keys alone it'll be up to $200 for each set. Can you see the keys down in the drain?"
The Mama shook her head. "I don't know. Let's go see."
"They'll get washed out to sea," I said, still focused on worst case scenarios. I felt visibly rattled, and although I knew it was an accident, it still sucked, and replacing them would be a pain in the butt. Or worse, someone will find them and trace them back to our cars, our house, our stuff, our kids -- I nearly tilted the pinball machine in my brain at that point.
"Let's go see if we can see them," I said. "I don't know what else to do."
I grabbed the mag flashlight from the garage and looked around blankly for something else that might help, but had no friggin' idea of what that would be. We left the girls inside the house and walked around the corner to our neighborhood mailboxes. The whole time I kept making that mental list of things to do if we'd truly lost them forever. I'm sure my wife was doing the same. The next day I'd read that upwards of 30 percent of Americans lose their house and car keys every year. And that we spend one year of our lives looking for all our lost stuff. And our lost stuff costs us thousands of dollars during our lifetimes.
Jesus H. Christ.
"I see them -- they're right down there," the Mama said pointing.
The mag light didn't help, but sure enough, cloudy daylight shimmered off the keys at the bottom of the drain, about ten feet down and in about six inches of water. A heavy metal grate covered most of the street drain opening. My mind reeled with key vertigo -- I knew there had been many times I've gotten our mail with the sick feeling that my keys would be sucked from my hands into the drain like light into a black hole. Or the sick feeling from the times the Mama left her keys dangling in the front door lock and I'd find them. Or the sick feeling of all the times as a teenager I'd lock my keys in my car, and sometimes lose them, and having to deal with my mom's and dad's collective disappointment.
Thankfully some of our neighbors came to help. One had a long think metal brace that could reach the keys. With some leverage help from a crowbar and a pick axe, we loosened the heavy metal grate and tilted it up and out of the way of the rectangle hole down to the bottom of the drain.
Within minutes, the neighbor with the metal brace dragged the keys up the side of the concrete drain, and when within reach, the Mama snatched them from the black maw of despair. It was dizzying, but I held fast the metal grate during recovery. We graciously thanked our neighbors and went home.
After testing the car keys, the key fobs still worked. Amazing and amen. And just in time for our date. The girls were impressed that we got our keys back, too. Once the babysitter got to our house and the Mama reviewed our safety plan with her and the game plan for the girls, we were off.
"I'm sorry I got so upset," I said. "I easily could've done that myself many times."
"You were fine, sweetie. We figured it out, and thanks to our neighbors' help, we got the keys back."
"I know. Thank goodness somebody had something that long."
"I know. I love you."
"I love you, too."
"Let's go have a date."
It's the simple pleasures, you know? Take 'em while you got 'em, kids.
Later, I'd catch myself patting my front pocket for my keys, the last vestige of key vertigo still throbbing like a phantom limb.