Midnight. I wake up in a daze thinking about one thing. Keys. Not mine which are dangling from the door or M.’s, which are constantly being stealthily shifted from one place to another by diabolical elves. Keys in general. The idea of keys. I don’t have a clue why but it struck me as a great idea to write about keys and their symbolism to a returning resident like myself.

There is something superlatively liberating about not having any keys at all. That’s how I came off the plane in 2007. I was wearing a stupid cowboy hat and boots, an even stupider belt buckle with a Texas Longhorn on it that doubled as a bottle opener. What was conspicuously missing was a set of keys. I had sold/given away all my earthly possessions except for the aforementioned cowboy hat and boots, given my ex landlord his keys for that apartment in Philly, and came to Israel without a key to anything. I had never felt more unencumbered in my life. I had no idea where I was going to spend the night but I didn’t care. It was the stuff of adventures and here I was, cowboy boots and all, ready for anything Israel had to offer.

I spent the first few nights at the Cinema Hotel on Zamanhoff Street. I had a swipe card but still no keys. I was as light as a feather those first few days. I think that your level of personal freedom is inversely proportional to the amount of keys you carry with you.

I moved out of the cinema hotel and straight into a ridiculously absurd hostel for soldiers they call Beit Hachayal, Home of the Soldier. It is home for a motley crew; lone soldiers who have no family here, soldiers with domestic situations or soldiers with economic hardships at home. We were four and sometimes six to a room with a small television and a sink. I have never seen a prison before but I imagine it looks kind of like this. Common showers and bathrooms were down the hall and there was a courtyard with benches where we could gather and smoke cigarettes (or exercise). Each room has one key. If you’re the last one in the room you’re supposed to give it back. In my case there was a soldier, a sergeant in some infantry unit, who never left the room. He was depressed about something or other and chain smoked. Matter of fact I never saw him leave his bed the entire month that I was there. He had the TV remote glued to his hand and more importantly, the room key.

My first real key was a small, lightweight one to the apartment on Dizengoff Street, near the port. It was one of those old Bauhaus places with a wooden door. I don’t even think you needed a key the door was so flimsy. My roommate was a psychotic divorcee in her late thirties who spent the better part of the day screaming at her ex-husband and slamming doors. She had an old dog, poor thing, and it had lost control of it’s bladder due to cancer. It was around the time that I met my lovely M., and so of course that key represented more than just access to a weathered old Bauhaus with dog poop everywhere. It was the key to our own private sanctuary, our retreat from the world.

That small key was traded for a set of four keys when we moved to Florentine, got married and had our son. One hefty key for the steel door at the bottom of the stairs. One big key for our front door. One regular sized key for the porch door and another small key for the mailbox. I had to get a key chain. The keys were heavy in my pocket and a constant source of anxiety. I took them everywhere, checked my pockets at regular intervals to make sure they were still there. They were an albatross in many ways, like they contained within them the inevitability of responsibility and maturity.

After about a year at my job the boss gave me the keys to the office. While I was flattered by his trust in me, it was ultimately another source of stress. There were six or seven of them, each one color coated and designed to open a specific door or office. I made horrible jingling noises when I walked around. I had keys protruding from every pocket. There’s nothing worse than jeans with keys in the pockets stabbing your thigh. I had gone from being keyless and free to being a janitor.

A few months ago M. and I purchased our first car and with it came a big black key with buttons to lock and unlock the doors. And then my parents, who had decided to make aliyah, gave me a spare set of keys to their apartment. And then the landlord asked if I needed a key to the storage basement. I agreed. I needed a place to store my bike. I had accumulated so many keys that I felt at times overwhelmed, like I was drowning in keys.

As I was working from home the other day I put on Pocoyo for D. It’s a great animated show for toddlers and he loves it. I can always hear it in the background but never pay much attention. Then I heard it. It was an episode about keys which I had seen a thousand times. Pocoyo finds a key and he and his friends Lula the dog, Pato the duck and Ellie the elephant go looking for whatever the key opens. Eventually they find a treasure chest full of keys. The narrator, Stephen Fry, sums it up by congratulating them on finding the greatest treasure of all – keys. He then implores them, and us, to keep opening doors and exploring our world. That is the key to it all, he says. At first I felt really stupid because my stroke of midnight genius was nothing more than a semi conscious regurgitation of a half-heard cartoon. However, I also felt somewhat liberated by the moral of the story. After all, the more keys I have the more treasure chests I could potentially open. It all depends on how I choose to look at it.