August 06, 2002

Skeleton Keys

Before I happened upon yesterday's metro carnage, I was taking one of those naps--a three hour doosey during which I never slept at all, rather lay there paralyzed by visions hell bent on attacking me. Those are fast dreams. It's like being pummeled by a stronger oponent with bigger boxing gloves than you. I always "wake up" from those kind of naps more tired than I was before, and generally suicidal. It's a long standing thing with me--DON'T NAP.

You see, I tricked myself after having a baby. I became a pretty good napper. A champion napper. You have no choice but to nap when you have a baby. Our little chow hound demanded milk every hour and a half. Her shrill scream would snap me out of slumber, wouldn't hush until her mouth was busy on my breast, where it gnawed for a half hour, which meant, I spent three months sleeping one hour at a time. That's some major nap mileage. Yeah. I learned to nap. I really can be like normal people.

No, sorry. Not so. That was just exhaustion talking. I still can't nap. Not without waking up feeling like I need to crawl out of my skin, like nothing could ever possibly be okay again.

Where does that come from? It's not a fear of napping--I like the idea of napping. It's the fear of waking up into chaos. I got a glimpse of it tonight, as I thought and thought about it, and almost got back there, to the morning after my father died, the first coming awake with the knowledge that nothing would ever be okay again, and I think my wake phobia may have roots to that very morning. The day of the news, I did what any six year old would do, I think. I asked to go outside and play. I wasn't allowed to. Understandable. Now. Not then. Okay, you guys have a stiff drink and I'll sit here twidling my thumbs--what about my relief? Play was my relief. But not this day.

Still, the day he died, as I remember it, wasn't that bad after the initial shock wore off. Used to being helpless, children come to acceptance faster than adults do. You have been trained by six to accept what you have no control over.

The next day. The waking to find everything still undone. That's where it is. That's where I am.

So yesterday's nap was one of those three hour paralysis sessions that I guess other people call naps, and one of the wake-dreams I had was about skeleton keys.

Growing up in western New York, the houses were old. Not like here. City houses in Rochester are big, huge, old, structures with lots of oak and wood inside and a whole lot of character, some good, some not so good. The doors in the houses I remember aren't these hollow pre-fabs. They're solid. They're massive. And all the ones I knew had skeleton keys.

That's what parents had back then that we don't have now. Skeleton Keys. For all the inside doors, the bedroom doors. One worked pretty much like the rest. All you needed was one good skeleton key. You know why skeleton keys are different than regular keys? Why those locks are different than the spin-the-handle knob locks we have here? Because skeleton keys worked from both sides. Lock in / lock out. That's how good Rochester Catholics kept all twelve kids on regular nap and bedtime schedules. That's how they kept kids in line, out of their hair. That was discipline. That's when "Go to your room" meant you were going to your room, and if you came out, the skeleton key would make sure you didn't do it twice. Lock us out, lock us in. Privacy. Order. Enforced loneliness.

Something to be said for that. Or is it just time for me to take another nap?

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