I threw away keys yesterday. Eleven of them. With spring having finally extended an olive branch to Vermont two months past the vernal equinox, I figured I’d begin the cleansing that’s mandated by more sunlight and the fact that I can now keep a window open for more than 15 seconds without risking hypothermia.

I didn’t want to GO BIG; be too aggressive. The basement’s a shit show, but when I thought about cleaning that, my brain collapsed. I could have gone for the closet in the guest bathroom, but I knew what lurked there: boxes of Benetton sweaters towering three feet high, sartorial rainbows from eighth grade shipped to me by my parents when they abandoned my childhood home for the alleged tranquility of the Sunshine State. But blood wept from my ears the moment I opened that door.

So I went for a win. Something small, baby steps if you will….something that I knew would give me a ‘W’ and a sense of accomplishment: a box of trophies. (I get the irony.)

I slinked down into the aforementioned basement not viewing it as a whole; not seeing it as the entirety that is was: a graveyard of college-era Ikea desks, old TVs, a Gateway computer, and books that I had pretended to read. I just had to get a toehold, establish a beachhead as my Marine Corps father would say.

I just had to throw away that box of old trophies. Get in, get out, and I would be on my way to vernal bliss.

But I slipped.

I tripped.

I made the mistake of reading the cheap-ass, glued-on, paper-thin brass plates that were peeling away from the cheap-ass, faux-marble baseplates. Memory Lane opened for business. And that was before I even got to the keys.

There were the swim trophies acknowledging my butterfly prowess; the ones from thirty summers ago when swim meets at the local pool were as much about introducing kids to competition as they were about adults swimming in pools of vodka tonics. Good times.

There were soccer trophies; the ones from 11-hour road trips to destinations my parents would have never paused to skim in a travel brochure, let alone actually load up the family and drive their only daughter to.

The short of it: there were tears glued to those cheap-ass, faux-marbled trophies. There was sacrifice not seen in the “Most Valuable” or “Most Improved “etchings in the cheap-ass faux-bronze baseplates. There was the pure love and unmitigated joy of memory. And then I saw the keys.

Eleven of them.

I emptied the envelope they were in across the kitchen table. They had their manufacturer’s stamps: Ace Hardware, Aubuchon, and Country Home Center. Three had the vaunted “USPS. MUST RETURN TO POSTAL SERVICE.” imposingly impressed on them. (It’s true; I am a federal scofflaw.)

They didn’t reach back thirty years; just the last 14. There was the key to the first apartment I rented when I got to Vermont. The one to my first PO box. The key to the bar I first worked at. (I wonder if that one still works.) A few keys to Subarus I had tortured for 300,000 miles, or more. They were the keys of, and to, my adulthood.

I was a semi-clueless nomad between the ages of 18 and 30. Chronologically an “adult”, I didn’t start displaying adult-ish behaviors until I moved Vermont. A marriage. A house purchase. A 401(k). A car with a role of duct tape in it, not holding it together.

Each key on the table was a part of one of those milestones, in some way or another. Each one opening another door of knowledge for me to walk, or be pulled through. I looked at all of them and smiled. I put them back in the envelope and lobbed them back into the box of trophies. And then I brought the whole kit and caboodle to the garage and hucked it into the trash. Memories or not, I need to get shit out of my house.