The Missing Keys

As I approach the “golden years,” I have discovered that one of the hazards of aging is the growing tendency of forgetting or misplacing things with the concomitant time spent finding these very same items.  My father’s advice many years ago has helped me in my efforts to avoid this undesired inevitability.  When I moved to California, he suggested that I take my hat and put what I needed for the next day inside it such as keys, wallet, glasses and cell phone.  Place the hat in the same spot and retrieve all my valuables the next day when I’m ready to go to work. This simple advice undoubtedly has saved me time and reduced my frustration in trying to locate misplaced valuables.

But one’s life can go from the disorganized to the chaotic when the sequence described above is lost.  A few months ago, my wife, Lisa, and I returned from a two-week vacation back East, on a Sunday late afternoon.  After unpacking, doing some laundry, and eating I prepared myself for my next day with computer and patient files.  Keys, wallet and cell phone were all placed in the usual spot.  My ordinary routine was pretty much followed with one small exception, I took the hamper of clothes that were cleaned from the evening before into the bedroom.  This break in routine may have resulted in subsequent havoc insofar as I believed I had taken all of my essentials:  wallet, keys and cell from my hat.  However, upon opening the car trunk with my electronic keys and placing my patient files and computer there, I reached into my pocket and discovered I had not taken my wallet.  I automatically returned to my hat, picked up my wallet where it was safely laying and returned to my car. It was then that my thread of organization abruptly unraveled.

Much to my surprise upon returning to my car, I no longer had my keys.  Still early before my first patient appointment that morning, I felt no need for alarm assuring myself my keys had to be nearby.  Whereupon I pulled my car out of the garage with my spare car key, and proceeded to search the floor of the garage with no luck.  Following Lisa’s advice, I looked in the container for discarded papers with no avail.  Perhaps the keys had fallen into the car trunk upon placing my computer and files there and so, I thoroughly combed all niches of the trunk emptying my gym bag of its contents with no success.  Checking underneath the seats of my car on the floor and in between the seats likewise was without benefit.

Because I did not have a duplicate office key, I had to contact my clients and switch all the sessions to online telehealth.  Fortunately, I had duplicates (and triplicates) of all of my keys with the exception of my office key.  When my office mate gave me a new office key, I immediately made a duplicate.

With the distancing of an event caused by the passage of time, the mind begins to play tricks on us.  After completing my work day along with Lisa reporting that she had not found my keys anywhere in the garage, I began to suspect that I had left them somewhere else in the house. So, I looked in spots such as under my papers in my home office, between couch seats and other locations where in the past I had found missing items.  My belief that the keys were not in the garage was further reinforced by the fact that Lisa had looked through the shelves next to my car with no results.  Furthermore, I again looked at  all the shelves in the garage and, I made a mental effort in retracing all my steps that morning with little gain.

A patient of mine and a friend both indicated that perhaps they had disappeared into what can best be described as a “fourth dimension.”  After several days of on and off searching, I began to think the keys might not be found at all and so, I took the precautionary measure of duplicating my car key to my Porsche knowing that if I lost the duplicate, it would cost upward of $500 to replace.  I located a hardware store that duplicated foreign car keys, for $95, but without the electronic features, that would allow me to open the car manually.   

Lisa and I continued to look in places in and outside the garage.  Granted our searches were of a perfunctory nature but I wondered why wouldn’t an object such as keys be easily seen, after all I was looking for a set of keys and not just one.  About 6 weeks later, my wife found them. They were in an inconspicuous corner on a shelf next to my car.

Similar to a witness to a crime, with the passage of tine the mind, in reworking scenes, can confuse rather than clarify reality.  What had actually happened was the following:  In my haste to retrieve my wallet, I never put the keys in my pocket and they had slipped out of my hands but rather landing on the floor they had perched themselves hidden on the shelf leading to the doorway exiting the garage. 

When I had returned to my car, I recognized immediately that my keys were missing.  Acceptance of this realization should have led me to believe that the keys had to be somewhere in the garage inasmuch as they were not to be found anywhere in my car.  But, after not finding them in any obvious location, my mind extrapolated beyond the event itself, thereby obfuscating my search.  In my defense, the fact that my keys landed where they did, in the corner of a shelf, not in eyesight, was most unlikely. 

Ironically, Lisa was looking for something that she had misplaced in the garage when she discovered my keys.  Shortly after, she found what she had been originally in search of.  Rather than the fourth dimension, perhaps it was my sudden disorientation causing the my keys to drop and, my subsequent stress–knowing that I had to get to my office—that caused the enigma of my missing keys.

By docallegro

Consulting Psychologist
Specialties in: Cognitve-Behavioral Interventions, Conflict Resolution, Mediation, Stress Management, Relationship Expertise, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Fluent in Spanish

6 replies on “The Missing Keys”

Missing keys – or anything? Next time imagine you are in Lisa’s situation here – i.e. that something else too is missing. Generally works for me: if two things seem to be missing, either I get a better hypothesis as to where both of them are or else I just get luckier in finding at least one of them. Now, what have I just forgotten to tell you?

“They were in an inconspicuous corner on a shelf next to my car.”
This reflects not an aging thing; rather a focus thing. For years I have known that memory is enhanced if I vocalize internally a description of my actions as I take them. Not that I do this routinely TBH, but the cognitive vocalization process creates an internal awareness that later on one’s ‘memory’ can latch onto so to remember what was placed where.

I have a similar story but it took me a couple of years to find my keys! My keychain turned up after Covid when I was getting ready for a Pops concert at the symphony. Guess where they were? Inside pocket of the cooler that I had not touched during the pandemic. Threw them in the trash at that point. Everything had been rekeyed by then and I had a new car. 😆

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