Of nine keys, only one remains.
In my four and a half years here, I've had six different keys to five different residences, plus a church key, a car key, and a school key. There's something lovely about holding a key; it means you belong here, and you may enter at any time. The fall after I graduated from college, I remember walking into the campus mail center and feeling the strangest of all sensations: my heart dropping into my toes because I could no longer open a mailbox. It was the most forceful slamming of the door between college and adult life--more jarring than not recognizing the freshman faces or not being able to check out a library book.
Over the past few weeks, I have been giving back keys. I turned in the church key awhile ago and the school key last Friday, then handed the apartment key over to Katie on Saturday. Next week, I give the car key to my parents.
It isn't just keys. Today I spent awhile on the phone, canceling Verizon service for next month, suspending health insurance. This is all very CIA-agent-esque, turning in your identity, turning off those forgotten little pieces of life that keep it running normally. I don't really feel any of it now, but I know the feelings will set in: it's just a matter of when. When will it really hit me that with each canceled policy, with each returned key, I am slowly locking myself out of the life I've made here, locking my North Dakotan life into a memory? Yes, I'll gain more keys and open more doors, but turning around to press against the closed ones can feel a bit like mourning.
Still, I take hope in this, no matter how far I might go, no matter how displaced I know I will feel: that sweet North Dakota is always holding out a key toward those that love her, toward those who need a place to call home, if even for just a moment. And those who reach for it will suddenly find it unnecessary, for North Dakota, like so many of her residents, always keeps her doors unlocked.