Spare Keys

Whenever people string together that I am both 6 months pregnant and a fairly-newlywed, they always give me this piteous smirk. The kind of smile that subliminally says, “I didn’t realize I was better than you!” Somehow they all feel it is perfectly acceptable to ask about my marriage. “Are you sure you should have gotten married so soon?” “Is it hard to pretend to like each other because you got pregnant?” I just like to smile back brightly and say, “Hmm, I never thought of that until you brought it up just now! Thanks!”

The truth is, there have been plenty of times we’ve debated sticking together. The night I got engaged was one of them.

I was proposed to in a grocery store parking lot near my parents’ house, as it was deemed the place I would least suspect to be proposed to. The minute he got down on one knee we both started crying, making it awkward for the old ladies trying to load their cat litter into their Jalopies and the cart attendants shoving that never-ending connection of carts beside us- but we were happy. We walked inside, still sniffling, my hand shining with a new diamond, grabbed some hot dog buns and drove to my parents’ to tell them the happy news.

Not bad, huh?

After a delicious meal, it was about 8:30pm, and as my then-fiancé and I had driven separate cars, we thought it best to head back to the college town where we resided this summer. As I hopped in, I noticed my tank was about 1/8 full- but being the go getter I am, I decided to ride it out and get gas closer to my apartment.

After about an hour of singing loudly to Panic at the Disco and driving the expressway into the dusk, the fuel light came on. I was about thirty miles from my apartment when I pulled off to an exit, my fiancé following me in his Honda. There was one small, dingy gas station on the corner off the expressway. It was the kind of place that gave you the impression of murders and hardcore drug trafficking, but I had no other options. I pulled into the dimly lit station, grabbed my wallet out of my purse, locked my car, and walked in to pay for gas. It wasn’t until I returned to put fuel in my car that I noticed my keys were still in the ignition.

Oops.

My fiancé, inside the Gas-Mart buying a Peace Tea, walked out to my car, read my facial expression, and knew. “Oh no, not again!” I was parked at a pump with my windows rolled up, trunk shut, and no way to access my keys. We went inside the dirty yellow gas station market and asked for a number to a towing company, but the attendant couldn’t locate an open one. Sympathetic, she called her boyfriend to bring a coat hanger. So we sat on the curb outside the little gas station shop and stared at the road while we waited. My fiancé was furious. I got it all- the lecture about being irresponsible, not paying attention to what I was doing, how paying for a tow truck is a waste of the little money we had, how he had to work at 7am the next day, and even, “Is this really how our lives are going to go?” My eyes stung with tears as I listened to his criticism, knowing he was right.

The attendant’s boyfriend showed up at just about the one-hour anniversary of our arrival at the gas station. He was a skinny little guy with thin, greasy hair and a slappable smile who clumsily unraveled the wire hanger and dug into my car window. People have tried to do this before- my dad once had an entire hockey stick propping open the top of my car door to fish out my keys- but it rarely works. I watched as he and my fiancé wrestled the wire into the door, bending it at strange angles and poking from various entrance points. After an hour and a half, my car remained securely locked.

I decided it was time to call my dad for help, as it was 11pm and our surroundings were growing more sinister by the minute. I used my fiancé’s phone, much to his aggravation, and explained the situation to my father, who would call me back with a plan. My fiancé grabbed me an orange juice from the Gas-Mart, and we parked ourselves on the curb again and sipped our beverages. We watched as various bearded, shady characters walked in and out of the gas station. We watched as teenagers pulled in the parking lot to meet. We watched as time continued around us, wondering what we could do when leaving wasn’t an option.

My fiancé’s phone rang, and my dad had a plan. It involved me pretending to be my aunt so her insurance company would pay for a tow truck to come from another city. I had no choice but to agree. I hung up and explained calmly to my fiancé that I would have to fake my identity as my aunt, who is 15 years older than me and also African American. My fiancé stared resolutely at the ground for one last second, and then:

We laughed.

And we didn’t stop.

The next hour was honestly one of the best of my life, just sitting on a curb outside a gas station, laughing with the man I would spend the rest of my life with. The tow truck came at about 12:30am, and I gave an Emmy-winning acting performance to the gruff tow truck men, who didn’t even ask my name and opened my car in 15 seconds. My fiancé clapped and I took a bow as the tow truck zoomed away. As we drove home in our separate cars to our separate apartments, I thought about what had just happened, how I had made a mistake and my fiancé had been angry, but hadn’t left me. How he had sacrificed his sleep to make sure I was safe. I looked at the diamond on my hand, glittering green from the light of the car radio, and knew that it wasn’t just an answer to a question my fiancé had asked: it was a commitment to his question. Whenever times get rough, we always recall the night we got engaged and think, really, how much worse could it get?

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2 thoughts on “Spare Keys

  1. Seriously, best post yet. Your writing is exploding by the minute! Loved this story, although Ethan, my man, you’ll have to learn to never yell at your wife. Especially when she’s pregnant. Bad things can happen.

  2. HAHA! “I hung up and explained calmly to my fiancé that I would have to fake my identity as my aunt, who is 15 years older than me and also African American. ” Only a Wallington could come up with that solution. What an excellent story, enhanced by a superb storyteller!

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