Food is affection. A room is a right. A key is a promise.
The objects in our lives have meaning, whether we want them to or not. They may mean one thing to us, something completely different to someone else. There can be conflict, misinterpretation, manipulation without an outright lie when a symbol comes into play.
It’s so easy to be hurt by them, and so hard to avoid no matter how well we understand, intellectually, that what is symbolized is not inherent to the thing. Objective truth be damned: food is affection. A room is a right. A key is a promise.
Food is affection.
I could say “food is love,” but that’s a word I use with the care and trepidation afforded hazardous materials, and hazardous materials have no place in my kitchen. I’m an excellent cook. I love the building of a meal, the time and energy, the heat and smells and sounds of it coming together. If I offer to send cookies or make dinner, it’s because I value someone. It’s an offer of time and energy and the tangible form of joy, not just a desire to nourish. Food is affection. It seemed so obvious I never thought it needed to be said. But to some, a meal at home is banal. It means the night isn’t special enough to warrant going out, or a desire not to be seen in public together, or simple pragmatism. I once made a decadent three course meal for a woman who said “I never really thought of food as something you like. I eat because I have to, but I’d rather not think about it.” To her, my hours in the kitchen were a waste of a perfectly good afternoon.
A room is a right.
Having a room of one’s own confers the right to use that room however one likes. This is inherently obvious to small children, bafflingly ignored by too many parents. In Texas, Spouse and I had a two-bedroom apartment. We shared one room, and the second was a library. It was also my room: my reading chair lived there, my photography table. It was a place I could play country music, sequester myself with friends or a lover, or just enjoy solitude and a good book.
We moved to a one-bedroom apartment in New Orleans. I don’t have my own space here. It’s affected nerves: my need for solitude and silence is at times profound. I have shut myself in the closet here more than once, just to try to feel that there’s some small space that only I control.
The Techie and Z have a spare room. It’s where I sleep, when I stay at their place. They call it my room, sometimes. It’s a convenience: I stay there once or twice a week, no one else does. But it’s a guest room, not mine. I can’t assume it’s available or that I’m welcome. I don’t keep my things there, or use it as a haven. It is not my space, simply space I am allowed to occupy sometimes.
A key is a promise.
The first time the Techie offered me a key was over a year ago. It frightened me, the implication of trust and commitment. I declined. He mentioned a few times that he’d like me to have one before we fell apart in December. I never took it. Since I’ve been with him and Z, they’ve both offered more than once. It just makes sense, if you get here and we aren’t in, or are in the shower; in case you leave something and need to get it, in case Z locks herself out, etc. We want you to have it. No big deal.
It is a big deal. A key is a promise: this door is never closed to you. You are welcome, now and for the foreseeable future. My home is your home.
It’s a promise they can’t keep. The Techie has already shown he’s perfectly willing to excise me from his life completely rather than risk a difficult conversation. Z I credit with more integrity, but their relationship is hierarchical. An open relationship, not polyamory. Thing about open relationships is that they can close at any time, and secondary partners are unlikely to have any warning, let alone a say.
I don’t want a key. I can’t brush off the little lower layer. It clings like cobwebs in spite of their talk of convenience, in defiance of their insistence that it’s no big deal.
As of yesterday, I have a key. They’re out of town for a week, wanted someone to be able to get in if there’s an emergency. I can deal with this. It’s practical, and temporary.
But it makes me sick to look at my key ring right now. I’m afraid they’ll try to say I should keep it, when they get back; that there’s no reason I shouldn’t have a key. On the face of it, that may be true. But I can’t separate the thing from its meaning. A key is a promise, and this is not one I’m willing to believe or accept.