I've always loved gaining access to forbidden places.
I remember long afternoons after school let out, waiting for my mother who was a teacher, and looking at ramp that led from the sidewalk to the boiler room with envy. I didn't care what was down there; I just wanted to get in there. When, in sixth grade, a friend and I managed to weasel our way into assignments in a locked ditto machine room where we composed juvenile short stories and plans for our novel, we thought we'd struck pay dirt.
During my freshman year of college, I lived on the tenth floor of a ten story building, the highest on campus at the time, and still, it couldn't have been more than a week into school when I found myself in the stairwell with a bunch of guys who were trying to pick the lock to floor eleven. I discovered an obsession with roofs.
By junior year, I'd found a friend in the physics department who took me up to the roof of the physics building, to which he had a key (or maybe he picked the lock, too; I can no longer remember that detail, only that he seemed legitimate). I was a little wary of his motives, but luckily for me, he was completely honorable. We looked at the stars, peered down into the skylights, and marveled at the campus spread at our feet.
The same friend also conspired with me to get the elevator to the highest floor of the computer science research facility (locked at night), where a small lounge protruded beyond the facade of the building, suggestive of a flash cube. It was always deserted and dark at night, and it was probably not safe to be there, but I didn't care. We were the only ones who were, and that was exactly why I loved it.
As I grew older, I began to accumulate my own keys. My car, student organization offices, entire academic buildings, my own apartment. Reading Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon, I found myself empathizing with Macon Dead, despicable though he was in every other way: I loved my keys. I loved knowing that I had access. They keys symbolized both accomplishment and perspective. My father began to joke about my keyring, calling it my albatros, or my cencerro (cowbell).
As the years passed and access became more of a virtual privilege than a physical one, I craved passwords, being able to see things and change things that other people couldn't. Databases, systems, websites: all of these were mine.
My keyring has been pared down quite a bit from my younger years. I carry my car key, my house key, my mother's house key, my office keys. But I still love being able to unlock all kinds of doors.
There is a back door to my office that leads to the roof. Not much is out there, and it's fairly trivial to get in and out. But it offers a view of forbidden fruit: the tower that has been closed for some time now because of its unsafe condition. Students ask me, conspiratorially, if I've been up there. I imagine what it would be like to look out, shake my head, and know that some day, I will be able to confess: yes.
If you were given a key, how would you use it, and why?