You wake up with a key gripped tightly in your hand.  How did you get this key?  What does it lock or unlock?


There’s an old key pressed into the palm of my hand. I must have been gripping it all night. My hand is sweaty and smells of metal. Another encounter with the same vivid dream. It’s the fifth night in a row.

The details never change. I walk into my house, which is blue instead of brick, and there’s water everywhere. Every room is flooded. My purple socks are soaked through. Water is rushing down the staircase. I think to check the bathroom.

I rush to the second floor, swing the door open, and see someone standing there fully clothed, watching as the tub overflows. The person looks at me and smiles. It’s as if he or she made this mess in an elaborate attempt to get my attention. This person wants to tell me something, but I’m too shocked to listen, so I wake up.

Here I am, once again, jolting myself out of that watery vision. Except this time, I’m holding the key. It’s a small key that my grandmother found years ago at a shop down South—Tennessee or Louisiana. At that time, she had a fondness for beautifully shaped keys, and added them to her collection whenever a new one caught her eye.

According to my grandmother’s letter, the shop clerk noticed her eyeing this special key, and struck up a conversation. He told her that the key opened a heavy wooden box that had been hidden in the shop’s basement for as long as he could remember. His father, the original storeowner, had given strict instructions: “Never open this box. Its rightful owner will one day come along.”

My grandmother told the shop clerk about her love of keys, and after a few minutes, he agreed to sell the little key and dig up the wooden box. As she carried the box on the bus ride home, my grandmother, always superstitious, thought about the original storeowner’s strict instructions. “Its rightful owner will one day come along.”

She decided then to not open it herself, and managed to keep the mysterious key and box a secret despite two husbands, four children, six grandchildren, and one move to Chicago.

Years later, after my grandmother passed, we finally discovered her secret. She left us a letter that told the story of the shop clerk, and of her decision to keep the box closed for so many years. In the letter, she wrote that I, her youngest grandchild, was the rightful owner of the box and that I should unlock it on the one-year anniversary of her death. Not before, and not after. As you can imagine, I’ve been stressed and anxious all year.

Today is the one-year anniversary, and I’ve been holding this key in my hand all night. I’m nervous, excited, and afraid. Why me? What’s inside of this box? Why are its contents so fiercely protected? What is the person in my dream trying to tell me—or warn me—about? How is my life going to change?

The box is sitting there on my desk. The key is here in my hand. Here goes nothing…