the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

The Key


If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll notice that I haven’t uploaded a single photos in the last two weeks. It’s as if I’ve lost interest in photography. After shooting 3,000 photos over the last two years, I’ve discovered the most beautiful image in the face of one woman, and there’s no reason to look at anything else.

Juli and I speak late at night, when our time zones align, and after her son is asleep. We have conversations like whether or not we should change our Facebook relationship status. We decided against it; it serves us no purpose other than adding pressure. Last night, we searched the internet for the most current definition of “boyfriend” and “girlfriend,” to see if we would quality, but sadly, we did not. Labels always fail me, just like the do in blogging. I never quite fit in.

Readers of this blog are a sappy bunch, and I know you enjoy a good love story, especially before Valentine’s Day, but I’m going to disappoint you. I’m not jumping on a plane and moving to New Zealand just yet. I realize that this is what happens in the movies, but let’s be real– the filmmakers never show you what happens after the plane takes off and the credits roll. I have a mother and friends in the United States. I know very few people in New Zealand.

“Do you believe in soulmates?” she asked me.

We both were unsure. We both were married, in love with other people. This can only mean one thing — there is no such thing as one “soulmate.” A person can have many soulmates in life. The idea of a soulmate is another myth perpetuated by sappy movies.

There is also the delicate issue of her son. I’m more understanding now about the issues surrounding a single mom. To “date” a single mom means — in many ways — dating her child. It is a package deal. I enjoyed playing with Juli’s son. We played Battleship, flew kites, went camping. Juli was very careful that her son knew that I was just a visiting friend, and that HE always came first.

I will return to New Zealand, at least for another visit. This year. But when? It is painful to talk to her on Skype and be separated by wireless data. But a flight to New Zealand is expensive. I need to search for a few more freelance gigs.

Thousands of miles away, in New Zealand, there is a house with a beautiful wooden door. It is a strong and colorful door, lit by the sun, emboldened by the salty sea air. I have the key that opens this door.

“Take it,” she told me at the airport terminal before I left, gently placing it into my right hand.

I keep this key with me all the time now — in my front pocket, in my back pocket, in my shirt pocket — only taking it out before sleep, where I place it on my night stand, next to her photo, and then I dream.


  1. Melissa

    Hold on to this feeling… it is precious and beautiful and well-deserved. Even though you may be separated by miles, the distance doesn’t affect your hearts so enjoy every moment.

  2. Avitable

    Sometimes the sappy movies have it right, too, though.

    • Neil

      You are a real softie under it all, aren’t you?!

      • Avitable

        Yeah, at my core I’m a ridiculous romantic.

  3. Miss Britt

    I want you to move to NZ because I love love stories, but I love that you are insisting on being more than a love story for an audience to devour.

    I love that you’re still talking, still going, still letting yourself feel, even though it makes no sense and you don’t know what the “ending” is.

    I love that you keep sharing it with us. Thank you.

    • Neil

      I like that others are rooting for love. It just can’t get resolved in two hour time period, like a movie.

  4. Stephanie

    This is lovely and well-written. And such a wonderful departure from a football game we’re not watching anyway.

    • Neil

      I am watching the commercials now, though. Still boring.

  5. Bon

    oh god Neil, my heart.

    there is something peeking out here that is raw and beautiful and i hurt for the two of you much as i look on you and beam at the possibilities of this crazy world.

    i love that you have her key.

  6. sarah gilbert

    Yours is the kind of relationship I would never have understood as a 20-something and now, is the kind of relationship I imagine most of us have. Too complex. Marked by shattering happiness and stunning loss. Centered on children, because that it how it must be, yet in ways that complicates hopelessly what looks, from one angle (like that of your iPhone lens) so simple.

    All I can do is feel for you.

  7. Jana A (@jana0926)

    Oh Neil… beautiful post.

  8. Jenn

    Just bring Mom.

    • Neil

      Yeah, then I will get nagged by my mother all the time like you do.

  9. Wendy Thomas

    I wish I had the answers for you, Neil. Some magic wand to wave that would close the distance between you two.

    You’re both doing the right thing not rushing into this thing. Don’t rush it. Don’t ruin it. I know that’s not the popular sentiment, but this really isn’t just a sappy love story. However, your story, your honesty, and your openness are incredibly inspiring.

    You give me hope.

  10. Dana

    I adored this — so, yeah, I guess I’m a sap too.
    I’m pulling for the two of you.

  11. kenju

    I hope that someday you will use that key. It’s a wonderful story, Neil, and all too often we pass up the chance for lasting, deep love, because of life’s little details. If you think there’s a chance for that – jump on it.

  12. Rene Foran

    You’re done, man
    like dinner 🙂

    This was so sweet to read after such a crappy day.

  13. Zoeyjane

    I imagine that the reason those Hollywood-versions of love stories exist is that ‘they’ assume the audience wants what’s meant to be, to be easy. Honestly, I’ve never enjoyed anything that came easily for very long. This period might be bittersweet, but I have a feeling that it will be held tighter and closer. I’m happy for you, Neil.

  14. Joanna Ciolek

    Seems like you’re in a bit of a pickle. Just imaging moving to New Zealand for a year, or two, or forever… actually, I’m sure you already have thought of that plenty. But really, what’s really holding you back? Could it be just the fear of failure? Nothing wrong with trying…

  15. Elizabeth Aquino

    How cruel it all is — and how terribly romantic. I just feel like I’m reading and watching a sort of fairy tale here, and that key is just another essential prop.

  16. Michael

    Like Adam says, sometimes the sappy movies have it right, but no one but you can make that final decision of whether to stay or go, sure you can follow your heart but friends and family at home have to be thought about.

    I had a long distance relationship with Carolyn for several years before I could finally not take being apart any longer. I had to move to the States, her kids finally got used to me and call me Dad, my folks, especially my Mum, who was initially devastated that I left came around and loves my wife.

    I wish you luck in whatever you decide to do, sometimes you have to make the leap of faith. I’m glad I did and have not been happier and later this month we celebrate 15 years of marriage.

  17. Lisa Golden

    For over a year I’ve watched you and Juli converse over Twitter and on more than one occasion thought that the two of you seemed well-suited. As if anyone can determine such a thing from the sidelines of a social media. The whole thing has been like watching a movie. Which sounds so gross now that I’ve written it.

    The thing is – this is a beautiful description of the complexity of a long-distance, grown up relationship.

    And if you’re looking for an example of how this thing could work out some day, I’d love to introduce you to my friend Bob Rutledge who moved from North Carolina to Costa Rica to be with his love Jennifer and her two daughters from a previous marriage. Bob and Jen met online, in a comment section of a blog we all used to frequent.

    Come to think of it, reality is far more interesting than movies.

  18. 180360

    Those last 3 paragraphs/sections are perfection. You could almost edit out everything else and I’d know what you are feeling. Now I can’t help but wonder if “the key” holds the answer that is locked inside…

  19. Marcy

    Oh, Neil. Swoon. And I agree with you on soulmates. I think we can have many people who could qualify… and I think we even have many soulmates who are not romantic, but who are platonic soulmates. The thing that bugs me about the idea of “true” soulmates is it makes it seem like there’s one person who is 100% PERFECT for you, when really any two people will have rough edges and things that don’t quite work out… but you have to figure out who’s worth smoothing those edges with.

  20. teamgloria


    a beautiful – honest – thoughtful – grown up – Post Indeed.

    feeling hopeful for you (both) whatever transpires.

    we have a key too.

    But we don’t know which door it opens.

    Because we bought it in a vintage shop somewhere long forgotten but it looks like the key to an old house in elozabethean england.

    Maybe one day we’ll find the house.

    Love that you have a key to somewhere in NZ. That’s magical.

    Will post a picture of Our key on IG and hope you go back to posting there again. We like Your view on the world.

    Btw. We made it back. Now Living In LA.

    And smiling. A Lot.

  21. Salena Lettera of The Daily Rant

    This is beautiful.

    I love The Key. I love that she gave it to you. I love that you treasure it. I love the love of it.

    You’re amazing as always.

  22. Jack

    Sometimes the only way to get the big reward is to take the big risk.

  23. Father Muskrat

    I’m more of a realistic type like you, and that’s okay. I think it’s time you start exotic dancing. It pays well per hour and is a transferable skill you can take overseas if need be. No one else seems to be giving you practical advice, so I will.

  24. Tanya

    I hope everything works out for you guys. It sounds like she is a great women and mom and I’m glad you respect her role as a mother and put her son first.

  25. Juli

    This is all so crazy and irrational, and you will surprise me if you come back to New Zealand.

    (I mean, I am still in shock that you came for Christmas and New Year’s. But we had so much fun, didn’t we? You are a terrific person, and it is great knowing you.)

  26. Jen

    Gorgeous. I look forward to seeing how this unfolds. The key is so symbolic of so many things.

  27. Susanne

    So romantic and so difficult. However, be grateful for Skype and such. I remember in the 70’s writing long letters to my love, continents apart and it was so difficult to wait for a reply. Now we have these wonderful options of being close, yet so far. I wish you all the best, may it turn out like one of those sappy movies.

    • Neil

      Aww, but letter writing is way more romantic. I miss my grade school pen pal. Much better than Facebook.

  28. Stacey

    Beautiful, Neil. Personally, I prefer real life to the movies. Even if you don’t get to a happy ending in a matter of hours.

  29. Megan

    As writers, it is our nature to turn something over and examine it repeatedly, trying to get the essence of it. But even as you do that, try to just feel it for it is and don’t pick it apart. Let it be.

    Things will be the way they are meant to be. Doors will close, others will open. It will end the way it is supposed to end. Don’t try to read the end of the book first. Let the story unfold.

    P.S. – I’m rooting for love here. You never know when the Universe will drop a good twist into the plot that makes the happy ending possible, right?

  30. Sarah Piazza

    Live it first; write it second, or not at all. Completely your call.

  31. Colette

    I love this post. I love hearing about new love. I’m a newlywed so I’m still in the I love, love phase. I am rooting(I may have spelt that wrong, but I’m traveling as I’m writing) for you guys. I’m excited. I can’t contain my glee.

  32. Always Home and Uncool

    You are hopeless. And talented. Some day your heart and head will have a meeting of the minds. Until then, I think Mike’s onto something with the exotic dancing. You’ll make the right call.

  33. Alexandra

    You made me cry, Neil.

    I love that you have Juli’s key. I think, corny me as I am, “the key to so many things.”

  34. Lily from It's A Dome Life

    This is a love story about two grown ups. It’s so real. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  35. sizzle

    I love this side of you.

  36. MissingMolly

    I read this earlier, and now I’m catching up on my responses.

    This is just so beautiful and romantic. “….I’ve discovered the most beautiful image in the face of one woman, and there’s no reason to look at anything else.” What woman wouldn’t swoon over that?

    Juli sounds so lovely. Keeping my fingers and toes crossed that a way can be found for you to be together.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Social media & sharing icons powered by UltimatelySocial