Not exactly

tidesThe women sat side by side in the car, as driver and passenger.  It was a role reversal, and a shifting of the generational tides that not everyone was comfortable with accepting. 

Although it was useless to resist, it was still there.  The tension.  The involuntary give and take, like stomping the break pedal after speeding along the highway to take a sudden turn, it did come with a mild form of whiplash.  

The situation was not impossible.  Just difficult.

“I think you want me to have a hard life,” the daughter spewed, unable to control the animal that was her tongue.  Her knuckles gripped the steering wheel and she exhaled.  A slow and measured breath.

The animal was contained once more while its owner ground her back teeth together and focused on the road ahead.

“Why do you think I am here? I want you to have everything.  Why do you think I spoil you?  I don’t want you to have to suffer.  If I could take away all the things that are hard, I would, to make your life easier, not harder.”

The driver stared forward, still grinding her teeth, as fields of green whizzed past and a baby slept in the back.

Animal Signs

armadillo“Watch out for that…” I trailed off and leaned forward, unsure of the nature of the mangled creature in the road with a long, scaly tail and a crunched, banded shell.

As a co-pilot, it was my duty to give helpful guidance like this.  Of course, my husband had different ideas about how I could be useful, like looking up directions on Mapquest instead of identifying the remains of roadkill.  

“There is no way that is an armadillo,” I exclaimed out loud to a sleeping baby and an uninterested driver.  He was focused on the road signs as he searched for the next turn on our housing search. 

“I think its right around here,” he muttered quietly.  He had an uncanny sense of direction, aided by an almost flawless memory, which left me free to focus on other more pressing matters.  

Meanwhile, I didn’t want to believe my eyes, but the mound in the middle of the road most certainly was a nine banded armadillo or “little armored one” as confirmed by a quick google search.  Armadillos are not only in the Tennessee area; they are continuing to push north as a result of the changing climate.  Watch out, Indiana, these little weirdos are coming for you.  

“Still no directions?” my husband asked, noticing that I was scrolling through my phone from the corner of his eye. 

“No, I’m afraid not.  I am reading about the new migration pattern of armadillos.  And by the way, they carry leprosy.  Fortunately, they don’t bite so the risk of transmission is low, but we might as well keep driving.  The dead armadillo is obviously a bad sign.”

He shook his head and drove on, exasperated from the lack of participation in the housing search, while also in acceptance that this was not the neighborhood for us.  Why ignore signs from the Universe?  We bought our last house based on the blooms of a beautiful magnolia tree, we knew we were going to have a son because of the whiff of pipe smoke, and we were definitely not going to live in a house on a street with the carcass of an armadillo in the middle of it.

Traffic Trolling

time

Cruising home as the last light leaves the sky, I fiddle with the radio punching through the five preset stations.  The number on each button is starting to fade from frequent use.  I am searching for a song with feeling and words that I know in hopes of singing along.  As a musical simpleton, new songs are a little frightening unless sandwiched between tried and true billboard hits, lending credibility to a newcomer’s radio worthiness.  Nothing catches my attention and I continue in my possibly fruitless search for a suitable jam.  I roll to a stop at a traffic light and take my turn waiting for green.

It is completely dark now.  The street in front of me is illuminated by the headlights from my car and a dim light inside of a covered bus station.  I am alone with my thoughts and a whining voice coming through the radio.  Next.  I hit another preset button not tried in the last thirty seconds.  A commercial comes on with two sisters trying to sell used cars for “just pennies down.”  Next.  A radio dj reads the news, it’s all bad.  Next.  

I used to be so good at waiting, I waited for letters to come in the mail, I waited for the internet to dial up, I waited for my turn in our single bathroom, I waited to get older.  Now, I can’t even wait the minute at a traffic light without feeling impatient or the ability to remain present. 

I remember a pack of gum in the center console, unwrap a piece of hard Juicy Fruit and peek at the light.  Its still red.  Red as Dorothy’s slippers and I am uncomfortably bored, alone and back to changing the radio station.  Boredom is a killer.  It drives a need for distraction from reality and in between that wasted space, the minutes turn into days into months and years and suddenly there is a lifetime of waste and perhaps an awareness of how life could have been different. 

Then I am not alone or bored. Someone is tapping at my window and I shriek. 

A short, squat woman is tapping at my window.  The dim light from the bus stop is enough to outline her face, covered in sweat, with a broad nose and wideset eyes that are so dark they look black.  She is intensely focused inside of the vehicle which was previously no more exciting than an empty cardboard box.    

“Roll down the window,” she yells and makes a rolling motion with her arm.  

I shake my head.

“What do you want?”

She points at her wrist, “Time.”

“Me too,” I smile and give her a thumbs-up. 

Or maybe not, I sure have wasted enough of it to make a person wonder. 

She throws her hands up and yells something encouraging as I drive off.  I don’t look back, green means gun it and go.  There’s no time to waste.

Disobey

On Rubber Necking

Rubbernecking is the act of gawking or staring, usually stupidly and slack-jawed, at something of interest.- wikipedia

When I see flashing red and blue lights, I can’t stop myself from trying to get close enough to see what’s the cause of the commotion.  I change lanes and slow down as I pass by the nearest point, just to get a good look.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to be involved in the mess.  I just want to have the knowledge of what happened tucked into my mental file labeled “I’m glad it wasn’t me.”

Unfortunately, the “I’m glad it wasn’t me” file is getting to be rather bulky, filled with images of accidents, ambulances, people getting tickets or arrested, and broken down vehicles on the side of the road.  Each year brings another set of things to file away that used to bolster my spirits to not be the person on a stretcher or reaching out to take a speeding ticket.  Now, it does just the opposite. I feel instant sadness to realize how little control we have over these things.

A few days ago, I saw those irresistible flashing lights straight ahead of me at the end of the street.  As I approached, I took in the whole scene.  Two police cars were parked on either side of an old car that was slowly being destroyed by rust and neglect.  A shirtless man lay on his back with his arms handcuffed behind him surrounded by several officers.  They wore dark sunglasses and long faces like it was part of their uniform as they stood around the man with their arms crossed over bullet-proof protected chests.

Suddenly, the man started to jerk and twitch like he was being bitten by a thousand fire ants.  I watched his skinny torso writhe in the grass without the use of his hands to brush off the antagonizers.  I’ll never know if it was ants, a seizure, or the side effects of a nasty drug because I kept driving, like always.

As I drove off and left the man to his fate, I kept thinking.  I wondered if that was his worst day.  I wondered how many choices and random events away are any of us from our worst or best day.  We can control our speed but we can’t control the truck that blows through a stop sign.  We can choose happiness but can’t avoid the tragedy of life.

When I see the flashing lights, I’ll keeping looking, if only to be reminded of my own humanity and vulnerability.

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