The freeway lane is what–maybe twelve feet wide? Twelve feet of cement for me and my car, which must be at least six feet wide itself, so that leaves less than three feet between me and the dotted line on either side. Three little footsies. Hold my hands in front of me: that’s about the size of a doorway. Place two toddlers head to head and that’s how much space there is between me and the vehicle doing 75 mph beside me. There is simply no room for error.
What if I drop something? What if I spill hot tea in my crotch? What if I sneeze? It’s almost impossible to sneeze with your eyes open; does anyone else experience a post-sneeze swoon or is it just me? But I try not to think about other people and what they might be doing: I can’t dwell on cell phones or short attention spans or screaming babies or lusty passengers, hotheads, smokers fiddling with ash or ancient, shrunken drivers squinting through the steering wheel. I don’t look at them because I have to trust. I just keep my eyes blinkered and my hands white-knuckled on the wheel.
This trust requires that I do not stop to think. It’s blind faith is what it is, because even the tiniest hesitation will break the flow and this driving-on-the-freeway thing will only work if we all catapult forward at about the same rate without any sudden variations. It’s like being in a mosh pit, at a square dance, or praying with the congregation, standing and kneeling and reciting after. It’s almost religious. In this religion there is no leader or follower: we are all both and neither.
If I did stop to think–this is idiomatic but of course, it is also the problem, because thinking is an interruption and driving while thinking is like patting your head and rubbing your tummy at the same time, or swinging a sword while petting a cat, or working a table saw and spooning food into a baby’s mouth–but if I did allow the improbability to hit me full force, I’d start to hyperventilate, I’d have to pull over on the shoulder to calm myself down. Because if you stop to think about it, you realize how fucking crazy it is to strap yourself and your family inside that flimsy metal box and press that accelerator.
If you have been on the freeway and can still put one foot in front of the other, it’s a bonafide miracle.
I’m in the fast lane, doing 80. Up ahead, I spy something in the median. It’s dark and lumpy, perhaps a long-dead animal, but softer–a wadded blanket or discarded jacket maybe–but it moves (is it the wind?) and one piece separates from the rest and I’m almost on top of it when it hits me that it’s a kitten, it’s a bag, it’s a bag full of kittens in the middle of the freeway and it’s behind me now and it’s too late, it’s all I can do to not crash the car.
How the hell did I get here? I went for a little freeway trip and ended up with a bag full of blood. I guess you never know where the flow will take you. I’ll just hold on with both hands and pray I don’t sneeze.
(I found this on the sale table: Varieties of Disturbance by Lydia Davis. Wow. How can writing this fabulous ever go on sale? Where have I been and why didn’t anyone tell me about Lydia Davis? She is doing something amazing with words that I’ve never seen before and this piece was inspired by her, although for some mysterious reason mine got surprisingly dark at the end.)
(Of course, halfway through her book I had to google Lydia Davis to feed my curiosity, and I discovered that she was married to Paul Auster whose memoir, Winter Journal, was the inspiration for my body talk series. Talk about synchronicity.)
(Working at a bookstore is really, really expensive.)
(I often write this way: go to bookshelf, pick up book, and steal ideas. Or, while watching movie, press pause and scribble something down. Does this ever happen to you? What are you reading/watching now?)