Sunday, March 11, 2018

Happy Birthday Madi - Lessons From the Road

Today we are joining our friend Madi the cat for her Sixteenth birthday blog hop.  On such a grand occasion she has asked Blogville to share our stories of when we learned to drive.  This tale up as Chapter 2 in my second book, Saving Grace - A Story of Adoption.

Chapter 2  - Lessons from the Road

I thought of my late brother tonight as I drove to a work assignment, someplace out where it was cold and barren but for some emergency vehicles waiting for me. I no longer live out West, but with my husband in a tidy little bungalow closer to the Windy City, a place where weather can be just as treacherous. We’re newlyweds, my getting the courage to remarry after twenty years on my own, with an introduction by friends and a bit of help from a big black dog. But that is its own story.

When the visibility is down around a quarter of a mile, that truck in front of me seems no larger than a spool of thread until its brake lights come on, and then it looks enormous. With almost a foot of snow, it looks so peaceful out there, everything blanketed in white, as innocent and smooth as the surface of so much cream. But it’s not a good day for travel; hundreds of flights canceled, probably thousands when all is said and done. Don’t drive if you don’t have to, the radio warns, as under the hood the engine rumbles with threat and promise both.

Allen, being my only sibling, had taught me how to drive; but what I remember most was his teaching me how to drive in the snow out in the West where we grew up, the two of us and our parents. We’d take the little VW Bug I had over to the empty high school parking lot where there were no people or light poles. There I learned all about braking, sliding, skidding, and the physics of stopping with a stalemate of snow and rubber. He’d teach me to recognize a skid, how to immediately pick out a distant visual target and keep your eyes focused on that target, while I steered out of it as he issued commands to keep me pointed in the right direction like a border collie directs cattlehis tone fast and quick and light, words darting in and out of my field of vision.

As I relaxed into well-practiced maneuvers, I simply listened to him talk; about things that angered him, things he wished he could change as he got older, what was right with the world, and what he could to do preserve those things. And I quietly listened, there amidst snow flying as if from a blower and donuts formed of chewed rubber, circles as identical and monotonous as milestones.
I put his teachings to test on hill and valley, letting that little car run like it was a horse, leaning forward with a yell as we got into fourth gear as if by doing so I could somehow outpace it as we both fled the sheer inertia of Earth. That car and my spirit ran free of the fence lines, free of themselves, racing with a quality of movement in our motion totally separate from the imaginary pounding of hooves or the whoop of joy as I discovered flight in four-wheeled form. I put mile after mile on that car, the land stretching out until only darkness stopped her, the heavy scent of pines lying across the road for my trusty steed to disperse as if the scent were tangled skeins of smoke.

I also knew when to rein it in, slowing it down on slippery turns, downshifting through those sharp corners that are judgment and sentence and execution. I knew to stay behind the clusters of bright shiny cars, artificial flowers to which the restless bees of the law would be drawn. I also knew when to drive away, coasting out of a driveway when I arrived at a high school crush’s to find him with someone elsethat long slow tearing that leaves no scar of tire, only an internal lament that is the rending of raw silk.
Those lessons saved me more than once, like when the car slid toward an embankment late one night, that dark space where one’s shadow waits for your death, only to recover and continue on. You’ve likely been there as well. It happens so fast: one minute you’re staring bored at the speedometer, and the next you’re snatched out of your lane in a torrent of rubber and refinanced steel, other vehicles scattering like rabbits suddenly looking for their warren. 

When that happens you may not even know the cause--speed, black ice, or the force of Mother Nature that's as distant to indictment as God. All you know is that for a moment your useless hands are clasped tight to a useless steering wheel, and by only muscle memory you try and keep the pointy end forward, the headlights revealing not your safety but the now-empty road’s abiding denial. When you finally stop all you can hear is your heart and the tick of a watch, that curved turmoil of faltering light and shadow in mathematical miniature reminding you how close you came to running out of time.

Such moments are the reason my last little car was traded in on a truck, though in city traffic a truck would be about as maneuverable as a dirigible. But I don’t mind. I know about weather and idiot drivers, and I also know about fate. Because fate waits, needing neither patience nor appetitefor yesterday, today, and tomorrow are its own. For fate I’ll arm myself, as I look down on a little Smart car scooting along the slick road between semis like a lone circus peanut among a herd of stampeding elephants.

I come to a halt at a rest stop. I get out, stomach in knots, regretting downing the salmon oil supplement with my vitamins and a glass of milk on an otherwise empty stomach. As I walk through the trees an unladylike belch sneaks out, fragrant with salmonand I can only think to myself: I’ve survived the drive, now I’m going to get eaten by a bear in a rest stop in the middle of nowhere.
But I make it back to the vehicle with some animal crackers from a vending machine, none the worse for wear, hoping I can make it through the night without running off the road, wishing I had Allen with me for company.

I hear his voice in my head on that drive, echoes of the phone calls we made over the years. Sometimes he just wanted to vent a bitnot about the particulars of his military work, which he would never discussbut simply other things he’d gone through. Our Mom’s death to cancer when we were barely out of school; a fire that took his home; a bitter divorce. But I’d let him talk without interruption. For one thing he taught me other than slips and skids: that there are things we should never stop refusing to accept. Be it injustice and dishonor and outrage, not for cash for a better car, not for accolades, not for anything. There are things one must continue to be outraged over, to fight for, hands firmly on the wheel of where you want your life to go. His words are in my ears to this day: “You will have regrets, but never let yourself be shamed.
So many words of his as I drive along, words of not just wheels, but commitment to something bigger than both of us. They are words that got me to change course when I lost direction, words that helped me as well to take on a mantle of duty I never regretted even as I was forced to put it down; words to live that last life that I left behind. Now, years later, I have taken up that duty again, with his wordswords that like a long climb up a rocky road were stepping stones of atonement. All of them words I’ll remember long after he is gone, words that I’ve handled so long the edges are worn smooth; words that will keep me alive.

 “Focus on the target, you can do this. . .”

8 comments:

  1. Oh Abby and Mom what beautiful memories of Allen who was for sure #1 top brother and best all around guy EVER. What a life long gift he gave you with these lessons. Mom is an only child. She always wanted an older brother and now she knows she would have wanted him to be just like your Allen.
    thank you for sharing this special story
    Hugs madi and mom

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    1. Thank you. He was the best brother and literally my best friend most of my life. We lost him on Good Friday in 2014 just a few weeks after losing Barkley. I miss them both very much.

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  2. Your love for your brother shines through your words. It brings back many memories to our Mom of her time with her only sibling, her brother, also taken from this earth way too soon.

    Happy birthday wishes to Ms. Madi.

    Woos - Lightning, Misty, and Timber

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  3. I too started driving in a VW bug. So many great memories. I learned to drive a stick shift and that car got me up to Mt. Hood on the snowy roads for skiing. The heater was lame...but we were young and didn't care about heat!

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    1. I got my commercial pilots license out of a little flying school in Vancouver. A lot of time was spent around Mt. hood. I never skied (flying was sort of expensive) but I do recall a drive up into the sierras one winter where there was a warning sign about free range cattle up by the ski slope. I don't know WHO, but someone got out a Sharpie and drew skis and a stocking cap on the cow.

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  4. that was a great story... hugs to allen he was really a super teacher... and we love that so much friends had a bug once... although they looked weird they were not only cars but friends somehow :O)))

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  5. Your brother sounded like an amazing human. 💖

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    1. He was. He was big, with a beard, drove a motorcyle. I remember going up to visit him. He lived in a small house on an Island in Pueget sound. I was having a hard time finding his place. I saw some little boys on a bike, showed them my badge, and said I was trying to find my brothers house, did they know where the street was. When I said the address and the name they got all big eyed. "That's where the big scary guy lives" and drove off. My brother was the biggest teddy bear on the planet, but he kept to himself, almost a hermit but for his defense department work I can see why he was a legend among the neighborhood kids.

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Welcome to The Book of Barkley and the Blogville dog blogging community. This blog was created for more memories of Barkley as well as updates on Abby the Senior rescue Lab, who we adopted in 2014.

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