Thursday, December 12, 2013

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Asking for Directions (Part III)

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Asking for Directions (part I)

Asking for Directions (Part II)

Four years earlier, before I moved to Minnesota for graduate school, my older brother got a motorcycle. He offered me a ride, but made sure to let me know that I’d be riding “bitch.” According to him, whoever sits behind the driver on a motorcycle is in the “bitch seat.” I was excited to go for a spin until he said that. Never the less, I tucked up behind. It felt odd to hold my older brother around the waist as we took a quick spin around the block, strangely erotic, very awkward, a feeling I never wanted to feel while in the company of my brother. And once the ride was over, I committed to never ride “bitch” again.   

Sitting in the passenger seat of the car while Mel drove didn’t feel quite as strange as sitting behind my brother on a motorcycle, but it was a close second. It felt out of place, like I shouldn’t be there. Like I should be the one behind the wheel because I’m a man. And I have to assume that Mel felt the same discomfort when she drove and I rode. I cannot fully explain this feeling. I don’t know if it is nature: I was born to feel awkward when Mel drove. Or nurture: I learned, somewhere and at sometime, that riding in the passenger seat was a knock on my masculinity. But what I do know is that Mel hated the idea of driving when I was in the car. And so did I. I knew this, and I often used it as a threat to get her to stop bitching about my driving.
“I don’t want to drive,” Mel said. “Let’s just get there.”
We sat in silence for a while. Then I noticed her eyes shifting again, between the road and me. She was watching to see if I was going to turn on my blinker. Obviously there was a turn coming up, but I didn’t know where or which direction I needed to turn, but I had too much pride to ask Mel. So I slipped into my default setting. I just kept driving, hoping to end up in the right place.
I stopped at a four way and sat there for a moment. Mel looked at me long and hard, and in the background, I heard the theme song to The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. We were both waiting for someone to make a move. Naturally, it was me. I looked both ways, put my foot on the gas, drove through the intersection, and into the unknown. 

Mel placed her face in her hands. “Why do we do this?” She asked. She was asking questions again.
“Do what,” I said.
“Drive around like idiots. I’m really frustrated right now. I know you don’t like me to give you directions, but you can’t seem to find your way around, so I feel I have to give you directions. We needed to turn left back there. But I don’t feel like I can tell you that. It’s all very frustrating.”
I thought about what she was saying and agreed.
“I know that you will take directions from other people. But why not me?”
This was true. When I was in London during a study abroad, I more or less just followed people around. I never went anywhere alone. One of the scariest moments of my life was when I had to make it from South Kensington to the London Heathrow Airport (a 45 minute train ride through downtown London with several changes) by myself. I asked strangers for directions the whole way. So why didn’t I like taking directions from my wife? What made her different?
            The problem was me. I needed to get over it. I needed to realize that I needed her. I had someone that could help keep me from getting lost. That wouldn’t judge me for needing their help. I needed to move past gender roles and realize that Mel could also lead. She could be my guide. I didn’t know how long this realization would last. Giving and receiving directions was one of our long-term wars. But for now, I needed to swallow my pride or we were never going to make it to our friend’s house for dinner.
            “I’m sorry,” I said. And then I said something that I don’t know if Mel had ever heard. “Where do I need to go?” 

            Mel smiled and said, “You need to turn around.”
I often wonder what Mel sees in me. Why, day in an day out, she put up with my insecurities. My anger over her giving me direction when I clearly need them. My overall crap. When I think back on this moment in the car, when I finally relented and let her guide me, and then think about how Mel has always been sure of her direction in life, I realize that I really can trust that she chose well when she chose me. She wouldn’t have done so without knowing where she might end up. And thinking about that gives me a little more confidence.

You would also enjoy, Student Loans vs. Home Ownership: (How I became a home owner through the help of my wife)Part I

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Clint Edwards is a tutor coordinator at Oregon State University. He is also the former co-host of the Weekly Reader on KMSU and a graduate of the MFA program at Minnesota State University. His writing has been listed as notable by Best American Essays, and has been published in The Baltimore Review, and through The University of North Dakota, Boston College, Emerson College, The University of South Carolina, and Minnesota State University. 


marilee said...

I love reading about how you're learning about life. :)

Clint said...

I learn something from Mel everyday.