Mel and I were driving to a friend’s house for dinner in our green Mazda. Norah, our four-year-old, was sleeping in the backseat. Tristan, our six-year-old, was back there too. He was playing his Nintendo DS. I was driving, and Mel was in the passenger seat. We lived in a small Oregon city, and our friends lived in another small Oregon city about 20 miles away. There wasn’t a direct route, more of a winding combination of highways, streets, vintage storefronts, bee farms, sheep farms, and large evergreens that led from one town to another. And as we were getting close, Mel asked, “Did you know that you need to turn on Lidskillet Road?”
We’d been married about nine years at this point, and about four years earlier she started to address her driving directions as questions rather than statements. “Did you know that you need to turn on Main Street?” Or “The next exit is ours. You know that, right?”
She never used statements anymore, “you need to turn here,” Or “you need to get off on the next exit,” because she knows that driving directions that are addressed as statements piss me off. I’ve never told her this directly, so she obviously picked up on it. I don’t really like her use of questions either, but I will admit it doesn’t anger me as much as when she gives statements. It’s a compromise of sorts.
Ever since we got a GPS about four years earlier, our arguments about directions have been much, much, less frequent. We called our GPS Chris, an androgynous name that we chose because we couldn’t decide if the voice sounded masculine or feminine. And, well, a GPS really shouldn’t have a gender anyway… Normally I’d have put in the address and let the GPS do the guiding, while Mel kept the kids content. However, we’d left the GPS in my pickup, and by the time we’d realized this, we were well on our way. This meant that I was dependent on Mel for directions. This was something I hated.
“Yes,” I said to Mel’s question. “I know to turn there.” I pulled my head back a little, and gave her a cocky smirk. One that said, What do you think? I’m a moron? I know my way around.
But I didn’t know to turn on Lidskillet Road, a road that sounded strange, like something from a Tolkien novel. I didn’t know which direction was east and which was west. I didn’t really know what city we were in, nor the street we were currently on, or the street we turned from to get to it. I knew how fast the car was going because I had a gauge for that. But that’s about it. I was lost. But I was always lost.
I am directionally handicapped. Bear in mind that this is a self-diagnosis. A medical professional has never told me so. I don’t know if this is an official problem. Or if it even has a place in the medical lexicon. This is all based on my own observations of being lost at all times.
For example: A few months before this drive, I went to the mall. I stepped into Footlocker, looked at some shoes, and once I stepped back into the hallway, I was completely disoriented. Shit, I thought. I have no idea where I am.
I didn’t know what direction I came from, or where I needed to go. I started to panic, so I found a mall map. The map seemed logical. The stores were all lined up clearly. There was a large red star with a caption, “you are here.”
But I couldn’t seem to figure out what direction was what. It felt like there was something blocking my ability to think. I kept questioning myself: should I turn right, toward the food court? That seems to be the right direction? Or is it? No! No! That’s on the other side of the damn mall! I am parked outside Macy’s...right? Yes. I know that. Should I turn left? What? That candle kiosk isn’t on the map. Damn It! Why isn’t it on the map? I got frustrated, and eventually I just walked around for 20 minutes or so until I bumped into where I needed to be.
This is why I shop online.
This is why, when we move to a new state, I use the GPS for at least six months. Once I find a route to work, I stick to it.
This is why I don’t go places alone.
“Lidskillet. It’s right there. Right there,” Mel said. She exhaled. “You missed it.” She paused for a moment. Then she said it as a question: “Did you know you missed it?” She said the last half of the sentence in a higher pitch. Her face was getting flushed. Her hands were tight. She was frustrated.
Five years earlier, she would have said, “How did you miss it? Weren’t you paying attention?” I would’ve got on the defensive and said something like, “I just wasn’t thinking.” And she would have said, “Weren’t thinking? Weren’t thinking? You’re driving a car. You should be thinking. We have kids in the backset. Your wife is next to you. You need to think.”
It all would have resulted in a fat argument that ended in us not speaking to each other and not having sex for a few days.
“You know that you’re going to have to turn around, right?” Mel said.
“Yes. I do,” I said.
Once again, I didn’t realize that. I blindly assumed that if I just kept going straight I’d wind up at my destination… somehow. This is why I never drove alone from Provo (my home city) to Salt Lake City, a 45 minute drive on I-15 (no alternates, just a straight shot) until I was in my mid twenties. I knew myself well enough to know that if I got lost I would just keep driving in one direction, childishly assuming that I’d find my destination if I just stayed my course. Chances are, however, I’d probably wind up crossing state lines and never make it home again.
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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.