Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Open Roads

The other afternoon, as I sat on the porch enjoying the warmth while Barkley sniffed the yard,  I watched a youngster go by on a bike, Mom walking behind her. The child had on a coat, gloves, a helmet and knee pads.  It was about 68 degrees.  Put me and my siblings on such a bike 40 years ago and we'd have been bare headed, bare handed, probably in our shirts sleeves, Mom at home knowing we'd come home when we got hungry.

We were always in the company of other kids or an older sibling, for even in small town America a generation ago, children could be prey.  We  rarely heard of it, before the Internet, but crimes against children occurred.  My folks didn't push us into adulthood too soon but they also taught us that the world is NOT necessarily a safe place, teaching us that with risk sometimes comes pain, and with danger there is both exhilaration, and consequence. 

But I'd not trade that upbringing and the little scars that remain on me from it, for anything. . There's the one from a nasty cut on my foot playing cowboy and Indians barefoot in unfamiliar grounds.  There's a couple  where I got pelted with a piping hot stink bug from the Creepy Crawlers (we weren't protected from either the sun or heated toy appliances back in the day). and a very very faint line down my thumb from jousting with ink pens in honors math.

Good times.

It wasn't long before the freedom of those bicycles was replaced with the freedom of a car.  My first one was antiquated  64 VW bug,  very cheap in so much that it was older than dirt, slower than molasses, but by God, with the help of some Purple Horny Headers it was LOUD.

I remember those days as if it were yesterday.  streams run out of the higher elevations, veins that let the mountain bleed. The water rushes, tumbles and races to its destiny, to be drunk deeply or left to stagnate in a secluded pool. The sky breaks out in articulate warmth, there on those last days of the conceit of winter.

It was the end of the 70's.  It was when I learned about freedom and speed, the year I learned to drive.  It was the year in which I first learned about the hard outcome of choice.

 I was always captured by movement, machinery and speed and now there were keys in my hand, a vehicle just waiting to take all of our compressed heat and explode it into sound.  I started slowly,  learning the basics and now to drive in snow, gradually picking up speed.  It wasn't long before  my friends were driving with bigger, faster cars, and the speed would increase. We even found a road where if you hit this rise just so, and at a certain speed and angle, you could go airborne, aka Dukes of Hazard. We drove off into the hills with that sense of immortality that only the very young and the very stupid seem to have. Driving without fear, without thought, sacrificing only some rubber and the occasional fender to the gods of the roads.

I learned to do burnouts and donuts, and once, when I came upon that boy who was my first crush, to find him with someone else, I learned to spin out quietly from a driveway with noise that makes no sound, no wound on the drive of pavement or motion, just the soft shuddering sound of the tear of raw silk. We were teens, there was tears and drama, hook ups and break ups. It was the season of curving roads and youth, where we were immortal, no adult responsibilities to block that open road.

On those free afternoons we'd pile in the cars, heading up into the hills to seek the source of the water and ride it on down. Cresting the hills with windows open, the wind as fluid, hot and hard as love, a swift current that will pull you under, to drown, gasping. We'd drive for miles with just the sensation of rushing space as deep as the water. We'd drive until dark, unrelenting and unrepentant, curfews nipping at our heels, leaving only in our wake the sound of cicadas and the breathing of night taking in the remnant smell of high octane.

Soon enough there would be graduation and college, likely sans car to cut expenses. These days would vanish with a mute, befitting, hollow sound, which would drive for only a moment upon us, with the dreadful still hush of motion stopped, too abruptly to mourn. Adulthood looming where vehicles became simply transportation again, something to shuffle kids around, a transport to work. We could not comprehend that someday, for many, life would become an emptying suitcase of enthusiasm. We swore if we ever had to buy a station wagon we'd kill ourselves.

We had our future, we had our past and in those moments, as wheels hit the pavement, and gravel flew, sometimes we had both at once.

It was once said in an age-old axiom, that an object cannot occupy two positions at the same time Perhaps in those microscopic realms beyond any conceivable experiment of physics it will be possible somewhere, there in the darkened edges of our life, where quantum mechanics reaches out to the human world. And we could be in two places at once. Or occupying the same position at two different times. Or fervently wishing we could.

I was working part time at the local funeral home after school and on weekends, just someone in the building after hours in case a family came in,  making coffee, helping where needed. My friends teased me, but they teased me as well when I did career day with the forensic pathologists.  The call came in late, two fellow students, in a small car, not unlike mine, hit head on as, after they crossed the center line on a curve marked "no passing" to pass someone slower then their patience.  There was probably only time enough for an intake of breath and hands flung up over their face, as if they could hide from that weighted shadow of choice, which in that moment, they had sacrificed themselves for.

I was there when they brought them in  Though I didn't know them personally.  I had more than one evening in their company there at the funeral home, wondering if they had second thoughts of their decision as they slept suspended within the hard vaults of their regret.

Would they have made the same choices if they'd known? We've all had days like that, when simple things went awry, plans made that mattered little to you, mattered much to others, things said, bridges burned, moments that repeated themselves for weeks or months in your head. If only I'd done this, if only I'd said that. Moments in which you wish you could turn back on itself, as if you've never been there.

After that local tragedy, our parents lectured us about the dangers of speed, of road signs and why they are there. Some kept their kids grounded, not allowing the to drive at all. Certainly such a place is safer; where no smudge of desire affects debate, prediction is not contaminated by untried theory and actions aren't clouded by concealed agendas. Still, it is a world flat and colorless as tap water. It's a world, whether hiding at home or out with the wind in your face, we pass an anniversary without awareness. That of our own passing.

My Dad did not lecture, he knew what I'd seen was its own lesson. In a life fully lived we engage our fate deliberately, we speak the words we may later regret, but we have to say them. We engage life as a indefatigable opponent that others will wish to tiptoe by, so not to awaken it. We risk our necks, and we risk our hearts, both. So although I slowed up, it was not by much. But I didn't make it to adulthood by not scaring the wits out of myself, in a car and in an airplane, watching the earth go perpendicular and rush upwards as I hung on that last strand of lift above the deep yawn of gravity.

We've all been there, a carefully planned day meant to be spent in quiet order, when suddenly fate reaches out place its hand on your shoulder, sometimes a reminder, sometimes an order home. The earth is full of fight and friction but when that moment happens, the world hangs motionless in the moment, a cooling mass in space, even as you articulate your sudden surprise.

Sometimes you get lucky and survive, but the event leaves physical scars. But for most, the scars can't be seen and can only be traced by inscrutable fingers, there in the dark, while time ticks a reminder of battles sometimes lost. 

I learned that as a teen, as I dusted the coffins of those who had lost their particular battle. I learned later, as I studied the bones and pieces of life past and present, that fate is, and always will be ravenous for the flesh of the foolish, rarely frustrated or even thwarted. It sits and waits with great patience, for yesterday and today are the same to it, indivisible, timeless. Sometimes it slumbers under God's stroking hand as He watches like a parent from a distance as we do something particularly foolish, sometimes it wakes hungry, alone and seeking.

The phone rang late, but not as late as it sometimes does.  I grab my gear and warm up the big black truck sitting in the driveway. The cold echoes off the pavement in which the only shadow is its form. It's a large black truck, extended cab, with a short bed.

As I climb in, I catch a reflection in the side window and see my own face. The face is of an adult, yet overlayed with the the plaintive need of the youth in all of us, seeking release, wanting to leave a parent's watchful eye and just feel the world soar past. I silently open the truck door, as if sneaking out, and fit my form into the leather seats, an old familiar embrace which no amount of days can change.

With a shuddering tremble of a racehorse at the gate, the truck backs out into the drive.

I have no curfew, just my wheels and  miles of road interspersed with the angular cuts of barren fields, ringed with blue sky, windows rolled up as a futile barrier to the outside elements.. As the truck moves onward, rain begins to fall, an isolated thunderstorm. I watch the side of the road as ghosts of those who risked all, wave at me from tiny markers that note their passing, and my foot comes off the gas, the water falling with astonishing clarity.

You need to look close as you balance the deep satisfaction of taking a risk and winning, with the need for caution; for weighing all the odds, the options, the infinity of what you are launching yourself into, is not easy. You take a risk of losing your life or losing your heart, both with consequence, both risks sometimes worth taking.

The water hits the hood and spreads, swimming like dew before a rush of air. One moment life and form, then the next melting indistinguishably into the wind. Ahead is only the miles, with nothing to do but take in the occasional broken road sign and empty barns breaking up those small patches of cleared earth, whorled with hard work, small square islands of grain. The air is dense with the white smoke smell of brittle leaves, laying still like snow on the ground, fire in my heart. Up ahead a horizon, up above a sky, inscrutable, desolate above the land it looms. I pat the holster on my hip, protection there if I need it, one less shadow to flee through and from.  Staying home won't make you safe, any more than ignoring the dangers in the world will somehow make it safe.

Freedom with  awareness. Liberty with the price of responsibility.  It's what my generation was given as children.  It's what most men have yearned for since the beginning of time.  But it's a burden that some find harder to carry out than others.

I'm wondering if this rig will go airborne if I hit the rise just so, but I don't, knowing when it's time to speed past that demarcation between what I should do and what my heart tells me to do. Calculating the miles the speed, the wind, the traffic, weighing the risks of life versus loss. The passing landscape is bounty and beholder, the open road its postulate. The asphalt flows past, as do the signs, of feed stores, of gas stations, of tiny fixed crosses there by the road. Reminders that despite our freedoms there are lines that are written into infinity. Once you cross them, you can never go back.


eiaftinfo said...

A lot to chew on here Ms. B. Life is a journey of lessons - some harsh, some simply the experience of time. Thanks for sharing.

Rogue Aviation said...

A great post. This is one everyone could read. It is enough, and not enough, we all still want to hear more.

Maybe, if time and desire permit, the stories could be collected in a book. Nothing fancy, but important none the less.

Think of "Fate is the Hunter" for the new century....

Anyhow, thank you for writing.


Rev. Paul said...

As eiaftinfo said, a lot to chew on. Hopes and dreams, desires and regrets, the results of choices made or not made. Old memories, like deep waters, can hide a multitude of things: time spent, time wasted, and the emotions that follow each choice.

naturegirl said...

Yes. All of that.

Sometimes taking those challenges simply to see if one can accomplish it, applying all the knowledge we think we have to do it. But really testing the strength inside. The experiences of the process - just as meaningful as the rewards, or success, or surviving it.

To do nothing, to be safe, isn't living.

Great post, as always. :)

Duke said...

I think we were more free as kids because we had less to worry about. We tend to think if we had a lot we would really be free when in fact the opposite is true I am afraid.

SHARON said...

Great post, brought back many memories, some good, some not-so-good. Living in a small town, back in the 60's, in one summer we lost kids to car accidents every weekend and the rest of us never slowed down. My parents never lectured me, knowing it would fall on deaf ears. But, they prayed a LOT and never fell asleep until they heard my car in the driveway. I was SUCH a brat. Again, great post, as usual.

Opinionated Grump (Rich in NC) said...

"...to pass someone slower then their patience...."
just Wow.
Thank you writing in Kodachrome, Ms B
Rich in NC

armedlaughing said...

Funny how the stuff I did at 17 gives me pause to do at 60?
With my age comes wisdom? I doubt it, just experience.

Thanks for your wisdom, even though you're much younger than I.


jocostello said...

Wow,Ms.B.- Again, your skillful expression touches my heart. Thank you for sharing and opening windows into my 1950's through early 70's youth.

John Costello (A.K.A. Dr. Roxx)

Cap'n Jan said...

Yes. Another piece of delectable writing - I look forward to it as though it were a letter from an old friend.

I am, however, confused by your use of postulate. I don't understand your meaning (and I definitely want to). There may be an newer or more antique meaning than I am familiar with..

Fair Winds, Brigid!

Cap'n Jan

Brigid said...

eiafinfo - you've learned the same yourself I'm sure.

Matt - your comment made my whole day, thank you!

naturegirl - you've taken those challenges yourself and I admire you for it.

Duke - why I take off the professional hat and put on the kid hat most nights and play with toys and the dog.

Sharon - thank you and thank your parents for raising such a dear person.

Rich in NC - ah, thank you. :-)

Dr. Roxx- thank you and welcome! I missed any memory of the 50's but the time I grew up in was grand.

Cap'n Jan - I can guess what online webster said but think of it meaning theoretical propositions which are not as such demonstrable but which are an inseparable corollary of an apriori unconditionally valid practical law.

Or just say "Brigid made that word up, don't ever play Scrabble with her!" Either work for me :-)

Thank you as always for reading, for thinking and for enjoying whatever my little brain puts out there.

Keads said...

And yet again you stir my humble ill equipped muse to respond to a wonderful post.

The autos are a perfect metaphor for youth. It is an old saying that "youth is wasted on the young".

Bad choices acted upon, floor the accelerator, feel the rush as you are knocked back into your seat? Step on the brakes as you realize that the immutable laws of physics are just that? Hope and pray that that will work? I have been lucky in the auto realm, not so much in others.

A perfect analogy for life.

Many bad choices were made in a car that is here still. It's from the late 70's. Some choices were made while moving and some when not. I keep her however as a reminder of those days and am always cognizant of how lucky I have truly been.

Choices made in the heat of the second. When confronted with them the feeling and focus of right then, right there, right now, is overpowering when coupled with youthful exuberance.

I long for that feeling again, yet am tempered now to know the risks.

So the car I pushed to beyond its limits and lived to tell about it is here. So is my heart. It longs for that focus and feeling again.

Barring that, well hey lets smoke the tires off of the new one!

aroundthecorner said...

I can't remember those times in such vivid detail as you. There were the fast cars and trucks, the donuts, the spin outs and the loud pipes I know. There was also a wreck, after the annual FFA banquet. I wasn't involved. Close friends were though. That I remember vividly. One never came back. We all cried. We all stopped driving fast. We all talked, mourned and comforted each other. Unlike you, when I got home, my father screamed, hollered, pushed, screamed some more, cussed and then made me to feel like I was the blame. All fathers aren't as mindful as yours. I hope that in my time, I've become more like yours, than mine. Some things we never forget. Thanks for the journey back Brigid, It's a subtle reminder for me of how I need to be a better father.

Brigid said...

Keads - I remember a time your muse wrote about a car and a first love with a photo, both of which brought tears to my eye. Well done.

Brigid Jr, has a muscle car. Inherited but as clean as the day it was new. It looks good in her garage.

aroundthecorner - Oh, Dad and I had our moments with cars. I came home one day with with the back bumper of the bug under my arm with the words "Dad. . I had a little accident".

As young pilots, speed and alcohol were sometimes related, off duty and days before a flight, of course, but the boys partied hard sometimes. Most of us had a designated driver (which was often me) but one guy would often defer on that as he only had a couple beers. Plus he said "I have a plan, I NEVER take it out of second gear so I don't speed after a couple beers". One day he met us, driving his own truck, to go waterskiing after a lunch with adult beverages (several were consumed). Later, we hear his car a mile off, this loud high pitched squeal that sounded like someone was torturing a lemming. He came over the hill, doing 60. . . .in second gear.

Mac from Michigan said...

As I'm reading another of your great posts, in the background a folk/rock group, Antigone Rising. One of their hits says it all (unfortunately a live version is all I can find at the moment):


and then I pulled up an old quote from another internet friend, John Deaken:

"When you get away with something dangerous or stupid without cost, your perception of stupidity and acceptable danger changes a little bit"
-- JAL Captain John Deakin

Brigid said...

Mac - tell Captain Deacon that should be written in stone in some places. My best to him and the other members of the Scotch Club. :-)

Keads said...

I hope Brigid Jr. has stories to go with that car! If you remember a post I made from last year I am profoundly humbled.

Rogue Aviation said...

Any time!

Andie said...

Brigid, this one tugged a few memories. My mom was a cop, and we had a few triple fatalities in the space of two years prior to me getting my license. Reality was a better teacher to than any possible "threat" of never driving.

I was fortunate that my experiences were enough to scare me (several speeding tickets and a few fender-benders) into slowing down. I cringe when I see texting, putting on make up, feeding the baby in the back seat (honest to the gods, the woman was spoon-feeding the baby), and all other sorts of activities taking place WHILE behind the wheel and driving.

Since hitting a particular decade marker, I have realized "Life is a lesson, you'll learn it when you're through." (credit to Limp Bizkit for the phrase from 'Take a Look Around'). Although I will continue to learn, and take risks I feel are worth it, I now tend to take a more calculated look at them.

Thanks for another thought-provoking read!

Bob said...

Good stuff.


Cap'n Jan said...

Thanks for your answer, Brigid - erudite and clever, as ever!

Back to lurking (that sounds... weird.) So I'll just say, back to reading. As my Father said: "Read (listen) much. Say little."

Fair Winds

Cap'n Jan

RonF said...

A great deal of government activity - at the Federal, State and local level - is spent trying to negate the proposition that stupidity kills. It seems so unfair. It seems as though you should be able to blame the people who make cars, guns, knives, etc., or the laws that permits people to own and use them. But in the end, all that does is to disconnect people from the concept that they are responsible for their own actions and that Mother Nature is inexorable in her rule that their own stupidity will kill them faster than anything else.