There was a phase in my life when I’d go for a lot of long, aimless drives. I’d get in the car and head nowhere in particular, not looking for anyplace to stop and do anything, just looking for another road. I’d wind around and around, hoping that maybe, just maybe, I’d get lost for awhile. Getting lost isn’t a problem when I don’t have anywhere in particular to go, and instead it turns into sort of an adventure, figuring out how to get back to anything that’s familiar. I guess I like to entertain myself by getting in and out of scrapes.
I don’t do that very much anymore, probably because I drive a lot almost all the time, so driving for entertainment value has lost its luster. But the other day after work I took a rather circuitous path home, instead of doing what I usually do, which is to go straight home in order to be done with the day as quickly as possible. It was a pretty bad day, with moments of spectacular awfulness, and at the end of it all, when I got into my car to drive home, I had to put my head down on my steering wheel and cry for awhile. Sometimes I just get tired.
So I started home, but then deliberately took the wrong exit and wandered my car through the country, further and further from my house. Something about being in the car with no companion but whatever songs are playing helps clear my head. In my life, I’ve driven past a lot of fields and falling-down barns while I was angry or sad or sick of it all, driving and driving until I wasn’t angry or sad or sick of it all anymore. Maybe I was hoping that it would also be a cure for weariness. So I drove.
And it was while I was driving that I could’ve died. I guess that’s a stupid thing to write, because all things considered, I could die anytime I drive anywhere. When you think about it, there’s always a lot of faith involved in traveling from Point A to Point B. But while most of my drives are completely without incident (so much so that my commutes these days largely happen on autopilot and if I try to remember the act of driving to work or driving home, I can’t actually do it), this time, there was indeed an incident. I lost control of the car.
Now, folks who do or have done any amount of driving at all in rural areas know that sometimes there isn’t going to be any pavement. And the thing about driving on a dirt road is that you have to slow the fuck down, especially when transitioning from pavement to dirt. I know this, and I saw that I was approaching an end to the pavement and I did indeed slow the fuck down. But not enough, I guess, because as soon as my tires hit the dirt, my car started to skid. I got it back, or so I thought, because it skidded again, worse, and headed off the road, toward a tree. Of course, this only took a couple of seconds, but it’s one of those things, you know, when you’re facing imminent disaster, your brain somehow manages to bend time and you experience it all in slow-motion, as if what you need in those few seconds is to think clearly, relax, and really savor the approach of your possible demise. When you’re at the point that your car is driving itself toward a tree, you’re really just along for the ride.
It’s in those kinds of seconds when people say their lives flash before their eyes. Maybe they mean that they see what’s important to them. My life has never flashed before my eyes, so I wonder how it works. If it’s like a movie or a series of shop windows filled with vignettes. You know what I thought right then? I thought “What a perfect end to a perfect day” because apparently even possibly dying isn’t enough to turn off my sense of Sarcastic Bastard. It is strong in me.
But then of course I didn’t die. I am not writing this from beyond the grave, because even though I don’t really do much blogging anymore, I’m fairly certain that when I’m dead, I’ll give it up entirely. I didn’t hit the tree. I was really close to it, but I miraculously stopped about a foot away. Time sped back up again, and I could see the clouds of dirt swirling in the air where my car had skidded, I could see how close I’d come to hitting the tree. I laughed. I suppose it was that nervous oh-ha-ha-I-nearly-died laughter. And I drove away unscathed, listening to rocks fall out of my undercarriage. Listening to rocks, and Neko Case. Because a song was playing the whole time, though my brain had temporarily shut down my ability to hear in those few seconds of maybe-I’ll-die, and the whole experience was eerily silent.
The song that was playing was “Middle Cyclone” from Neko Case’s album of the same name, and it’s one of the fucking saddest songs I’ve ever heard in my entire life. Are you familiar with it? I’ll give you a few moments (I realize that my sales pitch for listening to it was really good):
This song fairly reliably can make me sob. There’s something about the girlish hope of a music box that makes something inside of me crumple like paper, and by the time the song gets to “I lie across the path waiting/ just for a chance to be/ a spiderweb trapped in your lashes/ for that, I would trade you my empire for ashes” I’m pretty much done for. I mean seriously, how sad is that? I’ll be a temporary nuisance that clouds your view for a couple of seconds before you brush it aside and continue on your way? I wish I didn’t know how that felt, settling even for that, but I do. I’ve been that stupid.
Anyhow, you know, thanks to shuffle for emotionally kicking me in the guts mere seconds after I nearly hit a tree with my car.
So I went home. And I looked at my face in the bathroom mirror, surprised by how many freckles I’ve gotten on my nose and under my eyes this summer. When did I get them? I didn’t notice them before. And then I curled up on my bed, thinking about how when something like that happens — near run-in with a tree, Neko Case, noticing of freckles (I don’t mind the freckles) — someone should be around to give me a hug. But hey, at least I have a dog.