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The Right Direction

by Roberta McReynolds

 

Morning began to dawn and the most reliable of all alarm clocks, my cat, woke me up by jumping on my chest. I pulled my hand from under the warm blankets to rub her head and she settled down in contentment, purring softly and closing her eyes. I closed my own eyes, and thought about what I had been dreaming before having the breath knocked out of me by a heavy cat.

I don’t recall the details of where I was in my dream, but the relevant content centered on where I was going. I got into the passenger seat of a convertible with a woman driver: I didn’t see her face, however. I don’t know where we were going, but apparently knew in my dream since I was the navigator. I told the driver where to turn and she paid no attention to me, until it was too late and we had passed the turnoff.

"You’ve gone too far!" I declared. "There’s a place to turn around just ahead." I pointed out an obvious place to pull off and turn the vehicle back the other direction toward the missed crossroad. We were driving through an area which reminded me of the foothills of the Sierra Mountains with narrow roadways. The hills are monotonous fields of dry, yellow grass most of the year with little in the way of landmarks. Turnouts, those wide areas where one can pull off and let the traffic pass, are spaced many miles apart.

Wordlessly, the driver ignored my suggestion and chose a narrow spot in the road to make a poorly executed 3-point turn. She then drove all the way back to where we first began. We never arrived at our destination.

The next day, this driver and I went out again, heading in a different direction this time. The results were the same as before: a missed road, a clumsy turn, and a long silent ride back to our original starting point. We just couldn’t seem to "Pass GO and collect $200," as the card in that classic game of Monopoly instructs.

The third day my chauffeur started out once more. I shouted, "There’s the turn," giving her adequate time to slow down, signal a right-hand turn, and actually get us where we were going. She missed it, despite my efforts as a backseat driver. After a few hundred yards she put the car in reverse and tried to back onto a road over on the left. It dawned on me that wherever we went, we seemed to end up on the left-hand side instead of the right. I was always trying to make her turn right.

The driver stopped the car on the wrong side of the main road just before reaching the gravel road on the left. I got out of the car to direct her onto the side road and to watch for traffic. She never bothered turning her head to look over her shoulder or look in her rear-view mirrors as she put the car in reverse gear and backed across the road behind her at a shallow angle.

"Slow down. You’re going too fast! Stop! STOP!" I hollered.

The convertible backed clear across the road and the back wheels dropped off into an open ditch. She had also nearly hit the front of an approaching car driving up the gravel road with the intention of pulling out on the main avenue of traffic. I stepped over to inspect the situation and was appalled to see the undercarriage of the car resting on the ground with the rear wheels slowly spinning in the air over the ditch. I looked over at my driver, who sat motionless in the front seat, waiting my next command, with her hands still positioned on the steering wheel at ten and two o’clock. Well, at least she was alert the day they taught that during her Driver’s Education class.

The male driver of the other car joined me as I stood there helplessly. I asked him if there was any hope in getting all four tires of the convertible completely back on the road.

"Perhaps, depending on which gear she left the car in," he answered. That didn’t make any sense, but dreams are usually like that. I looked in the car and asked if the man meant moving it from reverse into low gear.

The man nodded and said, "Yes, that would work, except for one small matter." He reached inside the car. I turned to look and he was holding the stick shift in his hand. My driver had broken it clean off.

Before I could utter a word, the gentleman suggested we go back to where he lived to find someone who could fix it. Since his car was blocked, it was necessary for us to walk down the gravel road together a couple miles to reach the small community. I agreed since I was out of options. We left my driver sitting in the convertible.

We walked through the hillside listening to the breeze blow through the leaves of oak trees and the occasional tapping of a woodpecker. The sun was warm and felt good on my face and the frustration I was experiencing began to fade away. I could see the quite little town ahead of us, which wasn’t much more than a wide spot in the unpaved road.

We went to the gas station to find the mechanic only to find a hand-lettered sign saying he was gone for a few hours. My escort and I crossed the street to the combination Country Store and Café, where all the locals hang out. We were greeted by the owner who offered us some lemonade, on the house, and listened to my tale of woe. She thought that the mechanic may have gone fishing down by the pond since there is never much need for car repairs in their tiny town.

I drank my sugary lemonade and listened to the folks sitting around small tables catching up on local gossip. Everyone was laid back and relaxed as though time stood still. Although they were helpful, these people were in no hurry and impossible to rush. Eventually the proper connections were made through the residents, which involved trips to the Bait Shop, Post Office, and Library (complete with three tiny shelves filled with dog-eared paperback books). The mechanic who had the tools, parts and experience to rescue me out of my predicament was found and I believed we were on our way.

There was one final hold up: before we could return to the car, the mechanic insisted on stopping to visit an old friend at a nursing home who was quite ill. I followed the mechanic into the room, mostly because I was afraid to let him out of my sight after going through so much trouble locating him. I listened to the conversation between the mechanic and his friend as a quiet bystander in the beginning, but soon found myself drawn in with great interest. I pulled up a chair and sat and talked for hours. I don’t remember what the elderly man told me, but recall being fascinated by his life story. Forgotten were the broken-down car, the place I had been trying to reach, my inept chauffeur and my weariness. There wasn’t any place else I wanted or needed to be at that precise moment. I felt like I was exactly where I was supposed to be at last.

It was at that point in my dream when I awoke and spent the next several minutes trying to go back to sleep and continue where I’d left off. Not with the idea of getting back in the car with that awful driver again, mind you, but to listen to the man sharing his life story with me. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to fall back to sleep. The next best thing was to try to go to the beginning of the dream sequence and replay it in my mind. So I closed my eyes as the persistent memory lingered and reviewed the events, trying to remember what I could before it faded away with the stars. There was something important I needed to find, not on the dream-road, but in the dream itself.

The identity on my chauffeur, I realized, was my own self. What a disappointment that was! Many times I have pointed myself on a route in life I believed was correct and been oblivious to all else, even my "inner voice." I have set my sights straight ahead and ignored all other options or possibilities. Those false starts have been the ones that have gotten me nowhere and forced me to turn around and begin again.

I also often have trouble recognizing when it’s time to turn off and head a different direction, or even understanding that what I believe is the "right" turn, may not be the best one for me. I smiled to myself as the pieces feel into place in the context of my day-to-day life.

I had been recently reevaluating so aspects of my life and questioning the value and impact I am making. The dream turned out to be an affirmation that I am in the right place for now. All I need to do is slow down a bit more so I can see it for myself.

Of course, the whole experience could just possibly be the result of a late-night feast on a combination pizza with anchovies.

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