Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Fear of driving

I remember the last time I drove a car.  I had to pick up my husband from the airport. To change lanes on an almost empty road, I looked back several times, wavering until the driver behind me started desperately gesticulating to encourage me to make the move already. I remember every time I’ve driven – there were so few of them and they were always terrifying.  Every time was like my first time.  I always had to think which was the gas, and which was the brake.

I only got my license at 36.  I thought it would finally make me feel like a competent adult, like I wasn’t just impersonating one.  

When I was growing up my mother never drove.  She had a license, but after a near-accident she never tried again.  She would always overreact at my father’s driving. I can see her hand reaching for the dashboard as she yelped for caution. I was never scared then.  I thought nothing bad could happen to us.  Once when we were driving through a mountain pass my father had a gallbladder attack.  Fortunately, my mother was a doctor and travelled with all essential medicines.  She gave him something and we had to stop and wait for his spasms to pass.  That’s the first time I questioned her not driving.  I decided I wouldn’t be like her – this ultra-competent woman who could save a life, but couldn’t operate an automobile to save her life.

When I turned 18 I promptly signed up for driving lessons.  I wanted to go with a friend, but I got wait-listed as the class was full and so I dropped it.  At 19 I got pregnant.  That summer I went to the beach with my brother and my new husband.  My round belly covered in hot pink spandex did not stop me from swimming and diving, to the horror of mothers with small children around me. The vacation ended abruptly when my husband was called back for work.  My brother drove us back at night on another perilous mountain road.  I sat alone in the back seat in the dark not seeing where the road would swerve and for the first time I felt a paralyzing fear for the life growing inside of me.  

When my son was a baby we were constantly shuttling between our parents’ homes as we didn’t have one of our own.  He would always promptly fall asleep in the car as I held him on my lap in the back seat.  When we finally got our own place I was alone there with him a lot, since my husband traveled for work.  One time my son got the stomach flu.  He was two or three years old and the vomiting and diarrhea had left him limp.  I had never seen him so sick that he wouldn’t speak or play.  He smelled like nail polish from the dehydration.  We didn’t have a phone line installed yet.  I had to leave him alone and run to the payphone outside to call a friend with a car.  I felt so scared and helpless that I barely got the words out to explain what the problem was.  Later she told me she had thought ‘the worst had happened.’  No, that would only happen years later.

Throughout his childhood I would have recurrent dreams that my son was in danger and I had to drive him somewhere, but I couldn’t.  Often in the dream I would have to take control of the car while I was in the back seat.  

When I finally achieved some financial stability, after having moved to another country and struggled to support my family while going to graduate school, I bought a car so I could learn to drive.  It took me three tries to pass the driving test, and I was shocked when I did.  I felt like a fraud.  

I forced myself to drive the car for practice, once getting stuck in traffic for five hours, my ass turning numb.  But at last I was able to drive my son, like a proper mother should.  He had, meanwhile, turned 18 and gone away to college.  

When it was time to bring him home after his first year, I started out early to beat the traffic. When I got there he hadn’t gotten up or packed.  That took us a couple of hours. By the time we finally started back, I was already exhausted and missed a turn without noticing, heading in the wrong direction.  I was also hearing a strange noise coming from the car and I realized, turning cold inside, that when I’d parked on a slope in front of the college I had halfheartedly tried to pull the manual brake and then forgot to release it.  The brake had been scraping against the wheels all this time.  I kept that to myself as my son was already apprehensive about my navigation and driving skills.  Instead of saving his life with my driving, I was putting it in peril.  I was a fraud.  

Once I found our way back, though, he promptly fell asleep, sitting shotgun with his guitar between his knees, the small car stuffed with his clothes and furniture.  I got us home, but not before once nearly fatally forgetting to look back into my blind spot before changing lanes.  The car next to us moved over to avoid collision, while my son stayed asleep.  

Years later he would laud me for that trip, saying what a trooper I was.  My son never got his license.  He was scheduled to take a driving test the morning he died.  He had the same aversion to driving that I do, that my mother did. I must have passed it on to him in the womb that night when I first felt fear for him, for us.  Now I have no fear.  And I have no reason to drive.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

18 months

When I think of it, I invariably think of you as a toddler.  Your death is in its toddler age.  You were a fabulous toddler.  You were fabulous at every age.  Just not viable at last.  I can't help but relate your beauty to your unsuitability for life. 

I'm listening to your music.  To music you would have listened to.  I miss you so much.  I wish I had someone to talk to about you, but I'm too far gone.  I feel it coming - the unbearable.  "This country of endured, but unendurable pain."  Your words - how could you have known this?  I think you knew I could endure it.  And you couldn't.  We survive every moment but the last.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013


A few nights ago I had a dream that we had my son cloned and he was living a second life.  He was about 8  and he was the same person.  I mean he had the same traits and character - he wasn't aware of his past life.  But we were and yet we were making the same mistakes with him...

When I woke up I actually worried for a moment that there was nothing to clone, because it was all burnt, but then I remembered the organs from the autopsy...wonder what happened to them.

Since that dream I have been taking more interest in news about the progress in cloning.  I also read an article that with new techniques, people can be revived up to 7 hours after death.  That might have worked.  And they are still the same people.  So when do we really die?

Saturday, March 16, 2013


My son was not one for neatness.  He would sleep on a bare mattress on the floor and go without socks, and for all I know, without underwear, rather than do laundry.  But he had a profound respect for books.  He would scold me whenever I would leave paperbacks splayed out face down. saying it would ruin the spine.  All of his books, hundreds of them, are immaculate. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

silent scream

I can't breathe.

There I was only today thinking almost cynically - time really does heal.  After all - am I not living proof?  Going about my day to day, more like living death, but still - breathing.

And here I am now pierced by the thought of all the things I could tell him, all the love that only he could absorb.  And the way I pulled back from him and didn't pour all that love out.  And I want to scream, but I don't.  The tears pour silently down my grimacing face as I write this.

I was listening today to a podcast - a philosophical argument about when death is relatively worse.  The argument was that it is not so bad for an infant to die because it isn't yet connected to the person whose life will have value. For the infant itself it is not so different from dying in the womb, which cannot be considered bad because it is almost the same as the 60% of all conceptions that end in spontaneous abortions.  And it is not so bad for an older person to die, because the years of quality life he would lose are not so many. Death is not so bad when there is no good life left. By those calculations the very worst death is that of a young adult.  The very worst.

And yet I have been trying to comfort myself that all deaths are the same, and his was at least painless and unforeseen. 

And that is just considering the person who dies.  And what about those of us left?  When is death worse?  When we wasted the life.  Oh, I want so badly to be unconscious, almost as badly as I want to scream.  This is my scream.  The scream that will never be heard.  The life that will never be lived.