Why I Should Not Drive by Amber Burke
The billboards, the store logos, the restaurant names are many times larger than the street signs and the traffic lights. The first problem then is one of prioritization.
Those drivers speeding past me, honking or yelling; I tell myself they are all on the way to visit their mothers in the hospital. In this way, driving becomes an exercise in forgiveness. This constant forgiving requires perhaps too much mental energy.
On a road at night, the moving pools of light from headlights and the still pools of light from streetlights look lifted, and the dark patches in the road look deeply sunken. I tell myself the road is not undulating, but I grip the steering wheel.
The highway in the darkness: the overbright headlights of the cars going the other way seem to be coming right at me, at me, at me. The white dashes in the road that won’t keep anything back.
All the nights I lie in bed and notice my hands are still clenched.
At night, in my own house, the darkness does not sink; where it is thickest, it seems to rise up before me. I walk with my hands slightly out in front of me so I do not walk into a column of darkness.
During the day, I see spots in front of my eyes. Not spots as much as specks. Millions or billions, a pulsing screen of static that moves when my eyes move. These specks are most conspicuous against asphalt. I do not know if I am seeing the cells of my eyes or atoms of air, or why only I should be able see them. It has always been this way.
In the bright light, I stare at the glinting traffic signals. It seems to me that green, yellow, red are all illuminated. How does everyone else know whether to go or to stay?
During the late morning and early afternoon, the light angles in through the side windows, interrupted by trees. Slats of light come through the branches and trunks and hit the side of my face like a strobe—dark, light, dark, light, dark, light. I feel myself getting warmer. I want to close my eyes.
I notice that going under low bridges or parking in narrow spaces, I sit low and draw my shoulders in, as if, by shrinking myself, I can shrink the car.
I keep driving the same route and seeing things I have never seen before. I have never heard of the street that I just passed. Is it just that I have never read that street sign? And now here is a building, set back from the road, a beautiful building, shaped like one side of an embrace. This makes me worry that I am not in fact driving the same route or that the world is undergoing drastic and instant revisions that only I can see.
When I have a strong, clear thought, I must remember not to slam on the brakes.
Momentum, I have always thought, is something to fear. I prefer the constant tug of the brake. It is comforting, as though someone has me by the hair.
People themselves blink into being, in the middle of the road, in cement-colored clothes, as if created out of the road. I barely have time to stop. Vehicles, too. I look to the right and there is nothing. I move into the turn lane and swipe the left side of a large truck.
You were looking right at me. You didn’t see me?
Are you hurt?
Then why are you crying?
Is there someone I can call?
(Negative, negative, no audible response, negative.)
The time after the accident is a dangerous time, when is possible to forget the things one usually knows. That, for instance, headlights should be turned on after sunset; that the car should be put in park before the keys are taken out. At the kitchen window, I realize this as my car drifts backwards down the slope of the driveway. I watch it go. I let it go. I wonder how far it will go. Not far: it stops where the down-slant of driveway meets the up-slant of the street. This strikes me as anticlimactic.
After the hill outside of town, the road seems to drop off into nothing. It is an act of faith to go over the hill, not knowing where the road is, if there is a road. But in what do I have faith? I have no faith. I am not trusting. Only hoping. Because I feel the pressure of all the cars behind me, I hold my breath and go over the hill.
I am not sure why my body thinks that holding my breath will save me.
It is always a little disappointing when the road is there, when I did not after all encounter the end of the world and float.
Especially on bridges over water or gorges, I discover my car now lists to the right, or I do. I am thinking of the moment just through the guardrail when the wheels will spin in the disintegrating air and I will know that This Is The End, and think Ah, well, nothing to be done about it now; no changing the things I meant change about myself, such as my ineptitude at driving.
Amber Burke is a graduate of Yale University and the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars. She currently teaches writing and yoga at Johns Hopkins.