Saturday, August 16, 2014

Don't Drive Angry Phil

Every time Phil pulls into a parking spot I cringe. He's never hit another car while parking but he seems to be a little more aggressive at squeezing into tight Hawaiian parking spaces than me.  I'm constantly yelping as he swings the van around and he laughs every single time.

It is one of the many ways chemo has affected me. I'm jumpier, more off balance. I don't mean to question his skills, but I do find myself critiquing his driving, a lot. I feel bad because his commute is pretty brutal- at least an hour each way- bumpah ta bumpah, sun in face bra. I often quote one of his favorite movies, Groundhog Day-

Don't Drive Angry Phil!

Yet he doesn't really drive angry, he just has much better skills than me- especially chemo sabe me. So one night we are sitting to dinner- recounting a fun story of how our 14 year old boy child decided it was ok to take the van for a spin around the block. I was not amused at the time- but in our house- as it was in my house growing up- public ridicule is a really good deterrent. The discomfort of facing the people you affect is an important life lesson. So we were laughing at his joyride and Phil was nice enough to share an anecdote from our youth. 

Now mind you- my brother turned 16 shortly before he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. I do believe he may have actually taken the official driving test post op with a baseball cap on to hide the scar. I'm pretty sure issuing driver's licenses to brain tumor patients has always been frowned upon- but as my mom always says- you do what you gotta do. I - in my 14 year old wisdom, refused to get into the car after a few episodes of crazy driving. Of course I had witnessed mild seizures and some of his memory deficit at home, but all in all it was standard 16 year old driving and standard sibling rivalry in a non standard situation. Yet I fell on my proverbial sword of traffic safety and concern for pedestrian welfare. 

The irony lies in how angry of a driver I was for the next several years. As I recovered from the loss of my brother, thrown into the brain tumor drill again with my dad- I was an angry teen driver at it's worst. And Phil bore witness to a lot of it and specifically one instance he decided to out me in to our children. The long and short of it involved me tailgating someone with much better brakes than my 82 Honda  and a swerve , mounting a curb and almost taking out a fence. Yet no cars, Jens or Phils were harmed by the conclusion of this tale.  I will leave the real story for Phil to tell- as it really is his- but will say the kids were in tears with us laughing at our past mistakes. I was also showing the 14 year old that we could relate, that we were human and that at the end of it- I learned to scale back the road rage and limit my law breaking to speed violations.  

The thing about cancer, or injustice, or pain, is there is a certain element of loss to all of it. A loss that is out of our control. It is very tough to relinquish control. To learn to accept the feelings that come with loss of control- the grief, the anger, the acceptance.  Some people never learn to regain control and hold out for others to give them direction. Some people take this loss and use control over others to fill it. Some people realize the loss is part of them, learn from it and use that to move forward. 

In my teens I liked to drive fast. It was a risk I thought I could control. My dad taught me to drive, mom's nerves couldn't handle it. After bearing 4 children who continually test their mortality- I'm with my mom on this. BUT back then I was a different girl, we were a different family. Dad would take me to the new neighborhood way down Smoky Hill Road. It was the skeleton of a neighborhood- just roads, no houses. He would let me take turns and try to stop and start and he would yell out situations- A car is coming at you and a dog just ran in front of you! I said I would swerve. He said I just failed my driver's test. If I swerved into the car- I might kill myself and everyone in the car. If I slammed on the breaks, I might fishtail to the same result. He gave me scenarios and possible results. Rain, snow, black ice, falling trees, other cars. I learned about defensive driving and planning ahead. I learned to predict problems to get a lead turn on reactions. 

I would get in the car and we would start with 12 points. When I lost all my points, the lesson was over. Even when I wasn't driving, we were always tallying points until it became a running joke. I'll give you two points for the kid on the bike- no way- he's in the crosswalk that's 5.  It that moment  we were tallying the value of life in relation to the rules of the road. All the while, he was teaching me to be on my guard- he would say there's a kid there on a bike to your right- if a car were to turn in front of you right now- where's your out? And we would talk about it. I learned to think about actions and reactions and to be prepared. 

Yet I wasn't prepared for my first ticket. It was spring break the year after dad died, Phil and I had gone to visit friends in Arizona. I was hauling mail.  Between the two of us- we could expertly spot cops hiding over and under over passes. Say that three times fast. Well we missed one and I was tagged going well over 90 in a 55. I was pretty worried that this was going to be the end of my driving career. The cop knocked it down to 80 and gave me the option of Driver's School. I would have to pay for the course, the speeding fine, but it would be no points on my record. Well glory be if I hadn't learned that come hell or high water I better keep points off my license. So the next day I called and enrolled in the class. 

The location was inconvenient, the time was inconvenient and I could tell the second I sat down in a dilapidated inner city classroom that everyone there felt the same enthusiasm towards being there. When this soulful woman walked in and asked who was excited about being here all of us looked around to see who exactly might take the bait. Not a hand went up. She smiled- me neither she told us- she had better things to do- and she knew we all did as well but something put us together in this room and she was going to be darned if she didn't do something with it. I think at that point everyone was as nervous as I was about the next 6 hours we were going to be spending there. 

She had us get up and arrange the desks in a circle so we could see each other. Then we went around the loop and told why we were there. For each person, she would ask a question- a really simple question like- to the guy who ran into another car in a school zone- what would you have done differently- he said- probably not eat that second cheeseburger. As it turns out- he was unwrapping a cheeseburger- and a glop of ketchup fell into his lap and while he looked down-slam! So she talked about distracted driving and asked everyone who was distracted when they got their ticket to raise their hand. Everyone did. We talked about life and anger and the big picture. We talked about zooming to get there 1 minute sooner- how important was that minute - because 1 minute could become 30 minutes late if we were pulled over- or never if we were in an accident. She reminded me of dad. She was no  nonsense- this is how it is- don't lie to me kinda lady.  Everyone in that room had a story and their story impacted why they were there at that moment and she had us talk about it. I half wondered if I had walked into a candid camera sponsored support group by mistake. 

When we had sufficiently been counseled as to our impact on the driving world and the larger world as a whole, she handed us an exam booklet. When we were done, we were free to go. It had been barely 2 hours. But in those 2 hours what I learned was more than defensive driving. I learned about actions and reactions, I learned that my actions have consequences but seemingly bad consequences aren't always bad. I learned that complete strangers can come together to help each other. I learned that there are people out there who are amazing and in their little corner are making a world of difference one bad driver at a time. This is where I learned that it's not so much what you do, but HOW you do it that makes a difference. If you are passionate and work to help other people make themselves better, not only will they be better, you will feel better. It is one of the many experiences that taught me people are angry for a lot of reasons and if you take the time to find out why, it makes a difference. It also taught me not to drive angry!

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Lily Kay Monkey

Lily Kay Monkey
November 2008 Photographed by Shelley Detton (7 Layer Studio)