Saturday, January 31, 2009

Broken Rearview

The wheel feels familiar beneath my hand, the worn leather over soft foam giving beneath my skin as the stitching pushes back against my grip. The gas pedal gives way beneath my foot, as the orange needles on the dashboard shakily climb higher.

In a sequence practiced hundreds, thousands of times one foot rises as the other lowers, one presses and the other releases. An orange needle drops and a tug on the gearshift causes the pinion to disengage with a dull click like a key being removed from a lock. For an instant things flow freely on their own, power disconnected from direction.

Pushed up and to the right, the gearshift finds the next ratio. The mechanism gives with only the slightest effort and grasps the intruding lever, holding it tight as the clutch reengages, the pedals switch places and power and direction are joined again, hurtling the vehicle forward and causing both needles to rise again.

Outside, things become more and more confused. On the right, telephone poles whiz past, their proximity is felt in the ears as much as it is heard. On the left, the lane divider seems to change from short white lines to blurred white dots to a single translucent white line. Trees, houses and oncoming traffic quickly come into a peripheral focus and even more quickly disappear, devoid of detail and strangely misshapen by speed.

Up and to the right a different view is found. A small window to a more stable world. The things behind are clear. Dotted lines remain dotted lines. Telephone poles are not blurs, cars have detail, houses have shape. The world looks right, normal, calm, comfortable.

Ahead, insanity reigns. Curves, turns, traffic, lights and rules jump out in front, demanding action, demanding effort and reflex and change and pain. The mirror shows peace. It shows where I’ve been, what I’ve come through, what I’ve learned, what I’ve loved. There is no madness, no grief, effort, turmoil.

The mirror shows an image of the best of what was. But it is only that, an image. And it is a twisted one at that. It is protected, shaded from the true harsh nature of what is there. I protect myself by dulling the edges and angling the details. The view through the mirror is nothing like the view was through the windshield.

No matter how pretty the picture, how comforting the view, my focus must be forward, on the road ahead, not the one behind. I cannot go back, I cannot retreat. And even if I could, what I found would be much different than what I remember. The good old days are not as good as I delight, but they are just as old. And no matter how much I may painfully long for the contrary, objects in the mirror are NOT closer than they appear.

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