Huntress of the Lens


Friday, May 28, 2010

A long story with a thin gruel of excuse.

I used to be afraid to drive. Not always, I learned to drive in the first place down in Orange County, the land of the ten-lane freeway and the 70 mph merge. At some point up here though, I became so terrified of driving that I would sometimes pull over because I thought I would faint or have a seizure just driving the kids to school.

I wasn't driving IN town, much less to any of the towns close to here, my world got very small. I have a loving and dedicated friend that would come from far to see me for years because I just couldn't get in the car and drive even to meet him halfway.

Bridges are and always have been an issue for me. I suffer from the completely irrational knowledge that gravity will suck me right over the edge and into the long-down. I don't imagine that the bridge will collapse, (well, not so much, but that's a secondary fear) I simply have a certainty that I will either be sucked over the edge or some mad impulse will cause me to drive toward the railing and through it as though someone else's hands are on the wheel. From the neck up I know this to be nonsense, yet all the internal organs I so depend on for sustained life (my heart, my lungs, my other squishy internal places) will not believe that it is safe for me to drive over a bridge.

When we first got Libby (The blue Jeep we had right before we got married) something came over me and I decided that I would drive alone to pick up Andrew from the airport. He flew in
from Germany to walk me down the aisle with his brother.

Oakland airport is, in fact, across a bridge from here, but hey, I was the bride and felt imbued with super-powers. I could do this. It became a symbol for all the things I could now do, like not take a drink or stay in a marriage since I had chosen so well. I was an adult, sober and not afraid any more. That was the costume I was trying on that day anyway.

I was talking to my friend Annelise when I drove over the bridge. (It's that little baby bridge right after Vallejo and before Crockett, its name eludes me now.) I told her "I can't feel my feet but they're sweating in my shoes, I'm going blind, I think I'm having a heart-attack and I'm pretty sure I'm starting to have a seizure." By the time we had discussed all of my medical symptoms I was over the bridge and exultant.

I arrived at the airport 45 minutes early, because that's how I roll. Thank you Big Daddy for all the lessons in punctuality and politeness. I couldn't find the British Airways terminal no matter how many times I toured the concourse so I finally asked the information desk where to find it. "Oh, that's easy." They told me. "It's at SFO." San Francisco. Mars. Infinity. A place I could not drive, and I had 45 minutes to get there.

When she spoke her directions to my blank and terrified face I nodded through my tears. That information lady was so nice she drew me a map. That map included the San Mateo bridge and some other terrifying and impossible things I had to do to achieve my objective. I knew I would die in the attempt, but for Andrew I decided to take destiny firmly in my teeth and do it anyway.

The San Mateo bridge is a tricky, lying behemoth of a structure. For the first long stretch I found myself driving along about twelve feet from the water, long and low. Why I can do this after all! My mistake was to look ahead. That Grand Bitch of a water crossing takes a dramatic turn into the sky, and curves while it finishes the crossing.

I had the idea that I should maybe pull over, cry and vomit a little, and then tackle the road into the sky. A voice in my head lets me know that if I stop the vehicle for any reason I will have to be towed off of this bridge.

I straddled the middle line. I was able to drive maybe 50 mph. I cried and said the Serenity Prayer about a million times. The traffic behind me obviously didn't know that this is the only way to make it through something like this, and didn't appreciate it one bit. I now know the pitch of every single kind of horn that can be honked behind me, whether or not I know which vehicles correspond with them.

After narrowly escaping death and making it across that bridge I find that SFO has only tiny little roadways in the sky that lead to parking spaces.
I did finally dock my spaceship and enter the building to find the proper terminal. His flight was late, I had somewhere close to two hours to regulate my body's functions and remember how to breathe before my beloved came through that international gate.

Then I had to drive over the Bay Bridge to get us home. To this day I don't know how I survived that trip, or what I was trying to prove by making it. It did, however, enable me to take slightly farther trips in the future, all carefully calculated to be guaranteed bridge-free.

I remember calling Joseph from the Santa Rosa mall the day I went to wait in line for my first iPhone. I was casual and smug about it. "Yeah, I just drove to Santa Rosa, no big deal." (He of all people knew just what a big deal that actually was.)
I have made that drive a hundred times or more now, and even extend it effortlessly to Guerneville when I want to. I still find San Francisco or even Berkely to be foreign countries, they have bridges in the space between us.

That prologue was to tell you about two things I see every time I drive to Santa Rosa or Guernville, and the strong connection I feel to both of them.

One is a building that has been in ruins for years; tall, stone, holes for windows and shafts of light beaming down through the missing places in the wooden roof. I have always felt called to stop and find a way into that building. There was something in there I wanted to see or connect with. Sometimes stories or energy will linger in a place, especially if it is made of wood or stone. It called me every single time I drove by and I never answered.

Recently I saw that the building had been reduced to a pile of rubble. That space still exists, but is full of dense stone refuse and I don't know how to merge my own cells with it to enter. Whatever those stories were they are lost to me now. I wish I had gone inside and listened with my ears that are not ears, looked with my eyes that are not eyes. I will never know what the story was, and I am deeply saddened at my own fear and the sense of "hurry!" that I buy into along with everyone else.

The other thing that touches my awareness every time I drive by it is a sign, hanging at the end of a grand driveway. I haven't tapped it on my teeth, but I am pretty sure it is wood that is painted bronze, not actual metal. It is an acorn, and I think of it as MY acorn. It has no words on it, just a beautiful faux metal acorn marking one spot on a road that I am now very familiar with. I must see it, and acknowledge it every time I drive that route, or I feel distressed. I want it for my own, an yet am content to let it hang there on the side of the road.

I feel anxiety sometimes, that like my old, ruined stone building it will someday be gone, and I won't know why. If I miss it on the trip out I don't feel well until I make the return trip home and see it. Sometimes I feel that if I were to just stop and tap my teeth on it to know for sure what it's made of it wouldn't be a disaster if it ever disappeared. If I won the lottery and had unlimited funds I would purchase it at any price. I don't know how I would make it through the rest of my life if I miss the chance to be absolutely sure what material it is made of.

There is really no point to this essay, I can't even come up with a good reason for feeling the need to tell you these things this morning.

I will use my stock excuse for occasions like this: I'm an artist. I have a spotted eye. My mind works differently than others' and that's why I can do what I do.

It's a thin excuse, but the best I have to offer at the moment.

1 comment:

  1. There's an artist whose work I thought of reading this. Rachel Whiteread made a concrete cast of the interior of a condemned building building in London--this concrete monolith on which you could map the details of someone life, little details like decorative switch plates and old picture frames. It was extraordinary; it won the Turner Prize that year (1994). Naturally, the local council decided that, like its template, Whiteread's piece had to be demo'ed. Make room for the gentry.

    BTW, I too have had some serious bridge phobia--there is a bridge between Delaware and Pennsylvania, which we had to drive over between VA and NYC. The arc of that sucker I estimated to be that of the moon. I would hand the wheel of my little Honda to my boyfriend, close my eyes, and pray for the end of the world.



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