Going Solo

I don’t want to suggest it’s a good thing W got sick and we had to turn around and drive two and a half hours back home this morning rather than paddling in the race. But it did mean I stepped up, driving-wise.

A side note: I also learned a lesson about putting my foot down. I should have said yesterday to W, “Turn around. There’s no point in camping out for two nights to paddle in this race if you feel like you have a fever.” What I actually said was more like, “Okay, if you think it’s just allergies and a headache.”

When we got to the campsite last night as soon as we set up the tent, W crawled right in on top of the sleeping bags to try to sleep off the headache, which was clearly worse. “What can I do to help you?” I asked him.

“You can get a ride to dinner with those other people here for the race so I can sleep.” This was a bad sign, leaving me to latch onto people we didn’t know. Fortunately the paddling community is a pretty safe group of people to glom onto.

When I returned to camp he hadn’t stirred except to use the restroom. He slept about 14 hours until the next morning, when I told him to keep resting while I went off for breakfast with a new friend, Scott, since W still didn’t want anything to eat or drink.

When we returned, W was pulling up stakes. Literally. I helped him shove everything haphazardly into the truck and he climbed into the driver’s seat. This would have been a great moment for me to say, “Get out. I’m driving.” This was exactly the reason we’d gotten a truck with an automatic transmission, because even though I didn’t plan to drive it at the time (I had my own car), the thought was that if I needed to drive it, I could.

Yes, our normal route was mostly highway driving and I haven’t driven on a highway in years, but there was a parallel secondary road nearly all the way. It would’ve taken longer, certainly, but he could’ve slept. Instead, he said he’d feel better as he drove. (Um…False.) He was making me nervous with that scrunched face that meant bad headache. He did seem competent to drive, though, and I knew he was intent on the prospect of crawling into our bed at home as soon as possible. Or, the recliner chair, perhaps.

By the time we were nearly home, he felt bad enough to need little prodding to go to an urgent care clinic. Good thing, too. His fever had climbed up to nearly 103. After a few hour visit at the clinic, he agreed I should drive the rest of the way home. I dropped off his prescription and convinced him to let me take him home and drive back into town by myself. I hadn’t driven anywhere without him in quite some time. “You know, I can drive three miles by myself,”I said.

“I know you can,” he said.

It was five minutes each way to the pharmacy and local Chinese restaurant to get him his therapeutic wonton soup. And it was different without Wayne’s soothing presence, but I felt almost ready to go on my own. Just like twenty years ago when I just got my license.

At home, after administering the medicines and soup, I was antsy. The worrying mostly done, I moved onto being bummed about not paddling and hanging out with our friends who were arriving today at the race. (We’d seen one of them, with tell-tale slalom boats strapped to the roof on the other side of the thruway.  He flashed his lights at us, probably wondering what in heck could be taking us in the opposite direction.)

Then it occurred to me that Cleo wasn’t, in fact, stuck at the kennel if W was not well enough to passenger along. I could drive solo all the way to pick up her up. W, snoozing again on the recliner, didn’t argue.

I picked out some CDs to blast on the way. My therapist had suggested at one point that I pick something mellow and relaxing to help calm me down while driving. I understand the concept, but I don’t like soothing music while I’m driving. It makes me nervous that it might cause me to sleep. Which is ridiculous, of course. Music never makes me fall asleep. The only thing that can make me fall asleep is genuine exhaustion. I’m a terrible sleeper. Still, when driving I like something happy and raucous for listening.

I even got a charge out of the fact that you can control the volume from the steering wheel. And walking into the kennel swinging the keys, it was like being a teen all over again. Look at me. I can drive all by myself!

The funny thing is, I was never one of those teens excited by the prospect of driving. I knew at 16 I was supposed to be longing for the self-determination and cool of driving. But I thought it would be better to get a really cute boyfriend to drive me places. This is how I thought back then. Even my dreams of freedom trumped by boy-craziness. Besides, it was New Jersey. Who really wants to drive in New Jersey?

It was, in fact, scarier driving by myself. On the way home from the doctor W had said, “Watch out!” as a deer was about to cross the road. I’d seen it, but I don’t know if I was going to hit the brakes if he hadn’t said “watch out” as if he knew the little fawn was about to spring across the pavement. Plus I am just awful at parking the truck. And backing out of parking spots. I think this can be explained by not having a great view over the hood because I don’t have a tall man’s torso combined with perhaps some kind of perceptual issue. So I like having him there to judge by his facial expression how close or far I am from being in the spot and straight.

When I pulled into the pharmacy parking lot by myself I got out of the truck to find I was completely inside the lines. I thought, I’m awesome at this truck driving stuff. Kind of like I’d just made some hot move on the river.

Over breakfast Scott and I had talked about the challenges of paddling or skiing (snowboarding, for him) or driving. He said there comes a time when you just have to face the fear and do the exact thing you’re afraid of. He meant a reasonable challenge, not something likely to kill you. He felt you have to tell yourself that it’s not fear but excitement, which feels almost exactly the same.

Those ideas weren’t new, but were freshly echoing in my head as I drove solo to retrieve my dog. It wasn’t comfortable. And I couldn’t really convince myself I was excited rather than scared, but I was doing it. My dog quietly watching me from the back as I sang at the top of my lungs like a teenager who just got her driver’s license.

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