When road signs are in a different language, I tend to pay attention to them more. In Mexico, my favorite one read: “Don’t leave rocks on the highway.” Why? Why would I do that? Why would anyone do it and do it consistently enough to warrant a sign against it? The other one I’ll never forget is No manejes cansado which means, “don’t drive tired.” This is sound advice. But, as is often the case with my Spanish, I always confuse this with the word casado, which means married. So every time I see the sign I always think, “Don’t drive married.” This, as it turns out, is much better advice.
In my experience, there is nothing more dangerous than driving married. When I drive and Dave is in the passenger seat, I tend to do erratic and stupid things. I drive too slow or too fast, I second guess lane changes, I miss red lights. I also, at any point, will slam on my brakes and yell, “I’m going to pull over and make you walk, so help me!” That’s right, who should we blame for this poor driving? Dave.
Dave is the worst, and I mean worst, back seat (technically passenger seat) driver. I can say this because he admits it himself. He cannot, literally cannot, stop himself from giving suggestions. “The light is red”, “This guy is coming over”, “You’ve got to merge now”, “Why are you in this lane?” And the imaginary braking! God help us from the door-grabbin’, deep breath-suckin’, chicken break-slammin’ noise of a back seat driver!
As I said before, this panicking foot stomping and inane suggestion giving is not unwarranted. I do drive poorly when he’s around. It’s true. But, don’t you see, it’s because I’m so angry and nervous about his constant critiquing of my driving. Yeah, he doesn’t buy it.
Which is why, I don’t drive with my husband.
Driving is one of the only things we fight about. Isn’t that funny? We don’t fight about money (we both agree there isn’t enough), we don’t fight about the kids (we both agree they are freakin’ amazing) and we don’t fight about sex (we’re too busy doing it–just kidding, Mom!) But more precisely, it’s one of the only things we stubbornly disagree on. There are other things, smaller lines we’ve drawn like whether or not a person should use lamps vs. overhead lights, but this one feels different. This driving argument says, I see your point and I don’t care about it. I refuse to be with you on this one.
Someone once told me that being married is like taking two rough rocks and putting them in a polisher. There they roll and knock around and slowly polish each other. Over the years they help each other become smooth and round. Isn’t this a beautiful idea? But, what this metaphor doesn’t make clear is this knocking around is painful and noisy. My husband has some jagged edges and getting my own sharp pieces broken off hurts. How could polishing ever be painless? Or quick. Doesn’t it take centuries for water or wind to smooth out a stone? Is it possible to wait until all these edges are soft?
When we take marriage vows, we pledge to become one flesh. Oneness. Completion. Wholeness. What a lovely promise. But this is, of course, impossible. We will always be two jagged people, and even though we strive to be whole, we often are fragmented and lonely, sometimes most painfully with each other. If Dave doesn’t get me, who possibly could?
Our driving argument isn’t that big of a deal, really. But it’s a time we bump up against each other and feel those sharp points, so it is frightening. It’s like seeing the tip of an iceberg and wondering what dangers lie in wait. Or a leak under a car. Or finding a weird patch of skin. This is a little problem. But does it mean there are bigger ones?
I suppose some people like mystery in a relationship. I don’t. It makes me nervous. It makes me feel like I can’t trust the other person. I don’t know what he is going to do. I don’t know what he’s thinking. And when I’m reminded he’s different than me, I remember, I can’t possibly predict. I’m jarred out of our illusion of Oneness I sometimes get too comfortable in.
Driving is this way, too. I have been driving since I was 14 years old. That’s a long time and because I’ve done it so much, I’m lulled into forgetting that really, what we are doing is pretty dangerous. We are hurdling down the highway, at speeds of 75 mph in little more than a reinforced tin can. We pass huge trucks that could crush us instantly. We drive so close to other drivers that we could almost reach out and touch them. One little thing goes wrong, and bam, you’ve got big, big problems.
I’ve been married long enough to forget how dangerous living with another person can be. And seeing these rough edges, feeling us knock together is an uncomfortable reminder at what’s at stake, at the pain that we could so easily inflicted on each other. A few choice words here, a little collision there, and we’ve got big, big problems.
But we don’t think about that so much. Panicked living is not for me. Instead, we do what we always do. We turn up the radio and ignore each other. Or we’ll talk to the kids in a forced, cheerful tone. We get home and Dave sheepishly makes a joke about his jerkiness–his peace offering. And I sigh and say, let’s get the kids to bed–that’s mine. While we do the bedtime routine, we’ll touch each other’s arm as we pass by or the other person’s back. Then it’s turned. We’ve rolled. We know that we’ve reached the familiar smooth sides on our stones. We can forget this otherness and be one little family again.
But we remember, next time, he drives.