“Which way do you want to go?”
It was just another trip to the mall, an ordinary occurrence like any other. As we headed out the door and discussed the possible routes, we were shocked to find a dead cat on the sidewalk in front of our property. That didn’t bode well for our trip out that day, but we chose to ignore the signs and head out on the road anyway.
There’s always more than one way to get where you’re going. We chose the road less traveled. My husband and I tend to take backroads, preferring scenery and quiet to the traffic and noise of highways. It takes longer to get where we’re going, but that’s okay with us. What’s the rush to get to your destination?
On this particular Monday morning, we seemed to come across an inordinate amount of activity on the road. As we came to the end of the winding road leading away from our country home toward the busyness of the city, we encountered a lineup of white utility vans parked in front of the stop sign. The power lines needed some repairing, apparently. We take for granted how those overhead lines connect so many homes, bringing light and warmth to the lives within. At that particular moment, we were more focussed on the minor inconvenience of the work vehicles that obstructed the road we had chosen to travel.
“That’s just great,” said my husband. He wondered how safe it was to maneuver his way around them, on the wrong side of the road. What if a vehicle made a left turn into our lane, not noticing us? Collisions happen even when you’re sticking to your side of the road. They had definitely happened on this stretch of road more often than on most. The roadside memorials attested to the uncertainty of what lies ahead, of the curves in the road, of the fog in the air, of the drop to the overflowing river below.
“Well, you can’t just stay here all day waiting for them to move. You need to get past them.” Even as I uttered the words, it occurred to me that was the way of life. Standing still gets you nowhere.
Our car pulled up ahead of the trio of vans as another vehicle came along across the intersection. There was enough room before the intersection for my husband to steer our car back into the correct lane. The danger was averted, and we continued on our way. Life goes on.
It was a warm but dreary day, with a bit of drizzle coming down. We decided that if it got stormy, we would turn around and head back to the safety of our home. No sooner had we made that decision than it began to pour in earnest. My husband asked if the weather prediction had called for rain. I didn’t know. In any case, you can’t predict the weather any more than you can predict anything in life. We forged ahead regardless.
A short while later, we stopped at another intersection. My husband looked carefully both ways, as he always does before making his left turn. I shouted out in time to stop him from pulling into the path of a transport truck. It would have broadsided us, killing us instantly, just like the illness that took our parents. Cancer, the heart condition – they hit you when you least expect them. Things roll along out of control. Sometimes it’s just blind luck that allows you the privilege of continuing down the road unscathed.
As we continued along, we noticed the signs indicating the speed limit had been reduced due to bumpy ruts. Rough road ahead. It soon became evident the sign was an understatement. It was also clear that the rough road was continuously rough, not just a momentary inconvenience. Up ahead, two men shoveled asphalt into potholes. They were working on a hill, somewhat hidden to oncoming traffic. It’s important to pay heed to signs as you travel the road to wherever you’re going. Ignoring the speed limit could have irreversible consequences. As we carefully drove around them, we commented that it would take those two men the better part of the year to work their way through all the ruts along this long stretch of damaged road. But, a short while later, we encountered another man on his own, with a trailer behind a truck, engaged in asphalt shoveling. I remarked that it must be a boring, lonely activity filling holes yourself.
“It’s like using a bucket to bail out the Titanic,” my husband commented. Still, I suppose it’s better to try to put forth an effort than to make no attempt to repair the holes. Too often I’ve allowed the holes in my life to become craters. The times I’ve chosen to not forgive, the times I’ve let my anger and self-pity get out of control, the times I haven’t taken the initiative to reach out to someone – I should have picked up the shovel and filled in the holes before I fell into them. Whether it’s a road or a relationship, it’s so much easier to repair than to rebuild.
“You’re kidding me!” my husband remarked as we came upon another group of white work vans parked along the road. These seemed to be from the gas company, probably installing new lines. My first thought, characteristically macabre, was that things can easily blow up. It can only take a second for disaster to strike. There’s not much you can do about it, either. As hard as we try to protect ourselves, life throws us a grenade every now and then. We were able to get past the gas workers without a major catastrophe, but in many places in the world, it’s not so easy to dodge danger. Everything’s relative, isn’t it?
The traffic seemed to be rather heavy considering it was a work day morning. Don’t people have jobs? Why were they out driving around in the middle of the morning? Why were we out driving around? Oh, that’s right – we had a destination. As we met a manure spreader, we hugged the side as closely as we could. They’re a danger to everyone, those manure spreaders, taking up three-quarters of the road. But someone has to spread the manure. Literally, that is. It’s essential to our survival. Farmers produce our food. Their temporary obstruction of the road results in a greater good for all. You just have to look past the manure spilling in your path and proceed with caution.
Once the road conditions improved, we were able to move forward at a faster speed. I had to remind my husband to stop at the stop sign and at the red light several times, as my anxiety level was cranked up to high in response to the obstructions we had encountered along the road so far. The number of vehicles that cross your path and don’t stop to give you the right of way – well, let’s just say there are dangers lurking at every corner. Life is scary.
At the mall, there were more roadblocks. Parking, of course, was an issue. Everyone wants to be close to the entrance and exit doors. Whether it’s because we’re lazy or our time is too valuable to waste wandering through a parking lot looking for our vehicle, we’d rather circle around several times like sharks converging on that one available spot rather than park in the far-off regions of the lot. Inside the mall, not watching where we were going, we ended up in a cordoned off area – a maze that led to Santa Claus. I wouldn’t have minded visiting the old man, as I had many wishes I wanted fulfilled, but I’m an adult now and no longer believe in wishes coming true.
Eventually, we found our way through the mall and made our purchases. Ready to head home, we decided it would be auspicious to take a different road. Naturally, it was a longer route, made even longer by the fact that it became increasingly more foggy the further along the road we traveled. As a result, we missed our turn and ended up in an entirely different town, not our own. It happens. You don’t always end up where you want to go. Sometimes, though, it’s exactly where you should go. It just so happened there was an item we had wanted to purchase right there in a small store in that small town. Perfect! The downside of our unplanned visit to this particular store was that I found another unique item I hesitated to buy, thinking I would find it again another day somewhere else. When you find what you want, you should grab it. Now I need to make another trip, a planned one this time, back to that small town. How much time do we all waste hesitating and overthinking our decisions? The road we travel usually takes us exactly where we need to be, even as we question the unscheduled stops along the way. Any roadblocks we encounter usually create lasting memories. An uneventful trip is easily forgotten. It’s the unexpected stops, twists and turns that make life more interesting.
After forty years of marriage, I still trust in my husband’s driving ability. He’s able to negotiate the most difficult roads with a calmness and confidence that reassures me. I rarely drive myself anymore. Especially in the winter, I’m terrified of what might happen. As I’ve gotten older, I see how tenuous life can be. I wasn’t always this way.
In my youth, I was fearless. I could drive in the dark, in the rain, through a snowstorm, in icy conditions. I drove alone, on major highways, on roads I’d never traveled before, without a GPS. I drove in countries I was visiting for the first time, at speeds I’d never reached before, in a vehicle I’d never driven till then. The road ahead was clear, unobstructed with any possibility of roadblocks.
Now I’m older and less wise. Most days I’m afraid to leave the house, preferring the safety of my cocoon, worried about what awaits me out in the world. What if I have an accident? What if that appointment with the doctor uncovers an illness I didn’t know about? I even worry about picking up the phone or answering the door. What if I get bad news?
But you can’t live like that. Well, you can, but it isn’t really living. All you can do is get out there and follow the road ahead, navigating your way around the obstacles the best you can. Keep your eyes on the road, your hands on the wheel, and travel with someone you love, if given the opportunity. Chances are, you’ll find your way home no matter which road you choose or how many roadblocks you encounter. One way or another, you’ll arrive at the destination you were always destined for.
We made it to the mall that Monday and home again. The roadblocks were an inconvenience, but they didn’t stop us. So I guess anything’s possible. It’s just a matter of being brave enough to face the road ahead even though you know there will be roadblocks along the way. You can’t jump over them, and you can’t go under them, but if you allow time to go around them, you will somehow get through them.
Ivanka Fear is a Slovenian born Canadian writer. Her poems and stories appear in numerous publications, including Understorey, The South Shore Review, Blank Spaces, Montreal Writes, Orchards Poetry, October Hill, Mystery Tribune, and elsewhere. The debut novel of her Blue Water mystery series is scheduled for release by Level Best Books in January 2023.