Monday, March 7, 2016

Mother Trucker

Today is a free day. It's not a day in which I'm free to do nothing--no time for that--but it's an extra day of work and family and I'm loving it.

I went back to Florida late Wednesday. The plan was to compete at a horse trial down there on Saturday and Sunday, drive myself and the horse back home today, recoup tomorrow, and fly to New York at 6 am Wednesday morning (I'm still doing that.) It turned out that I was finished competing at 1:30 yesterday. The horse trials was about an hour's haul from Ocala, where I was staying, so instead of driving back to the barn Sunday afternoon, unhitching, driving to my hotel, cooling my heels until very early morning today, driving back to the barn, rehitching, and driving down the exact same road to the horse show, I just left for home yesterday from the show grounds itself.

It was a ten-and-a-half hour drive, going as fast as I dared, with no construction or traffic delays, and only three stops for gas/food/bathroom breaks.

I've never driven my own rig back and forth to Florida before.I 've gone to Florida for the past ten years and always had my horse shipped commercially. The first few years, when my time in Florida was extremely limited, this made perfect sense: the horse got down to Florida, had a requisite day off (riding in a trailer is physically strenuous for horses), then I flew down, was able to spend all my time riding, and the horse shipped back after I'd gone home. As the years went by, and my children obtained driver's licenses and my absence became physically easier on my family, I spent more time in Florida, but I still shipped the horse, even though I own a truck and trailer and drive myself to all my regular horse stuff, and even though shipping the horse was quite expensive. The reason for that was simple. I was afraid of the drive.

When I was sixteen I failed the vision test at the DMV. My brand-new driver's license said that I was only legal to drive if I was wearing glasses. The thing was, I didn't have glasses. (Please note: somehow they let me take the driving part of the test even though I failed the vision test. I have no explanation for any of the incredulous parts of this story. I'm only reporting what happened.) I didn't get glasses for 18 months. I was driving my grandmother's old 1971 Pontiac Catalina, an enormous boat of a vehicle with dicey brakes. I couldn't see clearly, and, without glasses I have absolutely no depth perception at all.

So driving on highways was terrifying. At least on city streets I could slow way up in advance (or what I thought was advance) of the stoplights. and inch my way forward. (Why did I never know the street names in my hometown? Because I couldn't read the street signs. Dur.) On the highway, cars came and went at wholly unpredictable speeds. Off ramps were hard to gauge. Signs impossible to decipher until I was so close to them I no longer had space to appropriately react.

No wonder I was terrified.

Then I got glasses. I could see everything just fine, I'd never had an accident while driving blind (and, to this day, have never had an accident that was my fault). Yet the terror of driving on the highway remained. I got my truck in 2001--a big, beautiful, quad-cab dually diesel F-350--I love it and always felt safe driving it--the sucker could pull a house out of a bog--I felt competent with my gooseneck horse trailer. Yet I still felt anxious each and every time I hit the highway: heart rating rising, muscles tensing. I never connected the dots to understand why.

Then my son turned 15 and began to drive. Not only was he comfortable driving, he enjoyed it. One of the first times he drove us out on the highway I was nearly dizzy with anxiety. The thought of him having to do what I still steeled myself for, after all these years--I chattered an endless stream of advice and consolation.

"Mom," he said, "Driving on the highway is easy."

"The cars come up so fast--" As I said that, I realized that he actually wasn't anxious at all. For the first time ever, I put it into words: "I've always hated driving on the highway."

"Mom," my son said patiently, "That's because you couldn't see."


He was right. I was afraid because I back then I couldn't see. Now I could see. I no longer needed to be afraid.

It sounds like it should have been the most obvious thing, but it hadn't been. "You couldn't see," my son said.

I began to relax.

I quit dreading highway trips. I don't think I'll ever enjoy driving, but I started minding it a lot less. Last winter, when the horse shipper I'd always trusted proved untrustworthy, my coach and I brainstormed other ways of getting my horse south, until the obvious solution slid into my head. I'll drive her. I'll drive my truck and trailer to Florida myself.

My aunt came with me when we headed down. I was super glad of her company, not just for the long drive but for the several days she stayed with me afterwards. She, my uncle, and my daughter are the only family members that share my passion for horses. We had a lot of fun.

On the way back, I felt like I needed to make the trip alone, if only to prove to myself that I could. And I did. I listened to Emma on tape until the tapes started getting wonky (my truck contains the world's oldest tape deck) and the English accents a little too sonorous. Somewhere in the middle of South Carolina I switched to the audio of Bill Bryson's new book about the summer of 1927. It was perfect listening for the dark highways, the long long stretch of night.

When I pulled Sarah off the trailer it was just past midnight. I turned her out in the big pasture. She squealed and galloped away. I shut off the truck lights. Above me the sky glittered with a thousand stars.  I could see them all, sharp and bright.