Karen Rivers

Mixing metaphors with reality to make a mess.

Karen Rivers

It's easier to talk about everything using metaphors, let's agree to that at the outset.   It doesn't matter if you mix them.  Mixed metaphors are fine here.  Who is judging?  No one reads personal blogs anymore, we've already established that!  Heart laid bare.  Fine.  Boring.  Whatevs.  Buzzfeed is more compelling.  It's funny!  Everyone likes funny things.  And lists.  Who doesn't like a list?  Hearts are so nineties or something.  Everyone has a heart of their own.  We all bare them sometimes.  Other times we bear them.   I mean, what's the choice there?   You can't operate a vehicle without one, or anything else for that matter.


Here's something true:  There is a particular stretch of highway that I sometimes have to drive that terrifies me.  People drive this stretch of highway all the time and nothing happens.  Their car hurtles around the corners, firmly between the lines (when you can see them, when they aren't obscured by snow and ice).  The fact of the highway and the way it is carved into the mountain and the steep drops off both sides doesn't seem to bother them. They're listening to their Sirius satellite radio while texting surreptitiously on the phone on their lap and drinking a coffee and thinking about the game last night and whether or not the dog should go to the vet about that cough and trying to remember that guy's name from highschool who always wore the pink shirt with the collar up.  And all the while, their car does what it should and they get from Point A to Point B without thinking about it.  They're lucky, right?   

What I do is this:  The night before I have to drive on the highway, I lie in bed awake and I imagine all the ways it could go wrong.  Every single one.  And there are a lot:  The various spots where the car, skidding out of control, might go off the road.  The way my seatbelt might or might not save me.  The way the back of a passing semi might start to skid, pushing me into the emptiness of the space beyond the guard rail.   I imagine the most terrible things, twisted metal and broken glass and of course blood and sirens and going to the light or not.  I try on all the ideas for size, and in doing so, I save myself from them. 

Everyone knows this works because nothing happens the way you imagine it will.  So if you imagine it all going wrong, then it won't.   It's a Universal Law.   Isn't it?

 

 

This is the part where it turns into a metaphor.  I feel the need to point that out.  I won't say what it's a metaphor for because everyone already knows and I don't want to embarrass all of us by overexplaining.  

 

So say relationships are road trips.  Oh, I said I wasn't going to say what it was and then I did.  Well, scripts are made to be rewritten.  Editing in real time is fine.  It's allowed.  It's my blog, anyway, and I make the rules.  


Relationships are hard, says Captain Obvious, who is in charge of saying the thing that everyone already knows.   


So let's say you decide to go on this relationship.  I mean, this roadtrip.  You start with two people.  You both agree to get into the car.  You both have a lot of things to pack in the trunk.  Big bags and little ones.   Some have been locked pretty tightly.   Others don't really matter, but you still have to bring them because they are part of you.  Some of them are newly and badly filled.   Too messy, too much in one container.   In each bag are both of your histories.  His bags look pretty well organized.  Exceptionally clean, on the outside anyway.  He only has a few.  You have a lot.   But more bags doesn't necessarily mean more complications, you know?   Captain Obvious knows, but then again, he knows everything.  He already knows how this one ends.  You probably do, too. 

 

You're a bit ashamed of the way your bags look.   You tried to clean them up, but there's dog hair stuck to them.  You can never get all the hair off.  It's annoying, but what can you do?  You pick the hairs off one by one, but there always seems to be another one.  (That's another metaphor buried within the first metaphor.  You really have to want to decode this to make sense of it.  I'm sorry about that, but not really.)  

 

You put your mismatched set of junky past next to his more pristine, seemingly cleaner set. You're a bit worried about what he must be thinking about the lint situation, putting those dog hairs into his clean car.  Get the crumbs off your bags, you slob!  It's fine, he says.  Your bags are fine.  You know he's lying but it's the beginning of the trip, you both lie a little, maybe.  You stand beside the car and look at it, you and this other person.  Then in quiet agreement, you each take one small extra box and tuck it gently in with all the other stuff.  (In hindsight, you'll wish you packed that last thing in a better box.  He did, you find out later.  His had more padding, more built-in safety features.  You should have used some kind of fireproof safe!  But you didn't.)  You smile at each other.   It's going to be OK, you think, when you see the way he smiles.  It's not everything, but it's something.   You both get into the car.   You buckle up.  You're not dumb enough to drive without doing that, at least.

Say it's a convertible.  Why not?  Say it's a nice day, the sun is shining.  There isn't any ice.  Why would there be ice?  Say it's the summer or just that it's winter and global warming is making it prettier than it really is.  There's a song on the radio that you both like, for different reasons.   Music echoes history and history is a pretty personal thing.  Neither of you are good singers but it's a beautiful day, like I said, and the wind is going to grab your off-keyness and throw it behind the car so fast, it will be like it never happened.  You sing.  

The night before you left on this particular road trip, you didn't lie awake and imagine accidents and lost limbs and blood and broken glass.  You had a good sleep.   Your dreams were light.  You woke up feeling happy.   The place you are going together, you're excited about.   You got ahead of yourself, it's true.  Why not?  Sometimes you're just happy.   You both did it, you just went different ways with it.  That happens.  

You went ahead and pictured skis swishing on perfect powder, the shower of snow like diamonds glittering against the blue sky, the sharp clear air you'd breathe.  You used to be scared of skiing, actually, but you aren't anymore.  You're feeling safe.  You know it's going to be fine, fun, perfect.  Idealized.  Why not?  Other people do things like this.  You can be one of the others now.   You can choose that.    

You're so focussed on the destination itself that you're forgetting the stretch of highway that's between you and the place you're going.  (Idiot, says Captain Obvious, chortling.)  This other person seems like a good driver.  You absolutely trust him.  Not driving alone makes you feel lighter and happier and the sun is gorgeous and the sky and there's a bird flying by and it's some kind of swan or a sign like that, and everything is good, even the metaphors.  The song changes, you mutually decide it sucks, and change over to a different one.  Neither of you have heard it before, so you can't sing along, but it carries you anyway.  Buoys you up.   The road slips away under the tires and you're really comfortable.  You're good.  You say something funny and he laughs and you laugh and you like the way his eyes crinkle when he laughs and you think there is nowhere that you'd rather be than in this car with this person and even though this is a terrifying stretch of road, you've almost forgotten that it is, that's how things are.  

(I didn't say it wasn't a long metaphor.  If you've stopped reading, that's fine, too.  It won't change the outcome that you forgot to worry about.  It's going to happen anyway.   Things do, whether you've pictured them or not.)  

When the song ends, you're suddenly a little uneasy about feeling comfortable and the next song that comes on, you're suddenly too nervous to sing along with. You've forgotten how to sing.  What if he hates your singing voice?  What if he hates this song?  What if you do?  Have you thought about whether or not you even like it?  What makes you decide to like a thing or not like a thing?   Have you thought about that?  At all?   It's a good thing it isn't icy, you think, suddenly remembering to be terrified of the road. The sky is blue still and the sun is out.  Think about the skiing, you tell yourself.  Think about the hotel and the food and the way you feel when you smile at each other, relieved that you're finally safe.  Think about that.  But you're breathing too fast now.  It's too late.  You're suddenly scared.  

 

And then, of course, before you can even articulate what might happen, there's the patch of ice.  There it is. It's already happening.  You were barely even on the scary road!  You'd just set out!  But the ice is under the wheels.  He does the wrong thing.  Well, you think it's the wrong thing, of course you do, because you know the aftermath.  He saw the ice before you did.  He'd already imagined it while you were thinking about how great everything was going to be.  He was already steering the car into the skid or away from it, whichever one you aren't supposed to do.  And then there's the guard rail, splitting things open, the trunk is dumping all your boxes and bags all over, mixing them up, your histories mingling and creating a path behind your spinning skidding car and everything ugly is everywhere and those two small boxes, finally coming free are being flattened under the wheels of your own car, the fun convertible, which is now skidding on the mess you've made, first one and then the other, those boxes are small, you don't see it at first, how it happened, you're just so surprised.

 

What happened, you keep thinking.  What happened?

 

But you're not dead.  It's fine.  I don't want to spoil the story, but you're both still standing, outside the car now, on the road.  You're shaking.  Well, it was scary.  It was close.  But you're alive.  No one is bleeding.

 

You're OK.   That's a lie, says Captain Obvious, who always shows up at times like these.  You're both crying. You'd put your hearts in those boxes.  Why did you do that?  Why did you pack those damned things?  It was just a quick trip, it wasn't forever.  It was too soon, of course.  Both of you are guilty.  You'd both forgotten, for different reasons, how to prepare for trips like this one.   You never should have done that, either of you.   But you did.  You did that.  You didn't protect your hearts nearly well enough.  What were you thinking?  

 

You morons, crows Captain O., who lives for moments like this one.

 

You look at each other, shocked.  Do you even know each other at all?   What happened?   

 

Then from around the bend, you hear the sirens.  They're coming for you.  They'll wrap you in blankets and the right things to say and they'll try to put your hearts back the way they were, but they'll be different.  They'll be bruised.  

 

Your eyes will meet, in the back of an ambulance.  I'm sorry, your eyes will say to each other over and over and over again.  It was just that we forgot to pack properly.  We weren't ready.  We got ahead of ourselves.  I'm sorry.  And I'm sorry.  

 

It won't matter how sorry, because it will hurt just as much.   Impact does that.  

 

Anyway, another thing is, you don't know how to ski.  You thought you'd learn fast enough to catch up, that it would be easy, but things aren't easy, not for you, not with the way you do them.  Nervously.  Awkwardly.  You made a mistake by getting into the car without remembering that the road was really the worst, even when it looked safe, it just isn't.  It never is.  

 

Some crows land on the road and start pecking at the crumbs on an exploded suitcase where your past looks particularly grisly.  Crows are such merciless scavengers.  Take it all, you tell the crow.  I don't want it.  I never did.  I just wanted to go on this one trip without any bags.   We could have bought new stuff on the way.   We could have started over.  We shouldn't have brought anything.  We should have left our hearts in our chests where they're the safest, trapped as they are behind muscle and bone.   

The ambulance will take you to separate hospitals.  You don't know how the story ends.  You just know that this time, that patch of ice... You should have known it was there, but you didn't.  You weren't looking.  You always have to be looking, even when it's not your turn to drive.  Never take your eyes off the road.  If you'd seen it, if the sun had shone a certain way and it had glinted, you could have changed all this.   Well, you can't beat yourself up about it.  Next time, you think, you'll get better luggage.  Matching, clean, no crumbs or doghairs, packed pristinely.   You'll try to pack so much better and have so much less stuff -- Kon Mari that crap --  so that even if the car gets bumped, it won't spill everywhere, making a patch of oil on the highway, an accident you can't prevent from happening, a chain-reaction that you can't control.  

You miss him already. You miss the place you thought you were going, the way it didn't matter that you sang off-key, the way you felt when you forgot to worry about the conditions.  Not worrying is liberating, even though it's stupid.  

Well, says Captain Obvious, leaning back in the guest chair, eating some leftover pie.  You never know.   And he's right, you don't.  The ice is either there, or it isn't, hidden in the shadow of some kind of beautiful bird that distracted you, just for a moment, when you should have been paying better attention.  But you're happy it happened, after all.  You loved the freedom of not having to scrutinize every danger.  You loved seeing the way the bird's wings pushed the air down beautifully, perfectly, the way the bird rose up easily into the sun, not worrying about you and what you were thinking, the way that birds don't. Not like people.  Certainly not like us, too heavy with everything to even leave the ground in the first place, unless our car is pushed by something we didn't see coming, past the guard rails, into the great unknown.