pass with care


I’m already running late because I can't get my bangs to curl the right way. My dad is losing patience and says, "Megan, NOW." We get outside and I have the nerve to ask him if I can drive to school. I have my learner's permit. He obliges because he's a nice dad and hands me the keys to his teal Saturn.

I start to back out of our unpaved driveway. Did I grab my lunch? Will Logan Pause sit next to me in Algebra class? Does this sweatshirt look too bulky? I look into the rearview mirror: Are my bangs curling under? Now I look next to me: is dad going to give me the silent treatment the whole way to school? Then, SLAM, CRUNCH, SHIT. Dad yells, "Jesus Christ". I can't even calculate what's happened. Behold, the left side-view mirror dangles like a dystopian Christmas ornament, a festoon of my teenage carelessness.

"Get out of the car."

I did and now the drive to school is DEADLY quiet, 30,000 Leagues Under the Sea quiet. I'm rehearsing apologies in my head but there isn't a dignifying excuse. My crime: not paying attention; the default state of my high school mind.

So, on a road trip from Albuquerque to Santa Fe on picturesque Highway 14 with a wreck-free driving record of almost twenty years, I notice the sign PASS WITH CARE. It refers to the broken yellow line dissecting the two-lane highway but it reads like wisdom to me.

An actress on my new job said to me in our 4:30 a.m. drive to work, "you are so aware." Haven't always been, but I'm working on it.

It's easy in the excitement and anxiety of a new job to rush to conclusions and expedite intimacy. I want to make friends so I dive into the first few days of meeting people with fidgety hope. But typically, introductions don't introduce you to a person's pain. You earn that over time. Every person is fighting a beautiful battle, so pass with care. Otherwise, it's like driving at night with no headlights. There is so much to learn from looking into other people's eyes or from looking out into nature's daily spectacle.

Like when pain washes the shores of someone's face or a jawline ripples with stress or someone's voice lilts with affection for something and you transition from the wormholes of your mind to a moment of recognition: this is all happening once; I want to be here for it because I have so much to learn. Life is a limited engagement; eighty summers as my friend Mark put it. Pass with care.

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© 2015 by Megan Ketch