When I met Flash, he hadn't been back in my country long. My country being Texas – it’s more than a state, to those of us who live here. Although Flash had lived here for a brief period in the 80s, he’d returned to his motherland, New Jersey. But in 1992, he defected again, this time for good.
Upon returning, he needed to be reassimilated. When I met him, he drove like he was still in Jersey, or in Indianapolis (500, to be exact). I think his need for speed was developed from years of creeping along with rush-hour traffic on the Jersey turnpike.
"Where did you say you're from?” I asked, soon after we started dating. “Germany?" (See “autobahn.”) Of course, Flash didn't think he drove fast.
“It always feels like you’re traveling faster in the passenger seat,” he explained. Indeed. Everywhere we go, in the same car, I arrive 15 minutes before Flash. I've spent many hours repenting of the trauma I put Mom through; she wore a hole through the passenger-side floorboard when I was learning to drive. What we inflict on our mothers always comes around.
I asked God to slow Flash down, even if it meant speeding tickets. I’d finally found Mr. Right, and wanted him around for a long time. I wanted me around, too. After Flash's fifth ticket in a year, he slowed down his giddy-up. For a while. Then, he regressed. But he has progressed in the area of Road Communications; rather than yelling at other drivers in decibels that jolt my sanity, he critiques them in quieter tones, and with more appropriate language. He kicked the habit of hitting the steering wheel every time he had to stop for a red light, and no longer reenacts Starsky and Hutch chase scenes when someone cuts him off in traffic. He is partially reformed.
Unfortunately, I’m not. I still gasp when Flash is about to Monster Truck crawl up onto the car in front of us. Or I sharply inhale air through my teeth; it sounds like a snake. And I’ve perfected covering my face while simultaneously bracing myself with my feet on the dashboard, waiting for impact, when other drivers cut in front of us without Flash’s slowing down to let them in. Riding shotgun with Flash is the equivalent of riding in the first car on a roller coaster. I’m tempted to close my eyes, raise my hands in the air, and scream like a banshee. But I refrain, for the sake of my marriage.
Still, my innocent, fear-induced sounds make Flash flinch, which makes him slam on the brakes. Which makes me hiss. It's a vicious circle. And that's just in a school zone.
The passenger-side mirrors on our cars proclaim, "Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear." The cars behind us look further away, even if they’re a millimeter behind us.
But, when I’m looking ahead through the passenger-side windshield, the opposite is true. Objects five feet in front of me look close enough to touch. Why isn’t that warning on the windshield? "Objects in front of you appear closer than they are. The passenger windshield magnifies objects 400X their normal size." This phenomenon explains why I have to use a Lexapro inhaler before I dare to ride. I have visions of myself, dressed in a little blue dress with a white pinafore, tumbling through the air every time Flash quickly closes the gap between us and the car in front of us - Alice Through the Magnified Looking Glass at 120 mph.
“Flash, slow down.”
“I’m going 75.”
“The speed limit’s 65.”
“I’m keeping up with the flow of traffic.”
“We’re in a parking lot. And you should be a car’s length behind the car in front of you,” I continued. “I can see the driver in front of us; he’s wearing hair plugs.”
“Whatever. You need help for your anxiety.”
“Yes, it’s called Uber. Can you please get off his tail?”
“I’m fine. I just looks like I’m too close from your side of the car. The same thing happens to me when you’re driving.”
“Really? The same thing? Can you see the whites of a squirrel's eyes right before his guts are gonna fly? Do you see every approaching bird as it recites the Lord’s Prayer? You’re a horror movie on wheels. And I don’t hear you hissing. If my driving terrified you, there’d be sound effects.”
“I have permanent teeth marks in my lip, and I carry a bullet to bite when you take us to the freeways. In my mind, I’m screaming like Janet Leigh in Psycho.”
“So, I’m the Norman Bates of the vehicular world?”
“Yes, you’re nuts,” he said, calm and serene, as we flew down the road like a bat out of Talladega. “You drive too slowly. And stop making those noises; you’re going to make me wreck.”
“My trauma is going to make you wreck?”
“Every time you do that snake hiss, I hit the brakes, unnecessarily, to see who’s about to hit us. The last time you did it, an armadillo was walking along the shoulder of the road, nowhere near my path.”
“He looked scared; word is out on the street for all God’s creatures to watch for you. Your mug shot is in every wildlife refuge in the state. And brakes are a good thing. I saved Lylas from a wreck once, with my noise skills. As a car headed right for us, I screamed, “Crunch!” She thanked me, after she swerved to avoid a collision. Passenger warning noises should be taught in Defensive Driving. Did they cover that in any one of the 500 courses you’ve taken? You should use a Groupon next time.”
Still, the speeding continued. I tried reciting scriptures. I wore blindfolds. I bought a rear-facing car seat and sat in the back seat with Cowboy. Still, the world was passing by at the speed of light. It was time to bring up the past.
“Remember when you got five tickets in one year?”
“Yes. That was awful. Lots of money wasted. But I’ve slowed down,” the delusional man said.
“And you almost lost your license?”
“What’s your point?” He glared at me.
“What do you mean, you prayed?”
“I prayed God would slow you down, and then you got all those tickets.”
“Oh, my gosh. You prayed I’d get speeding tickets?”
How Flash reached that conclusion explains marital communication, in a nutshell. I say one thing, he hears another.
“No,” I answered, speaking slowly and clearly, “I prayed you would slow down.”
After my revelation, when his right foot got a little heavy on the accelerator, I'd lean over, glance at the speedometer, and sweetly say, "I'm going to pray."
"Don't you dare," he'd counter, as he lifted his foot off the gas. It worked for years.
In Flash’s defense, sometimes he speeds to help us save face. We've arrived late to many events through the years: weddings, church services, meetings, doctor appointments, and holiday dinners. Flash blames it on me.
"I was always on time, until I met you," he lied one day.
"Yes, and wasn't life boring? And structured? And stifling?"
"No. Being late stresses me out."
"So, you've been uptight for the last 24 years?"
"Yes. Because of you."
"And who did you blame before that? Father Time? Watch batteries? Space-time continuum? Everyone is late sometimes."
“I wasn’t.” I saw a tear in the corner of his eye, as he turned away.
In spite of my happy-go-lucky approach to promptness, there are times when I try harder to be on time. It’s one thing to have to sneak into a wedding after the prelude music starts, but the worst tardiness is being late to a funeral.
Last month, we attended an out-of-town funeral. Everything was going fine; we weren’t late to visitation the night before. Of course, visitation involved a span of time, which made it easier for us. The next morning, Flash and I were ready at the same time, which ranks up there with Jesus Christ's turning water into wine. It was one of those glorious times when we weren’t proclaiming, “I was waiting on you,” and “No, I was waiting on you,” as we both tried to be the first one in the car, ready to leave.
As we started traveling to the funeral home, I pulled up Google Maps. We’d underestimated our travel time; we had a 30-minute drive to get to a funeral that would start in 18 minutes.
“Flash, we're late, we're late, for a very important date. This is family. We have to get there.”
I felt the car launch into high speed, like the Batmobile does when Batman hits the Bat Button. So I did what I always do in times of mandatory rapid transit. I looked away, pretending we weren’t speeding. Occasionally, I said, “Flash, don’t speed. It’s okay; we’ll make it.” It made me feel more moral to say that out loud. Flash slowed down by one mile per hour.
But deep in my soul, I knew I had to pray about Flash’s driving again. Please, Lord, don’t let us get any tickets. Please. I know we’re breaking the law, but we need to be on time for this. We don’t want to offend anyone. That’s a sin too, right? Offending people by walking in during a ceremony to remember a loved one? Please keep us safe and make every light green.
We’re the epitome of “You’re going to be late to your own funeral.” But I’d rather be late to my own than someone else’s. Relief swept over us as we pulled into the parking lot with two minutes to spare, and the car that had been speeding in front of us was driven by a fellow pallbearer. God was faithful; we wouldn’t have to walk in alone.
I silently thanked God for getting us there in time. We’ll have to be more careful with planning our time. No more speeding, I vowed to myself. After the service, as we sped down country roads to keep up with the procession to the cemetery, I reasoned, This doesn’t count. We can’t have gaps in the line. So, with the exception of the procession, we were reformed.
Until it was time for Flash to drive us back to Houston. I hissed all the way home.