Getting Back on the Horse

I hit I-5 at 6:00 this morning, heading to Seattle for Elliot care. My anxiety level is high after my trauma/drama on Friday when the car broke down in heavy traffic. As always, though, the drive from Centralia to Olympia at daybreak is beautiful, as the sun splits open the sky over the prairie and patches of ground fog soften the landscape. Gradually my stomach unclenches in the midst of the beauty.

I tried to figure out a way to take the train and avoid the interstate this trip, feeling shell-shocked, but it didn’t work out. Besides, I’m going to have to get back on the proverbial horse eventually.

As I drive, I think about other times I’ve had to remount. There was a spectacular spill from my first full size bicycle at some point before third grade. My big sister Jo Ann had won a new blue Schwinn as the grand prize winner in the Olympia Pet Parade, wearing pajamas that nominally looked like something a Chinese coolie might wear, and a green broad-rimmed straw hat. Hanging in two cages at the ends of a bamboo pole carried across her shoulders were her pet crow Whitey and two kittens. (The ensemble would probably not be considered a culturally appropriate portrayal today; but no one was thinking about that in 1960.) I was the winner of her old blue Schwinn. As I rode it down the hill on the rural road in front of our house, I hit the gravel on the shoulder and went flying, resulting in gravel-imbedded palms and knees. I don’t know how long it was before I got back on that bike, but I certainly did and rode it (and later the prize bike) for many years all over the hill I live on again now.

I come upon the first highway back-up at Nisqually Valley. I have never figured out why traffic backs up there, but it often does. Today I think it’s the slant of the sun in driver’s eyes. My palms are sweaty as I inch along. The recorded book I’ve been listening to comes to an end: Naked in Baghdad by Anne Garrels. I’m feeling a little of PTSD, I realize, and I’m not sorry to move on to more gentle listening.

I don’t remember ever falling off my actual horse, but she certainly tried to scrape me off on the trees that lined the narrow trails in her hurry to return to the barn. I had to pull my knees up onto the saddle, making myself no wider than she was and hold on tight. Even after those scary episodes, I went on to ride another day.

The new tape is one my friend Kristie loaned me, by the poet David Whyte. As I clear the first traffic back-up and head for the next one at the Tacoma Dome—grateful to sail through Fort Lewis, the site of Friday’s breakdown—the author is talking about when life feels like too much you have to literally get out of the house and into nature, where you can reset your batteries. That is where I go when I need a respite before I get back on the horse. The first 30 miles today were that a little bit; but I would rather be on a mountain trail.

The Tacoma Dome stop and roll is worse than the one through Nisqually. I’m on the inside lane with no shoulder, four lanes over from safety. I have to keep wiping my hands on my pants and I keep thinking the engine is running rough, but it’s my imagination. I distract myself.

I recall my brief sojourn into skiing in junior high. The second or third year of riding the ski bus to the slopes every other week for a couple months, I hit a dip in the fog and fell off the narrow trail, rolling down the slope between two switch backs. I tore the ligaments in my ankle and have never been on skis since. It was a good excuse: I never much liked skiing.

I make it through a third slow down past the water park, bordering on panic when CuRVy seems to be slowing down on her own as I approach it; then realize the cruise control is regulating itself with the change in the grade of the road. The car is not going to stall, I tell myself over and over as I wipe my palms and breathe deeply to slow my pulse.

I was laid off from two much loved jobs in the past twenty years, each time having to get back on the job horse after tries at self-employment. And two important relationships also ended in the past twenty years. I haven’t gotten back on that one, finding I prefer riding solo accompanied by sister travelers on horses of their own.

When I get to the West Seattle bridge and begin braking for the five lane back-up into the city, I’ve had enough. I take the bridge exit. I did not correctly navigate this route last Monday, but I’m willing to try it again. And I don’t get it right this time either, but I arrive without having to deal with traffic, and that’s just fine with me.

Sometimes it’s okay to abandon the horse; and sometimes the one we fall off of is not the one we need to get back on. But I love driving and exploring, and I love my grandson and his moms; so I’m back in the saddle again.

PS: The problem on Friday was a worn out rotor in the distributor. CuRVy is the proud owner of a whole new assembly.

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