Last night I drove home from work in the dark and pouring rain. I gripped the steering wheel, leaning forward, straining to see the reflective lane markers which were the single indication in the wet, reflective blur that told me where my lane was. The headlights from oncoming cars caused almost complete obliteration of the road in front of me thanks to my shitty windshield wipers. I kept my speed at 40-45 mph because I refuse to be the douchebag that holds up traffic just because it’s wet. A couple of times, I nearly hydroplaned as my tires attempted to slice through a few huge pools of standing water that hugged the edge of the road. The sound of rushing water underneath my car as I did so, and the massive spray of water that my vehicle cast off of the road reminded me of when that kind of mild danger was exciting.
The family car for most of my childhood was a big grey Ford van with a sliding door and two full rows of seats behind the drivers seat. with a maroon interior, AC roaring throughout most of the hot Florida summers, and those removable plastic cup holders that would hang from the windows. My mom usually drove everywhere. My dad breaked with his left foot and my mom chose handling the giant vehicle herself over having to endure my dad’s sea-sickness inducing driving.
Safety was key. My mom never sped. If she rose above the speed limit, she’d tell us girls she didn’t mean to and that and we were lucky no police cars were in sight. Traffic laws were obeyed, and my mom was audibly nervous about aggressive drivers. Sometimes she’d cry when we passed the scene of an auto accident. Needless to say, driving wasn’t much fun, not even with a Wee Sing Silly cassette tape spinning in the tape deck.
The rare times that my mom broke her own rules and threw caution to the wind caused sheer glee, though. One summer, we bounced up and down as she drove our van through the steep, winding roads of the Tennessee mountains. She took her hands off of the wheel as the car tilted down a steep hill. “Look, no hands! It’s a roller coaster!” We all put our hands up in the air, careful not to scream too loudly and end the game, huge smiles on our faces, watching the trees rush past us in a blur and the beautiful streams rushing in the gulleys, inviting our giant van into their depths. We taunted danger with smiles on our faces.
And then there was the time that the roads were flooded after a few days of steady rain. The sailing drops, like thousands of tiny drumsticks turned the roof of our van into a virtual snare drum, and the deluge hitting our windows and roof and splashing underneath our tires engulfed us. The giant puddles our van tore through as our mom drove excited us the most. We giggled and insisted “Faster! Faster, mom!” as our van plowed through standing water, sending dirty waves spraying out onto sidewalks, into yards, and over mailboxes nearly ten feet in the air. She reminded us that what she was doing was not safe. We didn’t care. “Faster! Do it again!” We felt like we were being bad, and it felt exciting. She indulged us.
Our family rarely courted danger, and rarely ventured out and tried new things. Childhood was mostly safe, and the dangerous things felt all the more dangerous — at times more exciting and at different times scarier than they needed to be. Dangerous like the Pixie Stix and Sprite we had for a snack. One rare time when my mom let us have that much sugar after school, we three girls sat at the kitchen table with my mom nursing our ration of the paper straws filled with tangy colored sugar. We dumped some of the powder into our sprite and watched the concoction nearly explode with fizzing, rising in our cups. We carefully sipped the sweet beverage, thousands of tiny bubbles popping and covering our noses in sugary wet mist. My mom played along as well, and then said, “I hope our stomachs don’t explode into a pile of blubber.”
I imagined the thick, fleshy lining of my stomach ripped open into pieces and laying in a mess inside my body, ending all sort of fun and abandonment. I looked at her as she smiled and took another sip of hers. I wanted her to stop. What if that’s what could happen? I peered into my cup and watched the fizzing die down. Could soda do that to me? This couldn’t be safe. Didn’t my mom know that she might hurt herself? My thoughts were racing and I honestly couldn’t tell if the danger was real or the fun kind of danger.
It still intrigues me that the risks we take provide the most fun. It’s a performance. A dance. A tightrope walk done with flair and disregard. At night, alone in the dark and rain, I’d remembered a time when barreling through rain was fun, risk be damned, and it made me wonder about what I chose to label as safe or fun. Some time ago, I allowed cigarettes to be my Pixie Stix, and cancer the blubber that threatened to jerk me from safety. Then there is taking someone at his or her word and allowing yourself to go for the ride, not knowing if disaster is around the bend. There is purchasing the dream that leaves you in debt. There is pulling up roots. There are times for closing doors. Opening doors. Leaving doors open a little bit longer. There is wondering what something will do to you and doing it anyway… Exhilaration holds hands with danger. Always has. The opportunity to make that coupling a threesome is always available. Not just for musing. You have to take the roller coaster ride to know the thrill.