I use Google Maps a lot. This is because I get lost nearly every time I have to go somewhere new. I don’t know why. I suppose I have terrible spatial reasoning, or whatever it is called when someone has extreme difficulty reading maps and self-navigating. When I was 17 I once got lost for nearly two hours trying to drive home from a birthday party a few towns over. It was dark and raining. I couldn’t get the de-fogging machine in my car to work so my windshield was cloudy. I almost ended up on a bridge that would take me into New York. I lived in central Jersey at the time. I think I pulled over to cry at one point. I had never felt so fucking stupid in my life.
I don’t know if this is an option that I’m supposed to change within the app, but lately Google Maps has stopped providing turn-by-turn walking directions. You know those short walks between the subway and your final destination? And it tells you that it will take five minutes to walk? And you click the string of dots that symbolize that walk, and it brings you the map, with your route highlighted? This. I do not like this. I need my directions in list form. I need the most specific, idiot-proof sequence of instructions possible. My route could be a straight damn line and I will walk for six minutes in the opposite direction. I think of the atlases that lived in my parents’ cars; large, frayed books with pages and pages of maps organized by neighborhood. I remember all of the lines, squiggly and straight, winding along roads we’d drive, trees and streetlights and mailboxes flashing by. All of those lines, so familiar in reality, so abstractly foreign on a flat page. None of the reassurance of a hovering blue dot, telling you exactly where you were.
I wonder how much time I have wasted, being lost.
I do so well with certainty. I got so many As in school because I approached my academics systematically: paying attention in class + taking notes + studying for tests + completing homework on time = good grades. I cracked the system early, but the ‘system’ was no complex underworld cheater’s hack, it was the actual system that I just conformed to, willingly and consistently. I was no one’s rebel. My teachers told me how to do well in their class and I took them at their word. I lived on honor roll. I graduated on time. I relished the praise, the red ink scribbles in the corners and margins of my essays. They were the cheering crowd at the end of the race; the destination sought and found.
Pregnancy, despite its inherent chronological certitude, seemed a much more circuitous route. Despite the directions I was given, offered from all sides, I still found myself floundering. Up was down, left was right. So many things were happening within my body I couldn’t control, and that was terrifying and infuriating. I consumed all manner of ginger: my nausea persisted, day and night. I stayed hydrated and fed around the clock: I almost collapsed in front of my sixth graders. The roiling gut, the cold sweat, my head spinning and heavy — these are not sensations I ever wanted to experience at the front of a class. I was set upon a road that contained twists and turns I could not predict or avoid. When it was all coming to an end, I felt all of the frustration and fear and pain in intense, short bursts. My midwife would tell me to push, and I had to obey, when all I wanted to do was demand: How? With what? For how long? I strained toward certainty, and then I arrived — with a baby in my arms, no less.
I’m lost again. I’m bearing so much extra weight, more than I’ve ever had before, and I feel every ounce of it. Maybe because I don’t have a concrete destination in mind. I know where I don’t want to be, and it’s where I am. Doing what I’m doing. And I feel a bit like I did that night all those years ago, alone in my car in the dark and the rain, approaching a bridge I didn’t intend to find. But this time, I do need the bridge, because going home isn’t an option. I’m scared. I don’t know how to get where I’m going. If I study the pattern, history tells me I’m going to end up where I’m supposed to be eventually. The journey is what makes life what it is, right? The journey sucks right now. I want turn-by-turn directions. I want specificity. I’m tired of wringing myself dry, of pushing myself for the sake of pushing myself, of reminding myself to stop comparing my ambition with other people’s successes.
To be honest, I’m tired of driving altogether. How often can I pull over and cry? When will I regain my energy? Ten years? Thirteen years? How do people do this? How do people function in multiple roles at once? I’m circling the same block, over and over. Windshields foggy. Someone give me the next step. Because I can’t see it.
Originally published at www.carlawaslike.com.