We were on a trip, back in the town where we spent about fifteen years. I was driving a rental car, and Liz was in the passenger seat. We were trying to find our way out of town and on to our next destination. She was following the GPS on the cellphone and telling me the turns.
We ambled through the streets toward the north end of town, stopped at the light before the turn onto the freeway. We had a full tank of gas and plenty of time. Liz said to turn left. The light turned green. I turned left.
Immediately a truck lunged at me. I sped up. Another vehicle, black and big, came whipping around the truck to the right. We would be destroyed. I jammed down the accelerator—contrary to my usual predilection for caution—and escaped a collision by a hair.
This might well have meant death. Both vehicles were coming fast and I wasn’t driving a tank. I swore at myself and merged onto the freeway.
I was at fault, of course. I had heard “Turn left” and had only been thinking Turn left. Which canceled a lifetime of preparing to turn left by waiting for the green arrow or waiting for traffic to clear. I knew not what heart attacks I left in my wake, only that we went on with our trip.
Why did I do that? Was it a gas bubble rising out of the swamp of eighty-one years? Was it a sudden urge to audition for a James Bond flick? Did it portend the inevitable jump off Planet Earth? I’ve spent the past week drinking wine with old friends and thinking about death.
It hasn’t gone into my dreams as yet. My only anxiety dreams are trying to assemble the cast—frisking around like chickens—for a show we’ve never rehearsed; or packing the van for a tour with a stage set that won’t fit; or finding that the van will only drive in reverse, so I have to strain around to steer backwards. Nothing fatal.
I don’t think I fear death; I only fear irresponsibility. I don’t want to leave a mess for other campers to clear. I don’t want to leave things undone—a neat trick, as I’m always working on something undone. I’d like to slip quietly out the door without letting the cats escape, but while I’ve played roles involving dementia, murder, or Lear’s heart bursting, I’d definitely be miscast as a suicide.
So as regards the near-accident, I’ll give the PTSD time to settle in and meantime write it up. I’ve often said that one perk of a career in the arts is that whatever shit happens, it’s raw material for my work.
That’s a good one.