I was sitting in the car, idling, in the middle of a country road, even though there was no stop sign. I recognized the round barn. Really, I did.
I just couldn't remember what side of the road it was supposed to be on.
It was all that truck driver's fault. If he hadn't been driving so slow, in his stupid rusty truck, all beat-up and farmy looking, with his stupid shirts hung up all stupidly beside his stupid self in the passenger seat like they were another stupid person...Stupid Jerk...I wouldn't have passed him.
And if I hadn't have passed him, I might not have ended up at the four way stop at the same moment I did. And if I hadn't arrived then, I might not have ended up behind the freak of nature I ended up behind, in his equally stupid truck, this one pulling two trailers filled with some kind of farm chemical, proving once and for all what a jerk he was.
Because you shouldn't introduce all those chemicals into the environment. That's how kids get born with gills.
So I turned off the road. So what? I know my way around. Usually.
The problem was that Mom kept telling me what direction to go, then she stopped. Had she kept going, I would never have gotten confused. And if she had never done it at all, I would have been paying closer attention. Yeah.
Finally, I determined I should go right, only to have Mom correct me. I would have ended up at 114 again. And I wanted 16. I wasn't going back to North Manchester (or Warsaw). I was supposed to be driving home. With new wool, no less (Malabrigo Sock, Archangel).
So I turned left. Dang it. I did.
And as I drove on, I wondered how long ago the problems I had with directions started. And I think I have it figured out.
I remember a classroom. Little Laura was sitting at a desk, which, depending on her age, was either much too big or much too small for her frame.
The teacher, undoubtedly clad in the ever-popular J.C. Penny house-dress so many of my teachers lived in, was explaining North, South, East, and West to us, using a map on the wall. "North," she said. "Is that way."
She pointed directly in front of me, toward the wall I was facing.
Right. I thought. If I look at my map, I am facing North. And I am facing North. That means behind me is South.
"And North will always be that way," the teacher continued. "So what direction is this way?"
"South" we all chorused.
"What about this way?"
"East!" we shouted, now confident in our new found skill.
"And that is where they will always be," she said.
Right. So if I remember that North is in front, South is behind, East is to my right, and West is left, just like on the map, I will never be lost. But all that changes if I turn the map around. Then I have to turn to. Right? Yes.
The teacher then turned the class around.
"Which way are we facing now?" she asked us.
"South," some of the kids cried (correctly). Others shouted "East" or "West" but there was one other response. A very tiny "North."
Guess who that was.
"No," the teacher said to me, patiently. "North is that way."
"But you said North is in front of me," I replied sweetly, honestly confused.
"It was there, but now it is behind you."
"But North never changes," I countered.
"But it just did."
"Because you changed," the teacher replied, now somewhat frustrated.
"But the map says North," I pointed. The map, you see, had turned with me. "And that's the compass rose!"
"It is," the teacher said, again proving me right. "But because the compass rose didn't move, and North did--"
HA! I thought. So North does move!
"North moved?" I said.
"No," the teacher replied.
"But you said it did."
"You moved. And the map moved."
"What about the wind," I said ominously, holding up an index finger. "Could that have something to do with it?" I reflected on my father, standing in my front yard facing--you guessed it--North, licking his index finger and holding it up to feel the direction of the wind.
"Gotta love that North wind!" he would say. Or, "What a biggie North wind!" North wind, North wind! So the wind always came from the North, since Dad never mentioned it otherwise.
And Dad knew all about directions. He would always point out the moss on trees, telling me the moss was on the North side. Unfortunately, at the time, I was also facing North.
Then he would grab a hunk of weeds and tell me when the world ended, I was supposed to eat them.
"When the world ends," he said kindly. "You grab this and boil it, and then you have coffee."
For years I thought I kept missing the time of year when the tiny weeds would grow coffee beans. I thought it must always happen near my birthday, when I was at Grandma's house.
"And remember," he said. "That's a raccoon footprint. And eat this weed after the rapture."
Because in my dad's mind, I would be left behind after the rapture, despite the fact that I was a good little girl who went to church and Sunday school, with my own Bible.
"Watch for bears," he would say, thrusting berries at me. "They like to eat these. Make sure you check before you eat them. You might need to know all that."
Yes, Dad knew how to stay alive. So if he said North was that way, by darn, it was.
The teacher looked at me; I looked at the teacher.
And then the bell rang, the class broke apart, all of us going back to homeroom with the promise of more fun confusion tomorrow. Like how to not read Roman numerals, or how to look at the clock and tell what time it is in ten seconds or less, using half-past and quarter-till as I stared on in confusion, still stuck on why they used the little hand for hours when hours were longer than minutes anyway.
What is up with that?
So it goes without saying that I had more important things to do than learn which way was North, really. I mean, if no one ever mentioned it again, it mustn't be that important, right?
That was why I failed "Directions" in Driver's Ed, while poor Erica drove in circles waiting for me to tell her to turn or go straight out of the parking lot and the teacher refused to help me.
And that was why I was stopped in the middle of the empty country road, thinking about moss and handfuls of weeds I should cook up for dinner instead of salmon and brown rice.