I’m slowly growing accustomed to not checking my rearview mirror obsessively after passing a cop on the road.
I don’t have much to hide these ideas. Although I do speed still; I still conduct cruise-control experiments to maximize the miles-per-hour over the speed limit I can drive while still deemed innocent by state troopers. I drive with both ear buds in when the kids are asleep; an act my wife informed me was a crime, suggesting I take one bud out. I refused. One-ear-bud listening is like going to a concert and turning profile to the band performing the show. And yes, when it is a futile act, I don’t use my blinker, cruising across both lanes of highway like I own the road: who doesn’t love that easy-rider feeling?
It was this open highway nonchalance that last got me pulled over. It was New Year’s Eve, when 2015 became 2016, and I was driving home after midnight solo and sober from a wedding. The only thing that was keeping me up, aside from a fat pouch of tobacco, was an audiobook, Mary Karr’s Lit. A few hours on the road after a night of dancing and stealing streamed glimpses of the College Football Playoff, I was exhausted. The policeman pulled me over.
“Do you know why I pulled you over?”
“I was swerving between lanes a bit. I’m sorry about that. Just exhausted, that’s all.”
“Where you coming from?”
“Baltimore. A wedding.”
“Have you been drinking?”
His flashlight clicked on—a mini spotlight, scanning in between empty children’s’ car seats and finding chicken nugget containers and neglected toys.
He asked for my license and registration, which I provided. While he ran them through his onboard database, I sat and wondered what crime my nonchalant driving could be categorized as. Is it reckless driving if I’m the only one on the road? Reckless endangerment sounds like I would have to endanger others to be guilty. I wasn’t speeding. He could only bust me for changing lanes without signaling. Will that strike points on my record?
As I processed the possibilities, a calm came over me when I concluded I have nothing to hide.
Now that is something.
This having-nothing-to-hide business. It’s wild considering I once was a man who hid everything. I even hid me from myself in that self-delusional denial sort of way. I was afraid to look in the mirror. Literally, I’d grown afraid of the what the face looked like that stared back.
So, the road of self-acceptance and cash-register honesty—a when-no-one-is-looking honesty—was new to me. Brand spanking new. New-car-smell-off-the-lot kind of new. And in those early test drives, I had trouble growing accustomed to the comforts of clean, honest and decent living. I was perpetually waiting for the other shoe to drop. I couldn’t shake that feeling that some consequence loomed around the corner, waiting to smack me in the face. For so many years, consequences for past action—whether remembered or forgotten—kept an around the clock vigil around each corner.
That unaccustomed comfort scared me for years.
But, like a good addict, I got hooked on it. I replaced, gradually, some instant gratification pleasure centers of operation in my mind for deeper ones of prolonged satisfaction. Doing the right thing, even when no one is looking, just felt better. And when it comes to addictions, I have always been most feverishly hooked on that which makes me feel good.
I write all this to attempt to describe the joy I experienced this weekend.
Forty-eight hours with my wife. Just my wife. No kids. I wrote a few thousand words, read a few hundred pages. My wife and I talked. Really talked, with no interlocutors—phones, kids, responsibilities—to take our attention away from each other. We went to the movies twice. Enjoyed some much-needed alone time. Much needed, that time alone.
I did not have a single thought for what consequences waited for me at the end. I was not once choked with anxiety for the other shoe to drop. With responsibilities met, and kids safe with grandparents, I explored the notion of true bliss with the woman I love.