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Pondering the Puzzlement

I don't like cars

Jack Deatherage, Jr.

(10/1) I don't like cars. They cost too much to buy, insure, drive and maintain. They also require a good deal more manual dexterity and focused attention to drive safely than I am usually able to muster.

Unlike 99% of the people I know who drive cars, I don't think I'm a "good" driver! Given my feelings toward cars, I'm seldom surprised when I have bad dreams involving the wheeled cages that confine many a lunatic. (My car should be equipped with a driver's side straightjacket and automatic tranquilizer gun.)

Years ago, a bad dream brought me out of bed gasping with a panic that left me fearful of ever getting in a car again. In the dream, I was sitting behind the driver as we moved slowly down a long gravel lane with barbed wire fences close on either side. It was full night.

The gravel and wire were so bright in the headlights' glow that I couldn't make out who the figure was walking in the middle of the lane ahead of the car. It was someone familiar to me, a larger than average man in an Army field jacket. At the time, I had several friends who fit that description. There was no sound in the dream as the car accelerated, the figure sliding up onto the car's hood and ending up spread eagle across the windshield.

I watched the speedometer climb to 50mph. I yelled at the driver to STOP! Which he did, slamming on the brake, causing whoever was across the windshield to slide off onto the road while the car skidded over him. Evidently, killing a man, even in a dream, has an adverse affect on me.

Enough time passed for me to forget the nightmare until I watched a friend come sliding across the hood of a car. There I was, behind the driver again, only now I recognized everyone as the car engine roared and we accelerated down the same barbed wire enclosed lane. When the speedometer hit 50mph, I gritted my teeth and refused to yell STOP. The car was hitting 60 when I leaned forward and spoke calmly into the driver's ear.

"Take your foot off the gas and slow down. Just let off the gas and slow down. Let him get off the car."

The car began to slow. The speedometer read 50mph when the fellow next to me screamed STOP!

There was a long moment, as the dust settled around us after the car skidded to a halt, in which I knew our collective stupidity had just ended a life. I doubt I was the only one in that car who would have given his own life to start the night over again.

The driver at least was going to jail for vehicular manslaughter, not that the rest of us weren't as guilty for having urged him into the monumentally stupid act. As stunning as that thought was another crowded me and would haunt me for years after. I had changed my behavior from what the dream had shown I would do. I had chosen not to act as fate had ordained I would. The event played itself out in spite of me. Nothing I did changed anything!

For decades, that event has replayed in my head. Only recently have I come to understand that I did change my actions, which in the end is all any of us are likely to manage. I did not yell STOP, as fate would have me do. Nor did my friend on the windshield settle for his fate. He twisted as he slid off the car and managed to grab the bumper as the car went over him. Dragged for many yards down that lane before the car stopped, he survived to pull himself out from under it.

I'd like to claim I have since acted with forethought in every crucial moment of my life. I haven't. I struggle to remind myself that my choices do make a difference if only so I can sleep knowing I did what I thought was right.

So, I can't change what is preordained, but I can change how I respond? Did my not shouting STOP give my friend the extra moment he needed to figure out how he was going to survive being run over by the car? This gives me pause. If enough people refuse to act in accordance with fate, do they change their fate?

Read other articles by Jack Deatherage, Jr.