Considering how readily (and often) I get lost in thought, I have a remarkably keen sense of direction out in the actual world. Maybe it is some mysterious inner compass thing, or maybe just one more byproduct of a good memory, but either way, it's the reason I was able, thirty-some years later, to make my way back to Hanky Panky Road without the aid of GPS or Google Maps.
That's not to say my sense of direction is infallible. Just after I graduated high school, for example, on a trip from New Hampshire back to Pennsylvania with Little Sister, I took 17 East out of Binghamton instead of 17 West. We were 57 miles from New York City and over 200 miles from where we should've been before I realized it. When I called my mother from the next rest stop to tell her what had happened, she did not believe that I had taken a hundred mile wrong turn and instead accused me of making a deliberate and unauthorized detour to visit friends in Pennsylvania. This despite the fact that up to that point, I had mostly been a tediously rule-abiding teenager. Apparently, an unprecedented rebellion seemed a more likely explanation to my mother than the thought that I had suffered a rare navigational failure.
Little Sister was my copilot on that unintentionally extended trip, but the position was largely ceremonial because it was understood in our family that Little Sister had no sense of direction at all. Like many family truths, this one was built as much on mythologizing and retelling as it was on factual evidence. A surprisingly solid foundation can be built of exaggeration, though.
Years after our wrong-way road trip, Little Sister and I and the rest of the family were gathered at an unfamiliar hospital where my father was having surgery. The hospital was a warren of poorly marked corridors and none of the several wings had the same number of floors, which meant an elaborate elevator system, requiring transferring from one elevator "line" to another to reach certain destinations.
At one point, Youngest Sister, Little Sister, Dad's Girlfriend and I were making our way back to the waiting room from a meeting in the surgeon's office. A nurse had led us there so it was simply a matter of retracing the path backwards. Youngest Sister and I were in the lead, fifteen or twenty feet ahead of the other two when they started giggling behind us.
"We were just saying how glad we are that you guys are with us," Dad's Girlfriend explained. "If we were on our own, we'd be completely lost by now."
I pointed out that if we hadn't been there, they would probably have paid more attention on the way knowing that they would have to find their own way back. They expressed their doubts in a burst of cackling laughter.
A little while later, Dad had been moved to Recovery and we had moved to a different waiting room on a different floor of a different wing. Little Sister announced that she was going outside to make a couple of phone calls. Youngest Sister and I, deep in conversation or thought, let her go.
During a lull in the conversation a short time later, I looked at Youngest Sister and her husband and said, "Did we honestly just let her go outside by herself? We may never see her again."
We all laughed and then I said, "But seriously, how long has she been gone? And when should we start to worry?"
We did the math and figured out she'd been gone about twenty minutes and that we'd give her a little while yet before we sent out a search party.
When she walked back in fifteen minutes later, I immediately shared my joke about her getting lost and she laughed good-naturedly. Then I said, "You know, it's only so funny because it's such an exaggeration. Your sense of direction is not that bad."
She smiled sheepishly and said, "Well..." Then she told us about how she'd been in the elevator and a man had gotten on at one of the stops and pushed a button and she was so distracted that when he got off, she followed him out and had ended up in some weird maintenance room or janitor's closet before realizing what she'd done. She'd eventually made her way back to the elevator and to the ground floor and outside to make her phone calls.
Okay, maybe her sense of direction really is that bad, but at least her sense of humor's intact.
N is for Navigation
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