Dammit! I Can't Win

Dark and so late (you know the drill)- I was driving aimlessly, wandering, around town in my Dad’s rusty Subaru- looking for answers to life’s complexities in the hum of the engine and a warm bottle of Dr. Pepper. As I stopped at an absurd middle of the night red light, an unusually bright flash of headlights filled the car. I glanced back to see the bright lights quietly hide from view as the car behind pulled up so close that I couldn’t see the lights directly- only the strong ambient glow as they lit up my dirty back window like a “soft-white” light bulb.

My familiar squint dropped away as, looking forward once again, I could just barely see the traffic light going the other way turn from green to yellow, and in the same moment I could tell that the lights behind me jolted just a little. “Jeez. In a hurry?” Finally the light turned green and I began to accelerate. The bright headlights in my back window reappeared briefly, then disappeared right up behind me again, then reappeared, just barely, and didn’t dim. Subconsciously something seemed wrong with that pattern of light so I looked back to see the headlights looming menacingly right behind the window! “Holy $##!@” I thought out loud, “This guy is really riding me!” Passive as I am- I hate conflict. Too passive- I let people walk all over me.

“You know what? I shouldn’t have to take this from this nut! I have had it with letting people get away with whatever they want. For once I am going to be assertive. It’s healthy. For once I am going to stand up for myself!” And so I hit my brakes. The lights, already dangerously close, zoomed up so close that they disappeared again below the edge of the window. The object of the “This is what you get for tailgating me, asshole” game is to go slow enough to infuriate the asshole, but not so slow as to entice him to pass you. I held at a comfortable ten miles below the rarely observed speed limit. My pursuer immediately pulled into the oncoming lane to look for a pass, but decided against it and pulled back in behind me. The furious headlights now bounced and swerved around in the window- seemingly a perfect representation of the white, stretched, knuckles, and clenched, digging, fingernails that surely followed me. I smiled sadistically.

Finally, enraged, the faceless vehicle swerved out around me again and gunned it. I slammed on the gas too, hoping to make it at least a little difficult to pass me, but the death car zoomed by my “four-banger” with ease and zipped back into our lane with a continued sense of urgency. I built up enough speed to return the tailgating favor and pulled up close behind him as darkened houses and trees zipped by. I was poised and ready to slam the brakes at any moment because, as this game works, he was likely to do the whole thing over again in reverse. BRAKE LIGHTS! I slam the pedal hoping not to collide. Actually, though, he doesn’t slow too quickly and, now, what’s this? A real turn signal. He slows and then starts to turn left. Puzzled, I turn my head as I go by to watch him pull quickly into the hospital parking lot, and scurry toward the entrance.

I didn’t allow myself to feel the searing waves of guilt brought on by the bitter irony. The fact that I did a pretty good job of that was mildly disturbing in itself. Practice makes perfect I guess. Maybe he was just a hospital visitor, yeah, at 4 am. I can’t think about this anymore. I can’t win.

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