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Rated: E · Essay · Comedy · #1313457
Experiences of the directionally challenged.
I read, some time ago, that there's truth in the phrase: 'follow your nose.'  It seems that some of the metals that we have in our body cluster in the nose of those directionally sanctified individuals, giving them an infallible sense of direction, a built-in GPS system, if you will.

I am not one of the blessed.

Growing up in a small community, I never knew I had an affliction until I received my driver's license. 

Then I remained in denial, and refused to admit my directional shortcomings.  The first and most important reason for doing this was if anyone - my father - knew I couldn't find my way out of a paper bag, I'd probably have my driving privileges lifted, or limited - a fate worse than death at the tender age of sixteen.  The second:  As far as I knew, I was the only member of my family who suffered from this strange malady.

In real terms, my affliction means that driving to any destination more than thirty-seconds from my last recognized landmark could take hours.  The previously full gas tank flirts with empty, after frustrating hours of driving in circles, before I finally see something familiar that will point toward home.

Upon sight of that glorious beacon of hope, my racing heart slows to a regular beat.  I can swallow again, and the paralyzing fear of having to call home to request search parties, quickly fades within my emboldening sense of accomplishment.  However, this invigorating sense of euphoria has a serious side effect.  It erases the previous horrors of being hopelessly lost, forever cursing me to repeat a never-ending cycle of lost-found events.

I tried for years to grasp the abstract concepts of North, South, East, and West, but no matter what I did, my mind's map never rotated with me.  It always remained static.  No matter which "real" point of the compass I would be facing, North is always straight ahead, my left hand is always West, and my right, East.  My feet point to the hell I'll find myself in if I venture outside my safety-zone.

That safety-zone is usually within a twelve-block radius of my home, but not always.  It can be much less, if I can't find a previously charted landmark; or worse, if I'm unable to immediately retrace my steps.  Beyond my safety-zone lies the dreaded and fearful dark unknown.

For example, I plan to meet friends at a mall nearby, but I've never been there.  It's about twenty-five miles from home, and ten of those miles are in the dark unknown.  I already know that I need to add at least forty-five minutes of 'lost' time for every five miles in the unknown.  I'm supposed to meet friends at 11 am.  I'm on the road at 8 am.

Unlike everyone else, I don't drive to a new destination; I scallop my way there. 

I'm lost.  I pull into a gas station.  The kind man gives me directions: 

"When you leave here, turn North."

"North?"  I ask, immediately lifting my arm and pointing my finger straight ahead.

"No."  Lifting his arm and pointing to the left.

"Oh!"  I immediately turn to face north.  Then try to figure out how I can move this room with me, because without it nothing is going to make sense.

My mind then begins a horrible translation process while the kind man is still talking.  I'm facing North.   My car is outside on my right.   I'm facing North.   I can see the front of the car, it's pointing behind me.  I'm facing North!  

I'm already lost.

"It's easy to find," the nice man concludes with a smile.  I stare at him with wide eyes.  I can feel my cheeks blush as I debate whether I should ask him to repeat the directions that I missed while I tried to set the abstract expression: "I'm facing North."

"Thank you."  I leave the gas station, get into the car, and drive to the next direction stop. 

I have developed certain rules regarding direction stops.  The first and most important rule:  There must be at least two blocks between stops.  That way the previous nice person won't see me. 

I am now searching for a location where I can park facing North. 

Turning into a strip mall, I park facing North.  I speak with the clerk explaining that I'm lost, and then follow my second rule:  Look normal.

I listen intently, bobbing my head like bobble-head dog some people have on their dashboard, saying, "uh huh," at the appropriate pauses.  Even though I may look and sound normal, everything after the first fifteen or twenty words is flying in one ear and out the other - without any detours.

I honestly don't know the reason for this.  Maybe my brain's Map Program is corrupted and illegal actions resulted in the immediate deletion of all but the first few words of the newly created 'direction file.'  But whatever the cause, the result is the same.  From the time I say, 'Thank you,' until the moment I walk out the door, I've somehow lost all but maybe  the first two turns.

Back in the car, I make the two turns, and I'm looking for the next direction stop. 

While driving, I'm cataloging everything I see.  Backtracking is my first line of defense.  But to be effective, my short-term memory should extend beyond the last two turns, which it doesn't.  I also need to recall that the McDonald's I just saw is on the right with the play lot outside.  The Piggly Wiggly is in the shopping mall on the left. 

Unfortunately, my landmark processing requires a minimum of two visits - going in the same  direction. The same direction  stipulation causes no end of problems - the worst being the "Dreaded Loop" effect.

For example, I took my mother and sister on an overnight trip to Galena, Illinois.
Nestled among rolling tree-covered hills, Galena has preserved town buildings dating back to the 1850's, when it was the principal river port of the upper Mississippi Valley.
The trip to Galena was uneventful.  We stayed on one road and exited into the town.

We checked into the charming pre-Civil War hotel, and then walked around the town until it was time to get ready for dinner.

Back at the hotel, I stopped at the Front Desk, and asked if they could recommend a restaurant.  They told us about one located in a historic mansion, just across the river.  It sounded perfect.  My mother and sister listened to the directions, as I nodded repeatedly. 

My sister, Suzanne, spent countless hours in the car with me when she was younger.  I thoroughly enjoyed introducing her to the fun of sight-seeing, my euphemism for being lost. 

We got into the car.  I was going to drive across the river.  I could see the river, but the car was facing the opposite direction.  I looked up the street, and imagined where I could turn to come back to cross the bridge to the restaurant. 

"Do you know how to get there, Paige?"  My mom asks, getting into the car.

"Sure!" I said with a bright smile, avoiding her eyes.

I made the first two turns.  The river was gone.  I was lost and hopelessly trapped in the 'dreaded loop' through a residential neighborhood.

The 'loop' began by taking us past two ladies having a pleasant late afternoon chat on the parkway.  I passed them and turned left. 

The left turn would take us down  a steep hill.  The river was down ,  The bridge and town were down.  It was so logical.  I was sure I was going in the correct direction to find the hotel, river, and bridge again.  This was just a momentary blip in our journey.

This brings me to Rule # 3:  The directionally challenged should never  trust their first instinct.  No matter which direction their mind dictates as the only logical direction will be wrong.

Within five minutes, the two ladies appeared again. 

"How'd we do that?" I asked my sister with complete sincerity.

I received her blank stare before she said, "We?  You don't know where you are, do you?"

"No.  But we could go sight-seeing."

"No!"  They both yelled.

The two women stared at us on this pass.  I turned right this time, and went up the hill.  This turn made no sense to me.  But if down  didn't work, then up must.

The women waved to us on the third pass, and Mom shyly waved back.  On the fourth pass, Suzanne waved, while Mom decided to hide by looking for something in her purse.  By the fifth time, Suzanne and Mom both were searching for something  and I wanted to make the car disappear.  But the real horror of the situation was that each time we passed them, I turned in a different direction.  And I'll be damned  if we didn't find the women again! 

Now you may be shaking your head and wondering why I didn't stop to ask the nice ladies how to find the restaurant.  Well, I couldn't, because I knew that no matter what they'd say, after the first two turns I'd be lost and somehow find myself back there in five minutes.  Then what?  "Wanna join us for dinner?"

I have no idea how I broke out of the "loop."  But then I never do.  The only way I can describe it is to ask you to picture a pinball machine.  The ball travels along the same circuit, with some bumper-enhanced variances.  Whenever it's close to the exit, either it's detoured or flipped back into the game until it suddenly, miraculously, finds the exit.  I'm the ball.

I'm growing more convinced that this malady is some form of dyslexia.  It not only effects my ability to get from point A to B via the remaining twenty-four letters, but it also impacts my ability to tell Right from Left.

For example, I'll be sitting in the back seat of a taxi, waving my left arm in broad arcs, while repeatedly saying, "Turn right, turn right !"  Then, in utter desperation, unable to get the cabbie's attention, as he continues turning right, I begin slapping the back of the driver's seat with my left hand while continuing to say, "Turn right!" 

It isn't until then that hand-eye coordination finally kicks in, and I realize my mouth and mind are not connected.  I feel my cheeks flame as I say in a soft, conciliatory tone, "I'm sorry, I mean turn left."  I always tip heavily.

This quirk is not limited to confusing patient cab drivers.  My nephews have suffered from my affliction when they bring me their shoes and ask Auntie Paige to put them on.

"Sure thing, sweets," I say, facing my victim.  I pick up a shoe and immediately assume it's for the first foot he points forward.  Makes sense to me!  Any three-year-old knows the correct foot for the shoe I'm holding, because Auntie Paige sure doesn't!  It's missing my hidden "L" or "R" written inside. 

My nephew then happily trips, as he runs away with his toes pointing out.

"Mommy!  Look what Auntie Paige did."  Those laughing words are my first clue that I messed up.  I'm usually able to catch them and correct the mistake before my sister sees their feet.

Unfortunately, this malady is not limited to Real Life situations.  I was very disappointed to discover that my impairment also exists in the massive game world environments on the net.  I'm just as lost in a 3D game world as I am in the real one.  Only it's worse there. 

Monsters never give good directions while they're killing me.
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