At the base of the hill the long driveway comes to a T. From there it’s possible to turn either left or right to get to town–the direction doesn’t particularly matter because both roads meet up again after after a circuitous half mile. The fact that it’s a loop is the most interesting aspect of that road. Otherwise the two directions are about the same, and there’s nothing that makes one direction more compelling than the other. So it is that each morning is like participating in some recondite experiment: which way to go?
The one thing that saves me from numbing routine is the choice that I have of the two directions. I typically don’t know which way I’ll turn until I reach the bottom of the driveway, and even when I have a vague inkling, I’m often proven wrong. And that’s how I like it. This is one of those few perfect decisions that exists independent of cause or effect, and abrogates entirely the risk of routine.
But I’ve lately come to suspect that the specter of routine hides within the gestalt of my actions, if not in each one individually. It’s a difficult thing to know for sure, but still the suspicion haunts me.
For no discernible reason I began favoring the left route one morning, and stuck with the preference for a long while. Several days had passed before I noticed an elderly woman walking her dog just over the first hill–noticed her because she was always in the same place at the same time. A creature of routine, she was.
As days passed she took notice of me as well, and offered a friendly wave as I passed by. Despite the familiar burden of forced social graces, I waved back that first day, and continued to do so each morning. Meanwhile I worried at my foolhardy flirtation with regularity. Not only that, but I inferred expectation in that old woman’s smile, and it became more and more difficult to take my daily decision without regard to consequence.
A curious feeling of confinement set in–a kind of “claustrophobia of deed”–and my fingers tightened around the steering wheel. I found myself tempted by irrational thoughts, of routine-defying actions. I wondered at the consequences of swerving suddenly into the embankment with none but the woman and her dog as witnesses. Surely that would free me from any possibility of routine, unless I found a way to swerve into the same embankment every day.
Fortunately, the day did come when I turned right rather than left at the end of my driveway. I didn’t realize it until the deed was done, but it was just the beginning of a long run of right-favoring mornings. The drive was uneventful, though I often found myself preoccupied with thoughts about the old lady walking her dog. That she had no seed of variability made her vulnerable. Nature has a way of weeding out homogeneity, and I imagined she would be dispatched in short order. She would fall, and her dog would drag her into the bushes and eat his fill, and then dash away into fields of clover.
It was partially out of curiosity that I took the left route again, after two contiguous weeks of right turns. I felt I had barely avoided a pattern in the making, but still I couldn’t avoid the niggling feeling that my perfect indecision had been tainted by a baser desire to know what was happening on the other side. There was no turning back now.
Over the crest of that first hill I spotted the dog walker again, but this time she did not wave at me as I came fully into view. Instead she stood there with her arms akimbo, and waited for my car to approach. Then, just before I passed her by, she put out one hand as if asking why, and mouthed something like, “Where were you?”
Clearly I had misled the old woman, and now she felt betrayal. I had become a part of her routine, even as I foiled my own. We follow our little furrows, finding our little patterns, and try as we might to avoid them, sometimes even the lack of something is something.