Like blue veins in an alcoholic’s bulbous nose, the lines on the map taunt me.
“Just go down Wabash 2 blocks, then turn left onto Congress. About 1/4 mile east on Congress and 256 Dearborn will be directly on your right.”
The bellman holds the map in his right hand and traces my would-be route with his left. He may as well be showing me hieroglyphics and talking pig Latin. To him it is so simple, so do-able, but I know that I’ll never find the building where I’m supposed to show up for work tomorrow.
With a serene smile and a sinking heart, I thank him and walk out the door into the bustle of Michigan Avenue, where everyone seems to know where they’re going. Except me.
I have a fear of getting lost, and I always get lost. Which comes first, I wonder, the fear or the actual lost-ness?
Maps mock me. What good are they to a person who doesn’t know the difference between north and south, east and west? Those squiggly lines frolicking around on a piece of paper make my head squirm.
Asking for directions deludes me. Most people give so much detail that I’m lost at “Go to the end of the street.” I don’t bother asking again, because they add more specifics, believing that the cure for my quizzical, panicked expression is more data. Sometimes it feels like I’m on a different planet from everyone else. They’re all sidled up to their itty, bitty details, nodding and appreciating every iota while I’m skulking around the edges of their world wondering how to get where I need to go. It’s like we speak different languages.
The worst part about getting lost is the panic that fills my skull where my brain once was. What had been relatively cohesive thoughts become random disconnected bits of data assaulting my senses, like floating flotsam, knocking me senseless. The whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts when those tidbits of horror converge in a full-frontal assault on any semblance of reason or sanity.
A navigation system, you suggest? Already tried it. My car has a GPS that I named Suzy. I naively thought that being on a first name basis with a machine would guarantee me privileges that anonymity wouldn’t confer. But, it’s obvious that Suzy believes that familiarity breeds contempt. She’s taken me on many jaunts in the wrong direction, and then suddenly exclaim: “When possible, make a legal U-turn.” Dagnabbit, Suzy! I’ve spouted more times than I care to count. Why did you send me on this wild goose chase yet again? But, I need my girl to keep talking to me, so I keep my tone of voice on a keel that my mother would have appreciated from an adolescent me.
I finally despaired that Suzy and I would ever enter into a meaningful relationship when she marooned me on a round-a-bout in Arlington, Virginia. Round and round we went, with Suzy’s monotonous voice pulsating behind my blurred vision: “At the next intersection, turn left.” Thanks for nothing, Suzy. And that time, my tone matched my attitude.
I’ve recently learned that the name for a mortal fear of getting lost is mazeophobia, although it is disputed as a real diagnosis. But, I find comfort in finally naming that which plagues me. It’s real to me with or without scientific validation.
Just ask Suzy what happens to me behind the closed doors and windows of my car when I’m lost. She’ll start talking then, I’m sure, and the word U-turn won’t be part of her answer.