Catherine Jackson: EarnestGirl Chronicles


Life Is Not A Highway

Learning to Listen to the Voice in your Head

As I drove through an evening filled with sleet and darkness, the radio played Life Is A Highway, and the voice in my head scoffed. She can be quite patient, Voice In My Head, but I find she is increasingly trenchant. Even when we are both in agreement about say, a school of thought on raising children, Voice In My Head turns it over like a stone on the beach, checking for crabs and hidden barnacles.

She is a raised eyebrow.

She is a furrow.

She also a chime.

She reminds me not to leave the phone on that narrow ledge in the bathroom, to pay better attention, to tuck that bit of paper away in the correct file because you will need it sooner than you think.

She is an interruption, but I am learning to listen.

The car settled into the spot in front of our house with a slight shudder. As I turned off the ignition and the radio fell silent, I sat still for a moment, glad the windshield wipers had stopped their incessant swish. Glad the song’s relentless enthusiasm was quiet. Yet the chorus was still reverberating in my ears. Voice In My Head persisted, part whisper part scold: “there is no highway.” and, “Who is he, to think he has control over the car in the first place?

She threw in the logo for Mothers Against Drunk Driving for good measure.

I unloaded the groceries from the trunk, ignoring the small chime that reminded me of what happened the last time I tried to save myself an extra tip through the rain. Slamming the trunk, I gathered all the handles of the bags securely and, hitching everything a little higher over my shoulder, grabbed an awkward corner of the 8kg dog food bag and heaved it all up the stairs anyway.

In the kitchen I unpacked the bags thinking that if I had been given a Life Is A Highway map marked with the mid-life pit stop called Schlepping just outside the town of Depleted I might have driven recklessly in the other direction, likely causing all sorts of mayhem for myself and those I scattered in my path.

She is right, I thought, we do not know the route. And perhaps that is for the best. I went on following the thought as I put the water on to boil - life is a series of tributary roads, some of which you choose, others you do not. They fan out before you, spring up unexpectedly, look tempting but turn out to be a detour. Some roads appear only when you stop long enough to notice them, or when someone helps you read the signs. There are highways, maybe for a while, with names like University, First Job, The Baby Years, but inevitably, there are traffic jams, you are re-routed, end up somewhere you never expected. There can be no road map because the map changes all the time right under your feet.

Some roads, out of desperation or courage or a bit of both, you make for yourself.

In the kitchen, Voice In My Head seemed to settle herself. She grew quiet, and I went about making dinner, the all-encompassing sounds of family life drowning out both the song and the scuttle of crab feet looking for new hiding places.