My sister has never been lost in her life. She has a built-in compass. She's also one of those uber-practical people which probably helps a lot. It wouldn't be practical, for example, to be thinking about that family visiting their elderly mother in the hospital room closest to the sitting area on the eighth floor, and wondering how the daughter-in-law ever managed to get into those pants, let alone zip them up, when you were driving in an unfamiliar city. What would she have on tomorrow? And which one of them got stuck with the baked potato chips for lunch? My sister would only be thinking of turning the right way as she exited the parking garage and getting onto the on-ramp without wasting any time. My mother was in good hands. Marcia stayed for a week, and then our brother took over for a few days.
He's a guy. Even if he did get lost, well, you know... (He'd never admit it.) And Mom would never know the difference. She'd be busy thinking about several other things, especially since someone else was driving.
Next it was my turn.
"Be careful and watch her if she drives anywhere," Marcia warned me. "Sometimes she goes the wrong way."
I waited, thinking she was going to add something like "and ends up driving into the canal that runs through the neighborhood."
But she didn't.
"Oh!" I finally responded. "You're kidding! Goes the wrong way?"
So I found myself in Florida for my shift. I would need to drive my mother to Miami to visit my dad every day. It's a four hour round trip. My siblings had confidence in me. At least they pretended they did. I was prepared to banish all superfluous thoughts from my brain and encourage my mom to do the same in case I needed her help navigating. We could only afford to think of one thing at a time, and unfortunately it had to be the road ahead of us.
Or so I thought.
My parents have a G.P.S. in their car. I've never used one. I live in Utah - a huge, living coordinate plane. Everything is laid out on a grid. Every address is an ordered pair. The mountains serve as a compass rose, and you can see for miles and miles in every direction. Even I can get anywhere I need to go.
So we set the G.P.S. for the hospital and off we go.
My mother starts saying things like "She'll tell us to take the Federal Highway to Cove Road." At first I think she's talking about my sister, but soon it becomes clear that she isn't.
"Marcia went another way, but She'll want us to get on I-95 further down." I realize who She is and that She merits capitalization. My mother is refering to the G.P.S.
"It's not a she," I tell her. "It's an it."
"Well, I know, but it's a woman's voice," she insists.
"Mom," I say. "It's a computer."
But the closer we get to Miami, the more I slip up.
"She said to keep right in point seven miles," I tell my mother as she hangs up her cell phone from talking to my dad. By now I'm picturing Her as a glorious ship's head out in front of the car. I'm thinking about my driving with the left side of my brain, but indulging the right side as well. I'm imagining Her with long red hair flowing out behind Her, strong, confident facial features, seashells with cleavage... What does she do when she's off duty? Family? Probably a daughter named Marcia.
My mom and I love Her. She allows us to think about as many things as we want all the way to the hospital.
Unfortunately we leave Her in the glove compartment when we go inside. We would have liked to have taken Her to lunch. My mother and Marcia had been to an Au Bon Pain near the hospital one day the previous week, but naturally Mom can't remember how to get there. She calls Marcia for directions as we stand outside the hospital entrance. Marcia gives them to her from memory. Naturally.
"Okay, thanks!" Mom tells her and hangs up the phone. Without missing a beat she turns to a tall, capable-looking nurse with beautiful brown skin, a friendly smile and blue scrubs who has just exited the hospital.
"Excuse me," my mother says. (She loves to talk to total strangers.) "Do you know where Au Bon Pain is?"
This friendly, capable woman starts to give us directions, then insists "Just follow me. I'll take you there!"
When we get back into the car to go home that evening, I find I have a new mental image of Her: tall, capable-looking, blue scrubs, beautiful brown skin and a friendly smile.
We ask Her to take us home.