I was negligent. I’d noticed that one of the low beams on my truck was out, and I’d put off getting it replaced. Stupid. I’d put it off for over two weeks. Very Stupid.
Then one night I started the ignition and realized both low beams were now out. I was in Durham. It was 10 P.M. or so. And I was faced with a 45-minute drive home with only high beams to guide me.
I felt sick to my stomach. I’m someone who absolutely hates to be confronted by bright lights while driving at night. I hate them coming toward me and I hate them in my rearview mirror. Now I was going to be the hated-one behind the high beams for 45 grueling minutes.
I carefully plotted out my course, choosing what I hoped would be the least-traveled streets and roads to get me home. Perhaps this was a mistake. Perhaps my high beams would’ve just blended in with the undulating glare of streetlights, stop lights, and other headlights on the more heavily traveled corridors.
Perhaps by choosing the roads less traveled, I was only setting myself up for jarring one-on-one confrontations which would seem all the more shocking and abusive because of their isolation.
In any event, I made it out of Durham with little incident. I’d chosen my streets well and was lucky enough to meet no oncoming cars. When there were cars ahead of me I slowed way down, giving them a chance to make a turn or get through a changing traffic light so I wasn’t forced to pull up behind them with my high beams blaring into their rearview mirrors.
I also managed to avoid confrontations on a brief section of four-lane highway. I continued to hang back from cars in front of me. And the cars in the oncoming lanes were on the other side of a wide median – far, far away and going about their own business. They didn’t seem notice me at all.
Then I turned onto my first long stretch of two-lane, through-the-woods, semi-country road. This is when my troubles began.
The first oncoming car began flashing its lights at me immediately. It must’ve flashed them 10 or 12 times before we finally passed each other. I couldn’t help but think of what we each seemed to be saying. It was an ugly exchange played out by dueling sets of headlights – mine an aggressive and constant roar, the other an incessantly yipping rebuttal.
The second approaching car waited courteously for a few seconds and then flashed its lights only once. Curt and to the point, but not belaboring the issue. I appreciated that. I decided to flash my lights in response – hoping to demonstrate that I had no choice but to brazenly burn my way through the night.
I also flashed my lights at the next car, again trying to reveal my lack of options. Then I realized this approach was little better than useless.
How could I know they would understand a message composed simply of “bright lights” “no lights” “bright lights?” On an isolated country road, that might indeed seem more ominous and frightening than bright lights alone. And even if my message was correctly getting through, it certainly wasn’t being relayed forward to all the other cars I was soon to meet.
So I resigned myself to simply driving the rest of the way home – high beams and no excuses – accepting whatever responses came my way.
There were several more irately incessant flashers, some courteous single flashers, one or two sullen non-flashers, one bruiser who answered brights with brights for an extremely heated exchange, and a few who waited until just before passing to burn their brights in a surprising last-minute blast of retaliation.
Angry, courteous, sullen, or vengeful, each oncoming car was criticizing me for something I couldn’t control. Yes, I could’ve prevented it. And, no, they couldn’t possibly know about my handicap. But right now, in this moment, I had only one option – only one way to be in the world.
It was strangely exhausting – being on the receiving end of relentlessly repeated reproach. As car after car signaled its disdain, I found myself thinking, “You don’t know me! You don’t know what I’m dealing with!!”
First thing the next morning I had both my headlights replaced.
Derrick Ivey is an actor, directer, designer, and gentleman farmer who lives in Chatham County.