Two paths diverged in a wood, says Robert Frost, and he took the one less travelled. Well, I have taken both paths and have still gotten lost more times than I can remember. Stevie Smith says that she was too far out all her life “and not waving but drowning”. Ah yes, I know that feeling. The overwhelmed by life feeling. The sense that things are slowly but steadily spinning out of control and that despite your best efforts you’re not quite managing to get it together. The lost and confused feeling.
Today started off pretty well. I slept in late, confident that since we’re due to take our military driving test at 9am, I have time for a nice cup of tea and some reading (of Lost in America) before I leave. We’re meeting at military base A, I think, remembering that military base A is just down the road. When I get to military base A, however, I discover, with the customary sinking feeling, that I have totally misheard the instructions. I’m supposed to be, at that very minute, at military base B, which as it happens, is all the way across town. Merde. No way to get there in 15 minutes in time for the test. But I also can’t back out now so I’ll have to drive there anyway.
As luck would have it, it’s pissing with rain and I take the wrong highway. Now I’m in the tail-end of rush-hour traffic going towards town instead of away from town. Double merde. No problem – I’ll take an alternative route. I pull over to the side, put on my hazard lights, and find military base B again on the map. About 10 minutes later, just by chance, I happen to notice that military base B is actually split into two parts and I’m about to head off for the wrong one. Close shave, I think gratefully, as I turn off to the right one. When I get there, simultaneously driving and reading the map in poor visibility, I know that there’s very little chance of being allowed to do the test. What I haven’t reckoned on as well is that military base B is a maze of obscure roads and has two completely different health centres. By sheer persistence I stumble into the right health centre.
“I’m doing the military driving licence test,” I tell the sister. ‘Where do I go?”
The sister gives me one of those “are you mad?” looks. As I look around the health centre I see that this is a sick bay and that the patients sitting here are definitely not here to do a driving test. One of the patients gets up to shut the door behind me, grumbling as she does so (about people who don’t close doors behind them).
“I’m with the psychologists from Y,” I add.
“Down the passage,” she says, gesturing round the corner.
For the first time this morning it feels as if I’m finally in the right place. The name on the door is a relief. It’s my Officer Commanding (OC), Major M. I knock tentatively and enter. Major M is seated at her computer in a surprisingly bare office. She looks up from her work and flashes me one of her particularly dark looks. She is not pleased to see me.
“Morning Major,” I mumble. “Morning H” to her colleague. As it turns out, my roundabout trip across the peninsula in driving rain has been for nothing. I can’t do the test and will need to come back next week. As I drive away I remember the cognitive-behaviour therapy (CBT) technique which I use sometimes with anxious patients. “What’s the worst that can happen?” I ask. They can’t fire me. They could possibly give me a stern talking to and give me unpleasant tasks to do but they can’t actually fire me. Slightly comforted by that, I stop off for a Wimpy coffee at the Engen OneStop on the way to my next destination, a satellite sick back about 40 minutes away. I’ll have two appointments there (if it’s a busy day) but at least I can drink more tea and read the paper.
Drinking my tea, I remember some of the countless times I have been lost and confused in my life. Perhaps I should write a book called, “Lost and Confused”. At school I managed to lose most of possessions at least once (including my tracksuit, my blazer, my wallet and my bicycle). My teachers said that if my head wasn’t screwed onto my shoulders I would probably have lost it as well.