The worst hell for me is my husband riding shotgun while I drive. His backside clenches the fabric seat, creasing it like a Chinese fan. And he natters on at the rate of a 14 year-old girl text messaging.
Slow down . . . Speed up . . . There's a car . . .You're missing the turn . . . Stop . . . Go . . . What are you doing . . . Don't let that guy in front of us! Block him out . . . Where did you learn how to park . . . Faster, you've got the yellow light . . . That truck is a mile away. Turn. Oh, wait. I think I spotted a car nine miles to the south . . . Put on your blinker . . . Turn off your blinker . . .
"Great!" I exclaim. "You drive! Obviously the state of Georgia should never have issued me a driver's license!"
"No, you're fine," he recants. "I drove all day. I want to relax. That red car is slowing down. Press the brake. You're all over him. Brake!"
The second worst hell is when he drives. The countryside hurtles by like wildlife fleeing a forest fire. Each quaint town blurs into the next. Before I can say, "Wow, did you see . . .," we're zipping through another middle-of-nowhere, 35 mph speed zone.
All the while, he digs in the floorboard for a scrap of paper, a pen, his wallet. He leans his head back, sucking down his Diet Coke and inhaling a packet of Goody's Headache Powder. And his icy eyes scan the rearview mirror, monitoring the kids.
The highway stretches ahead riddled with obstacles my faithful counterpart fails to acknowledge.
I certainly can't let it go without comment: You can't pass on a solid line . . . You can't pass on a hill . . . You can't pass with that truck coming in the opposite lane . . . If you get any closer, we'll have to pay him for a tour of his backseat . . . The light is yellow. That light is yel-low! It's r-e-e-e-d . . . Quit changing the radio station . . . Don't drive with your knees . . . Are you birthing a baby? Get your feet off the dashboard.
He looks at me (to which I also object). "Calm down. Have I wrecked yet?"
No time to debate it. Somewhere beneath my purse, the lunch trash, an empty water bottle, and a newspaper, his cell phone rings; a true emergency. "Grab the wheel," he commands, letting go of it and diving.
"OH - MY - GOSH! LET ME FIND THE DING-A-LING PHONE!"
At this climactic moment, the children, noting that their father's don't-play-the-devil-with-me glare disappeared from the rearview mirror, begin a loud scuffle over the rear AC. Vents slam open; vents slam shut. Complaints of, "I'm hot! I'm cold! You're not in charge!" rumble from the rear. The child controlling the output knob recognizes her ascent to power and capriciously wields it.
Still bulleting toward the ditch, I shock myself and shout the S-word, "SHUT-UP!!!! If y'all don't, you'll ride like I did when I was a kid! We'll turn off the air to the backseat, because Lord knows I survived without any, and then I'll smoke a whole pack of Marlboros with the windows rolled up tight as a submarine!"
His face white and the car recovering to its proper position between the lines, my spouse resurfaces and gripes, "You can't yell like that when I'm driving!"
"Excuse me! Only avoiding the third worst hell, here. Next time I'll wait until sparks fly from the guardrail before I say anything. And by the by, you weren't driving when I yelled."