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After my test, I was cruising along the aikido highway in my car, admiring the scenery, listening to Tom Petty's song "I Won't Back Down" when… it happened. I hit a pothole; a large, ugly pothole that shook my car so hard that my tire felt as if it were about to fall off. I cringed at the sound my car was now making. My once happy Cabrio (aka Lil Blue) was now making the most awful sounds. I slow down and carefully pull off the road in order to assess the damage. I get out of my car and tentatively walk towards the left rear tire. I figure, if I approach it slowly and with caution, that maybe, just maybe, it would be alright. I get there and look down; yappari (as I expected), it was ruined. Instead of a tire, I was now the proud owner of what appeared to be rubbergami (rubber origami).
I pop the trunk and dig around inside. Mat for the ground, check. Tire iron, check. Jack, check. Spare tire, uhm…. where is the spare tire!?! I'm now staring at an empty compartment which is supposed to house my spare tire! How can a spare tire just mysteriously disappear! It was there when I got the car and I have never had reason to use it before. As I investigate this compartment, I become convinced there is a second hidden compartment in here somewhere. A crumpled up piece of paper catches my eye. I open it up and scribbled on it in pencil is a note "You won't need a spare tire, so I took it. ~Sensei" My first reaction was hostility. How could he take my tire!?! Then confusion set in. How did he even get into my trunk to take my tire!?! Then sadness took over. How could he do this to me?
I sigh as I sit down on the fender of my car, looking around for help. It seems that this once busy highway has suddenly become desolate. I take my cell phone out of my coat pocket and start to call for help. That is when I realize, I have absolutely no signal. I quickly close the phone and angrily shove it back in my pocket as I kick the dirt with my sneaker. Reality is sinking in; I've hit a pothole, I'm not going anywhere, and I have no one to help me. I sit and stare at the now setting sun, the warm rays are the only blanket of comfort I have. Thoughts flow through my head. Why didn't I see the pothole? Or if I did see the pothole, why didn't it register in my head? If it did register in my head, then why wasn't I able to avoid the pothole? Why did sensei leave me without a spare tire? What am I going to do now?
I open up my phone again, as if magically my husband would call and tell me he is on the way with the spare tire that sensei took from me. Instead, I stare at my hoops & yoyo Thanksgiving wallpaper. Happy Thanksgiving my (_!_). I look out at the setting sun, which is in the direction I had come from. I try to remember if I had passed anything in walking distance. That is when I vaguely remember passing a gas station. Problem was, I recall that being about 50 miles back. I glared resentfully at the sun. It was like it was setting on my past, telling me that I could not go back. That left me with two options: Stay and wait or walk in the direction where I was going. Problem is, I have no idea where I was going; I have never been there before. For all I know, something could be 2 miles away or it could be 70 miles away.
As the sun slipped beneath the horizon, twilight set in. I have always found this light eerie yet beautiful. I despise being alone outside at night, let alone in the middle of nowhere, so I began to get anxious as I tried to figure out what I would do. Since it was getting dark, I decided to stay with the car. Luckily for me, it didn't seem like it would be too cold. I dug around some more in the trunk. I know I have an emergency roadside kit in here somewhere…… AH! I pull out a duffel bag. I take out a few flares and ignite them before setting them behind and in front of my car. I climb back into my car and grab the blanket that I had on the back seat for my dog. As I sat there alone, hunger began to set in. I had one bottle of water that was ¾ full and one black cherry kashi granola bar that was misshapen from being in my purse for the past week. I eat half and force myself to keep the other half for tomorrow. I wrap myself up in the blanket and stare out the windshield.
I am now sitting with nothing but darkness around me. I start the car and my cd starts playing again "Heeeey Baby. There ain't no easy way out. Heeeey I… will stand my ground. And I won't back down. No, I won't back… down." I laugh at the irony. I cripple my tire to a song titled "I won't back down" and here I am sitting, sulking, ready to give in. The music has me feeling a bit better. I check the gas gage and I have about half a tank. I can afford to let it run a bit longer. I recline my seat and curl up. You just gotta love heated leather seats! As I stare out the windshield once more, I finally notice something. The night is full of stars. I have never seen so many bright shiny stars in my life! I begin to count, but I realize it is a futile endeavor. I find myself wishing I had my camera. This would be an AMAZING shot with a long exposure. I stare at it, hoping to burn this beautiful image into my brain forever.
After a while, I decide that it is best for me to turn off my engine. I make sure the doors are locked and I lay there waiting for sleep to overcome me. Next thing I know, I wake up with the sun shining directly on my face. I groggily open up my eyes…. and reach for my sunglasses. For a second I think about going back to sleep, then I realize I am on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. I quickly sit up and throw the blanket off of me. The clock says 7:37 a.m. I hurry up and chow down my meager breakfast of half a kashi bar and drink a bit of water. I grab the blanket, put my water in my purse and climb out of the car. I make sure I have everything that I "think" I could need and lock the doors. I begin to set out towards the rising sun.
Every so often, I pull my phone out and check for signal. I try to find things to do to entertain myself, but instead all I can think about is how I got in this situation. My calm composure quickly turns into agitation and before I know it, I am fuming all over again about how sensei took my spare tire. As I walk, I contemplate about a lesson. Is this some sort of strange method of teaching me something? Am I Daniel-san in the Karate Kid? Something reflecting catches my eye. I look down and realize it is a smooth, white rock. I pick it up and form a fist around it. It feels warm in my hand. I bring my arm back and throw it as hard and far as I can. This causes me to drop my blanket in the dirt. I pick it back up and shake the dirt off, which of course flies back into my eyes. Great, now I am lost and can barely see.
I continue walking again, squinting all the while. A lot of good my sunglasses did with keeping the dirt out of my eyes. I then begin to think about the effectiveness of safety glasses, at least I did until I realized how much a nerd I was being. I quickly pushed that out of my thoughts and began to sing Lady Gaga. "When you give me k-kisses, that's money, honey. When I'm your lover and your mistress. That's money, honey. When you touch me it's so delicious. That's money, honey. When you tear me to pieces. That's money honey." Next thing I know, I see that damn white rock again. I pick it up, but this time I put it in my pocket. I figured it must have been fate for me to find it a second time. That and I didn't want to get more dirt in my eyes. The sting from the dirt had finally begun to fade.
It seems like I have been walking forever. I dig through my purse for my burts bees lip balm. I pull it out and put some on. As I put it back into my purse, I realize I have some sweet mint trident gum in my purse too, so I pop a piece into my mouth. At least now I have minty fresh breath and my mouth won't be so dry and ucky. I look up at the sun. It is pretty high in the sky now, so it must be close to noon. That means I have been walking for three hours and I have yet to find anything! I take a few swigs of warm water, which does nothing to quench my thirst. I take out my phone expecting to be disappointed again, but to my surprise, I have a text message. I open it up. It is a message from my hubby and it says "Are you alright? I haven't heard from you since yesterday."
I start to dial the area code and then the signal goes away. A few obscenities flow out of my mouth. I can't help but notice when I say things like that because it is very unnatural for me. Those words just aren't in my daily vocabulary. Oddly enough though, they sounded perfectly natural just then. I look around, hoping for a cell tower nearby or at least something high to stand on (or jump off of if I don't get signal). No such luck. I begin to run; towards what, I have no idea. My sneakers smacking the pavement and my junk rattling in my purse are the only things I hear. Tears begin to fall and pretty soon my cheeks are wet and my lips are salty. My bitter tears only cause me to run faster. Maybe if I run fast enough, I can outrun my problems. No such luck; I trip over my blanket and fall to the ground. I lie there in a heap, crying. I just want to get home. I don't want to be lost anymore…..
I laid there until all the tears I had to cry were cried. The one thing I hate about crying is that you are left with a stuffy nose, not to mention you look like crap. I pick myself up from the ground, not even bothering to wipe the dirt and gravel off of my jeans or hoodie. I suddenly remember that I had my phone in my pocket. I pull it out and expect the worst. I stare at the back of the phone, too afraid to turn it over and see how cracked the front screen is. I run my fingers over the screen. I don't feel a crack…. I turn the phone over. The screen is intact. The second test is whether it actually works or not. I decide to just open it. I figured it would be like a band-aid. Just rip it off and get the pain over with.
To my astonishment, not only does the phone work, but I have two bars! I quickly dial my husband and then bring my head down to the phone. I am too afraid to move it, figuring I may have found the holy grail of phone reception in this tiny spot and if I move it, it may very will disappear to never be found again. I anxiously wait while the phone dials. It rings once. Twice. A third time. Then a fourth time. I hear my husband's voice on the phone. Disappointment takes over when I realize it is just a recording. I leave him a message telling him I have no idea where I am, but I tell him how I got to where I was. I told him I was on a highway with no mile post markers, so I had no idea how far I had gone from my car. I then hung up. Who else can I call? The rest of my family lives over 3,000 miles away! AAA? That would work if I had their number…..
Suddenly, this awful deafening sound comes out from nowhere. I cover my ears with the blanket and my hands and desperately look around for the source. Nothing. I am all alone in a wasteland with an ear piercing sound that is coming from nowhere. My surroundings are becoming blurry. What is wrong with me? I drop to my knees and then lay down in the fetal position. My head feels as if it going to explode if the sound doesn't stop soon. I press my hands harder against my head in an attempt to make the pain stop. My right hand touches something warm and moist. Am I bleeding? Am I going to die? Despite the pain, I pull my hand away from my ear. I breathe a sigh of relief when I see it isn't blood. It is only then that I realize I am crying. My breaths are becoming quicker and shallower. I know I'm about to pass out. That will be a welcome reprieve from this pain.
I open my eyes to complete darkness. The sound is still going off, but it isn't as loud or as painful anymore; just annoying. For a second, I am confused. I don't recognize where I am. That is when I realize I am home, in bed and my alarm has been going off. I reach up and quickly turn it off. I never knew technology could cause so much pain. I squint at the blue screen on my clock, trying to make out the blurry numbers. 3:24 a.m. Why did my alarm go off? It is Saturday night and Sunday is my day to sleep in. I roll over and see the comfort that I so desperately wanted in my dream. My husband is sleeping ever so peacefully. I watch him take slow breaths and wonder how the hell he managed to sleep through that noise.
I begin to slide over to him in an attempt to calm myself. About half way over, I realize my pillow is soaking wet. Oh no, my ears were bleeding! I bring my shaky hand up to my face, which is cold and clammy. I lick my lips; salt. I must have been crying in my sleep. I hurry up and flip my pillows over before I freak myself out again and wiggle my way into his arms. I sigh, my body feels suddenly heavy. It was as if I had been in a battle and could finally rest in the arms of the one I loved. I have always said that I knew we were meant to be because I fit so perfectly in his arms. It is the one place where I have always felt safe and loved.
With that, I fall back into a deep, restful sleep. I can feel the warm sun shining on my face. I open my eyes, feeling quite rested. I expected to see my loving husband looking at me. Instead, sensei is standing there, looking down at me. I close my eyes and groan. You never go back to the same dream when you wake up from a pleasant dream….. only the nightmares. This time is different though, I know I am dreaming and I feel as if I can somehow control the outcome of this dream. I look up at sensei and ask point blank why he would take my tire. He just smiled and said that I didn't need a spare. He offered his hand to help me up. I reached out to take it and then changed my mind. I didn't need his help. Okay, so I did, but I was too hurt and full of pride at the moment to accept it.
I looked around, expecting to see his car somewhere, but despite all my searching, I came up with nothing. I looked at sensei, waiting for a magical answer, but he didn't reply. Tired of these games, I began to walk towards where I have never been. I look over and sensei is walking beside me. At least I have company this time. A long time went by without any conversation. I began to get hungry and my stomach rumbled. Sensei reached in his pocket and pulled out a clear container that held sushi. I gave him a strange look, but he again offered me the sushi. I happily took it and quickly began shoving the sushi in my mouth. There is a time for manners and there is a time when they should be thrown out the window. I decided this was a time when they could be abandoned. By the time I was full, I ate about half of the sushi. I told sensei he could have the rest.
Sensei then held out a bottle of water. I held the bottle above my mouth and poured some in. Ice cold water slid down my throat. It was exactly what I needed. I handed him back the water bottle and told him I appreciated him sharing his food and water with me. He nodded. I couldn't take the silence anymore. I decided I would talk. I took a deep breath and told him that my previous dream was a lesson. He peered over at me out of the corner of his eye. I knew I was on the right track. I told him that things were going great; until they weren't. I told him how I had hit a pothole that damaged my car and that I couldn't go any further. He looked forward again. I guess I took a wrong turn somewhere in the conversation. I took a few seconds to compose my thoughts and told him that this experience has made me realize a few things when it comes to aikido.
Sensei turned to face me. I was on the right track again. I told him that right before the test and right after the test I felt like I was on the right path. I felt like things were going smoothly (more or less) and that I had begun to get some confidence in a few techniques. I explained that I was doing alright until testing for 4th kyu soon became more of a reality. I told him that I noticed we were doing a lot of nikyo and sankyo in class lately, which is on the 4th kyu test. I told him that I was having problems with nikyo in particular. He nodded in reply. I told him that I had hit an awful, ugly pothole that shook me. My progression has seemed to stop altogether, or at least it felt like it. Sensei looked at me. His expression was one of sadness. I told him that the only thing I could do was keep showing up to class and keep training.
This statement seemed to please him. I told him that maybe I am making micro mini steps forward. Steps so tiny, that I can not see my own progression. Sensei smiled a great smile and said something that seemed so profound in that moment- everyone hits potholes sometimes. It may slow you down, but as long as you continue to push forward, that is what counts. Suddenly it dawned on me. That is exactly what I am doing. I was cruising along in a car on the highway. I hit a pothole and could no longer go that fast. I had to pull over. I didn't have a spare tire, so I had to decide whether to stay put or walk. I chose to walk. I chose to persevere. I chose to grow instead of just wilting away to nothing. I was so proud of myself for figuring out this little puzzle. All I could do was smile.
Sensei motioned to a dirt path that led away from the road. I followed his dust trail to an old ford pickup truck. Sensei motioned for me to get in. I happily obliged. I hopped in, shut the door and buckled up. He started up the truck and the radio came on. Chumbawamba's song "Tubthumping" was playing mid chorus. I had to laugh at the song, because it just fit the moment so well. As we pulled out onto the highway, I turned and asked sensei why he decided to give me a ride. He went on to explain that there are times that a student must travel alone, but there are also times when a teacher can travel with his student. Timing; it's all about timing. With that, there was only one thing left to do; sing. "I get knocked down, but I get up again. You're never gonna keep me down!"