January 16th, 2021
Highway hypnosis is the phenomenon of daydreaming so profoundly that you find yourself at the destination of a journey without being able to remember how you got there. It’s called that because it usually happens behind the wheel.
I never thought that my grief would sometimes manifest itself in this way.
Often, I’ll wake up in the morning and make a mental note of my routine and what I have to do that day. Suddenly, as I’m opening a breakfast bar or taking my multivitamin, I’ll find myself in the thoughts of a woman who is dying.
It’s visceral, stress-inducing and strange, and by the time I get back to me, I find my fingers running through my hair, covered in finishing paste, and I am somehow dressed, having apparently taken a shower.
It’s a Freaky Friday form of time travel. Sometimes it’s life-affirming, giving me the perspective I need to live the best life I can; sometimes it is soul-crushing, and enough to make me question even the simplest aspects of the life I live.
When I pull back on the entirety of my existence, I see it as its own highway hypnosis. I am a person who is made up of everything I have ever said, done and experienced, yet at any given time, I am remembering almost none of it.
When I think about that, it too makes the bottom fall out of my stomach.
I think this why we become obsessed with making a roadmap of who we are. We do it in journals, with photographs, online. We draw family trees around our hands and keep calendars that act as mile-markers.
And the most important constants we mark on our maps are the people of our lives. I wouldn’t know who I am or what I’ve been without you. Any of you.
And then the reason for the highway hypnosis of my grief, the foggy gaps I drive through day-to-day, comes into clear view: how am I supposed to accurately keep track of time when the biggest constant of my life is gone?