I Communicate Real Good: Why Right Means Left In Our House

I am, what could be described as, really, really terrible at directions. I think my navigational nincompoopery somehow ties into my math brain, or rather, complete lack there of. While I haven’t ever asked, or dug down into my childhood medical history farther than the time I got frostbite on my ankles, I am starting to wonder if maybe I had a partial lobotomy at some point, and am subsequently missing that part of my brain. Symptom-wise it wouldn’t be too far of a stretch. I’m forgetful, I drool (in my sleep), and can be wildly impulsive. On the flip side, I can be so paralyzingly incapable of making decisions, I will often find myself standing in my kitchen swaying back and forth, trying to decide if I’m going to put my rapidly cooling toast on a plate or a paper towel. In the end, I usually just forego both, and eat my cold toast hunched over the sink like some sort of barbarian with modern-day plumbing.

Lobotomy or not, looking back, I think I’ve pretty much always had this issue. I’ve consistently relied on my hands, for example, to determine with certainty my left from my right. Even worse, I was once pulled over in a Super Target parking lot by four cops who had assumed my erratic driving was the result of excessive alcohol, rather than just being very, very lost. In a parking lot.

This problem was most recently brought to my attention Saturday night, when trying to follow directions to a nearby friend’s house. It wasn’t complicated, and all told required fewer than 5 actual turns. Additionally, I had the directions on my trusty iPhone, but instead of being lazy and letting her tell us where to go, I decided to take charge and use the old “follow the blue dot” navigational method first made popular by one, Christopher Columbus (or so I heard). My husband was driving, and fortunately, being very patient with me. Our conversation went a little something like this:

Me: “Ooookey dokey, Artichokey. You are going to stay on this road for, like, a while, and then bang a right on 23rd. I mean 24th, or actually I think it’s Fullerton” (said with major degree of overconfidence as I squint at my phone).

Hubs: “Okay…” (said with mild degree of doubt because he has a general sense of where we are going). Me: “Whoa! It’s getting close. Are you driving 90 or something? Remember you are turning right,” (said with urgency because I miscalculated how far we had to travel).

Hubs: “That doesn’t make sense, Hun…Right? Are you sure?” (said with calmness that belies his probable annoyance at my inability to read directions from a phone screen without screwing them up).

Me: “Yeah, it’s right. You’re turning this way… (at this point, picture me wide-eyed and panicked, wildly jabbing my whole hand toward my stomach in a way that makes me appear as though I am auditioning to be both the stabber and the victim in a low budget slasher film, yelling, “Right! Right! Right!” because I am trying, but failing, to make sense of the blue dot rapidly approaching an intersection where it appears we need to somehow turn behind us).

Hubs: Briefly glances down at phone because for some reason, me pointing behind us, through my stomach, and yelling “right” over and over, doesn’t compute… “We need to turn left.”

Sure enough, we needed to turn left. He then, patiently, tries to explain to me, like some kind of sailor, that the map is oriented in a “standard North/South” configuration, and because we are traveling South, I need to say the opposite direction of what it looks like on the map. I’m not sure if he thinks I’m tenured at Hogwarts as a Professor of the Dark Arts, or maybe a direct descendant of whoever invented the compass, but looking at a map with a line going to the right, and then purposely instructing him to turn left just isn’t going to happen. Period. And it didn’t happen, because for the remaining 4 turns we had to make to reach our destination, I told him the wrong direction. Every. Single. Time. And my mind was blown, every single time, when we needed to go the opposite direction. The scary part was that I was actually trying.

So what gives? Can one teach themselves a sense of direction as an adult? Or ever? Are some people just born with the natural ability to navigate, while others, like myself, would fly out to sea never to be seen again, if given a pair of wings and an iPhone? I don’t know the answer to these questions. But I can say, probably my best asset is having a husband who has accepted my directional deficiencies, and instead of belittling me for giving him the wrong directions for the umpteenth time, just knows when I say right, I probably mean left.

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