Green, Yellow, Red

As I approach the intersection, the light changes from green to yellow, and I have a moment in which to make a decision:

Stop or keep going?

If I stop, I know that the person behind me is going to be irritated because the person behind me always wants me to go through the yellow light. Often even the one or two cars behind the person behind me also want me to go through the yellow, and I step on the brake gingerly, watching the rectangular view of the grill behind me to see if it’s going to stop before making contact with my rear bumper.

That’s what happens if I decide to stop.

If I keep going, I touch the middle three fingers of my right hand to my lips and then to the visor as I pass under the light. That is, I touch the visor if I’m in the front seat, driving or as a passenger. If I’m in the back seat, I touch the headliner, or, if I’m in the car of a driver who is likely to get angry at me for touching the ceiling of their car, I touch my lips and then gesture in the air as though touching something invisible about eight inches in front of my chin.

Michele started it.

In high school, Michele would drive me around in her parents’ old Honda Accord, she and I in our thrift store flannel, concert t-shirts, and torn jeans, and every time she passed under a yellow light, she would kiss her fingers and then touch the visor.

Around the same time, I knew a guy who, when he passed under a stale yellow light or a light that had just turned red, would say, “It was pink.” I never picked up this habit, in part because I learned that his mother said the same thing, and I thought it was really lame for a seventeen-year-old to knowingly and without shame copy his mother’s mannerism.

I did, however, pick up Michele’s kiss to the visor, and damned near a quarter of a century later, I still do it.

If I don’t do it, I get a twinge in my chest, the feeling of falling that for me signals acute anxiety. There’s nothing specific I worry will happen if I don’t do it, I just feel compelled to do it.

Most of those little compulsions I systematically weed out through logic and cognitive behavioral techniques, but this one I keep. Maybe it’s just a straight-up compulsion, but I like it, and indulging in it doesn’t hurt anything, really. It keeps me connected with the person I was with Michele, who was a person I quite liked at a time when I very often didn’t like who I was. It was a moment in time when I was cool without the back-of-my-mind question about whether I was really cool or just thought I was cool.

I’m less worried about being cool these days, and much less worried about what I wear, but I’m still chronically unsure of myself, and that little touch of the fingertips to the ceiling of the car or to that spot on the rubber seal that runs around the windshield gives me just a moment’s feeling of “it’s all good.”

And that’s a very welcome feeling, no matter what my age.