A few days ago, I drove from our home to the Forum to make a Best Buy run. I swung by Paul’s house to bring him along for some window shopping. Before I knew it, I pulled the hybrid into the parking lot at the shopping center, shut off the ignition, and hopped blithely out of the car. After a few steps, I paused. I turned back to look at the car, at the traffic backed upon on the highway, and felt a shudder tremble through me because I couldn’t remember driving the familiar route. So engrossed in conversation, so focused upon my final destination, I had absolutely no recall of maneuvering from point A to point B. I hate it when I put myself on autopilot and always feel fortunate that I arrive at my destination safely.
All of us slip into this nearly hypnotic state occasionally. In my favorite “husband story” I enjoy recounting David’s diligence as a young father. He changed an equal number of diapers, got up every other night for night changes and feedings, and tirelessly rocked Paul through numerous ear infections for two years. David quickly developed an evening routine to help smooth out our mornings. Every night, he boiled the baby bottles and carefully measured and mixed the formula. This drill became one he did effortlessly day after day. Each morning, I’d prepare Paul’s baby bag for his day with our sitter. I’d load in his favorite toys, extra clothing, a ton of diapers (we used fabric), and of course the bottles prepared the previous night. Imagine my irritation one morning when I discovered no bottles in the fridge! My tone of voice went beyond vexed and into total frustration because I relied upon David to do his chores the previous evening. As I ranted and raved, he defended himself, insisting that he had prepared the bottles. To this day I remember his total look of bafflement when he searched the fridge for formula. He began randomly opening various cabinets, and eventually discovered the bottles lined in precise rows in the pantry!
I haven’t the ability to hide my tendency to move onto autopilot. The entire neighborhood knows that I slip into this gray and fuzzy area. Fortunately, my neighbors graciously close and lock the car doors that I leave wide open. Sometimes they even bring in that last bag of potatoes left sitting in the back. Recently, I put the dogs out back in order to take Mom out the front. I have to prop open the front door to wheel her down the ramp. I loaded Mom into the car, swung her wheelchair into the back of the station wagon, double checked her seatbelt, and proceeded to drive away. When we returned two hours later, I stood in shocked amazement to find the front door propped wide open. I’d forgotten to even close it!
I’d like to rationalize and say that I have such an active life that I go into my autopilot mode as compensation. I’d like to offer excuses for my absentmindedness that would make me seem less flighty. I spend quite a bit of time thinking, thinking, thinking—about the next story, a previous story, a new “what if” scenario, a poetic line, a flitting piece of imagination that grabs my attention and won’t let hold. Creative minds just forget little details like putting away baby bottles or closing doors. However, I’m certain the reasons I go on autopilot run to the mundane—fatigue, inattentiveness, or age. I wonder, though, how many other people suffer from this same quirk?
Copyright 2011 Elizabeth Abrams Chapman