The conversation always starts the same: “Make a left up here” my passenger/ navigator will say to me as I’m driving somewhere, and I begin to panic. Which one is left again? I know it shouldn’t induce panic-attack like feelings in me, but it does. Other people have been able to grasp this concept as early as five years old, but I never have. So when I eventually make a right turn instead, and my passenger tells me that I turned the wrong way I have to explain it to them. I don’t know my left from my right. I know I am right handed. I also know, thanks to many handy tips from friends, that the finger and thumb of my left hand makes an “L” shape. I know I have a left hand and a right hand, I just can’t remember it. If I really think about it, and hold a pen I can figure out my left from my right. I just can’t process it on the fly. I need time to understand it without pressure. But when you’re driving down a busy freeway you can’t take a minute to think while you recall how you hold a pen. You have to take the exit; you have to go with you gut. And often that gut is wrong, and whomever you are with points that out to you and thus you swerve across three lanes of traffic in order to get to your destination.
I remember bring really little, before I had even started school, and I was spinning around in the swivel rocker that my parents had in the living room. Earlier my mom must have been explaining left and right to me because I had it on my mind. I just didn’t understand what she was talking about. I had arms and legs and I liked them all equally, why did I have to put labels on things? Why was one arm my right and one my left? I remember having an existential crisis that day where I became aware, ever so briefly, that my body was divided into to sides, two haves that made a whole. A right half and a left half, and it caused my 4 year old brain to ache. Where was the dividing line? In the center? If something was in front of me, what side was it on? If I took my right hand and put in on top of my left, did the left cease to exist? I tried making peace with this reality, and I must have come to some sort of understanding, or Ninja Turtles was coming on because I briefly laid the subject to rest. Until I swiveled the chair around and what once had been on my left was now behind me on my right, and all understanding flew out the window, which was located on some side of me. So from then on, the world has refused to make sense to me.
I shudder to think of what would happen if I ever found myself in a situation where I am asked to assist an incapacitated bomb expert from across the room and his explanation is riddled with lefts and rights, and with the clock ticking, I am not able to ask “This one?” and certainly I would not have enough time to make any “L’s” and we both explode. My left right confusion causes me problems on a more day-to-day basis too. Not on the same level as diffusing a bomb, or causing traffic accidents, but in the selection of objects right I front of me. Or when I am trying to tell someone where the bathroom is. I can’t say just “down the hall” I have to specify on what side of the hall. I can’t say “Room with the toilet! Can’t miss it!” to all my guests, although I have used it before. I’ve tried making cheat sheets and disguising it wall art, conveniently hung beside the hallway, that at a glance I can look at gain the answer. But I am not creative or artistic enough to create such a masterpiece. Ideally, I would always live in a house where the bathroom was straight ahead, or better yet labeled, but in my many rentals I’ve avoided affixing a sign to the door for risk of losing my damage deposit.
Cognitively there is a block in my brain that doesn’t allow for the absorption of this information. If I was smarter or better at math, I would be able to write off this area of ignorance as the sacrifice for my genius. Sadly I can’t. I do draw a pretty wicked unicorn, but I think that skill is far outweighed by the embarrassment I face when my boss asks me to hand her the stapler to my right, and I can only stare blankly. If I was from some far off land where English is not the native tongue, I could claim a glamorous excuse of language differences for all my misunderstandings. But without an accent, or naturalized citizenship, stupidity is my only fall back.
When I speak to other people about my problems with spatial awareness it always come up what a silly problem it is. As I said before, they whip out their left hands and make an “L” shape, revealing the secrets of the universe to poor, stupid Daniel. Other times, they point out their own areas of weakness. And because I hang out and am related to people who are all smarter and more talented than myself, these areas typically turn out to listing foreign royalty in chronological order, cutting perfect angles for the furniture they build themselves, or calculating electrical wattage for high voltage receptacles. In comparison my problems look as small as a hamster’s. But I don’t need the comparisons of problems to do that. I should understand my left from right, but I guess I will just have to get used to being wrong.