In The Aviator, Leonardo DiCaprio does a remarkable job portraying Howard Hughes as prisoner to his compulsions – but a knowing prisoner. Ever as he as Hughes mumbles words and phrases repetitively – not deliberate incantations, but unwilled convulsions – when his glance sweeps toward the camera we see the flashes of fear and corked anger in his blue eyes, the twitching attempts to control his moustache-draped mouth – we know he knows what is going on, he hates it, he is furious at his betraying mind and body. And he knows he is helpless.
I am compulsive when I park my van.
(It’s a ’99 Dodge Caravan, it was great for keeping boxes of material and supplies when my job included putting on a series of monthly offsite trainings, but I usually refer to it as “my car” so people don’t think I keep a resined bong hidden under shag carpeting and Bad Company lined up on the stereo).
When I get home – I park on the street, and it is one-way with alternate daytime parking so I will park on both sides – I have to make sure the tires aren’t touching the curb. Or the hard packed snow piles that grow out past the curb. Or that my tires aren’t more than a foot away. As I step out, I bite my key between my teeth so I know I have it. I twist back and try the door handle again to make sure I did, indeed, push the embedded lock button down. I look into the window making a visual on the lock button. I run my finger along the top of the window to make sure there is no gap between the glass and the rubbery plastic seal. (I’m one of those people who crack the window when I drive no matter how rainy or freezing it is).
I look through the window to the passenger side – make sure that lock button is down and the window handle is in the position it is when the that window is all the way up. I lean forward, check behind the seats to make sure the third door, on the passenger side for the second seats, is also locked, the button half-way embedded in its indented sleeve. If it is night or raining, I check the lights dial to make sure the headlights are really off.
I tug the driver’s door handle again, maybe twice. Then I step around to the back of the Caravan, grab and make sure the hatch is locked. Peer inside the tinted windows to see what someone studying cars to break in would see. Sometimes I walk all the way around the car – yes, after have done the visual on the passenger side window and locks – and tug on those door handles. And back around the front to tug on the driver door handle.
And then I walk away. Is it really locked? And then I turn back – I look up to see if my neighbor across the street who knows I do this might be on her porch, watching. If she isn’t I walk back to my van, tug on the handle again. And if she is I walk back to my van, tug on the handle again.
And if I have kept the door open for more than a few moments while stepping out, organizing myself and grabbing up things – the interior lights come on. So I will stand there the minute it takes for the lights to go out. They always have.
I know an unseen hand won’t sweep down and undo what I’ve just done, magically unlock my doors, mysteriously flick my inside lights on. But at the same moment I also don’t know…
And yes, right now I have a burning need to at least go to the window and make sure my van is still there, hunkering and dark.