Monday, February 7, 2022

Tales of Hypervigilance

Several months ago, I wanted to share my enjoyment of golf with my girlfriend, Kristen, and the tranquility, bliss, and utter frustration that the sport can produce, but while the hitting on the course was decent what came after on the way back home was anything but tranquil.

One of the themes I've written about for almost 20 years has been the hypervigilance I usually have of my surroundings and all you have to do is go back to last month's post about the flight I had to see an example. On this day, of this story, we had finished up a round of golf at one of my favorite courses which is about 50 miles out of town. The golf? I was shocked as Kristen, first time on a course and only being to a driving range twice, was tied with me after two holes and had a par on hole 2. What came after hole two? Remember the whole frustration? Yeah, I think it best not to describe the remaining holes.

Anyway, golf aside, at the end of the round we got in her car and started driving home. The car needed gas, so we stopped at a gas station near the interstate. I was a bit exhausted and looked over to her looking at the gas pump then I looked to my right, out the passenger side window, and I saw a car and instantly thought, "that car has seen better days" as the headlights were smashed out, rust had been eating through the hood, the windshield had many cracks, and there were no license plates. Wondering who was driving it I started to peer upward but then I looked back at Kristen who was trying to find her credit card.

Looking back at the odd vehicle I looked in the windshield and my alarms started going off as the two occupants were shirtless and I watched Breaking Bad, and these two men would've fit the description of many of the, well, they could've easily been perfectly cast. I had a hint of concern but heard Kristen open the passenger side rear door as she looked for her credit card in her purse. That's when it happened.

My eyes were drawn inside the car and the passenger in the car pointed at Kristen. The driver then looked her way, and their lips were moving which I could not hear what they were saying but then the passenger pulled out a switchblade and opened it up with a snap. "Uhhhhhhh" is what I said aloud, and Kristen then walked around to the gas pump, which was driver's side, but my eyes were fixated on the two suspicious looking men, one with a switchblade, with a car with no plates. This was not ideal, and I began to panic as they both now were trying to find where Kristen went.

Kristen made her way back around to the passenger side to put the credit card back and as she looked in the car I simply said, "we need to go now." I'm not sure if my voice could've conveyed just how concerned I was and I didn't want to create any sort of panic and I didn't want to say, "some dude opened up a switchblade and he's in the car right behind you" as the last thing I wanted was for her to look behind. 

In response she said, and rightfully so in an inquisitive tone, "Say what?" I fumbled about trying to find what I needed to say, and I responded, "it's not safe here. We need to go now." The urgency I needed to say it wasn't there, so she methodically put the credit card back and walked around to the pump. Meanwhile, the switchblade wielding man was getting out of the car and my eyes darted from him to her, back to him, to her, and back to him while he walked in a position of triangulation between our two cars and the pump. Kristen now got back in the car, and I said, "go! Go now!" and we proceeded to leave the parking lot and I filled her in on what had been going on behind her.

Perhaps they hadn't pointed at her. Maybe there was something behind the two of us. I have no idea what and I've played this out many, many times, but in each scenario I play out I get that same sense of fear I had at that moment. Perhaps it was justified, perhaps I overreacted, but I don't have an off switch for sensing danger in my environment. I've thought this to be the case due to the fact of commonly missing social cues, so I have to doubly be prepared for when things out of left field occur. Sadly, this isn't "A tale of" but instead is entitled, "Tales of Hypervigilance" because this story isn't over.

We drove across the interstate to a truck stop and Kristen got her credit card out to get gas. She inserted the card and looked at it with a hint of befuddlement. I was still trying to get over the surge of adrenaline I had and when an older lady started walking right towards Kristen from a parked car at the front door and my internal alarms were set off again.

This woman looked a tad bit angry, and she came over demanding, "You can't use this pump! I've prepaid! You must stop!" Kristen looked at the pump screen and there was no indication of a message of prepayment. Kristen looked at me and at this point I'm over the point of giving anyone the benefit of the doubt, so I whisper "Scam!" to her. Furthering my belief that everyone on this day was out to do harm were two men pointing at this scene unfolding that obviously had some relation to the woman demanding the use of this pump.

A few moments passed and then a message on the pump did say "$20 prepaid" so there had been no scam, no attempting phishing, and no attempted robbery. In these two stories is the benefit and the downfall to constantly being on alert as when there's a legitimate threat I may see it, but when there's simply a woman who had prepaid gas and her husband and son looking on, albeit a bit suspiciously, I may think something is up when it's not. 

These two stories are also an example of why I try and avoid random social encounters when out in public. If I can achieve that isolation, I'm not going to have to discern what is and isn't a threat. It's tiring and yes, I do know that everyone is going to be aware of their surroundings, but as one of my former coworkers whom I dearly miss working with said, "the only thing autism is, is human behavior to one extreme or another. It's behavior everyone does but for those on the spectrum they will do too much or too little of it." There's no off switch for this, and maybe a major crisis had been averted at stop #1, but at stop #2 it truly was an honest event. What's right or what's wrong? I don't think I have an answer to this, but I know I'll always be aware of what's going on and there may be, at some point, myself or someone you may know that'll say, "we need to go, now!" and it could be like the first gas station. 

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