Guardian Angel
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by John Nippolt
        Out here on the eastside of the island, the waking sounds of early morning have been transformed. Kamehameha Highway, the old worn out road 30 yards up the drive from our house, now maintains a steady flow of cars. The number of vehicles has quadrupled in the last 10 years; on a road that has not been renewed in 40. It was never intended for such heavy traffic nor engineered for high speed.
        Like humans and their fingerprints, cars too, are idiosyncratic, each with its own identity in sound. Not just one sound, but a rolling cacophonic mesh of them. Rubber on the road, engine noise, exhaust systems, a swoosh of mass and velocity announcing car movement at different rates of speed. The mixture gets progressively louder on approach, peaks while going by, and fades away down the road; a noise that lasts from three to five seconds. Birdsong has morphed into rumbling road rap and highway hip-hop.
        My eyes blinked open at four that morning, the noise of a town-bound car ripping through our neighborhood, penetrating my head. It voiced out a premonition. I made a mental note, rising up from bed, don't be in a hurry driving out to the North Shore. Not far behind the car that woke me, growing sounds of more speeding automobiles. Another crumple of cars fly by, re-enforcing my resolve to take it slow today. It's dark out and will remain that way for another hour and a half; enjoy the ride.
        I needed gas, and the nearest station, a 7-Eleven, is a half mile south of here. I'd fill up my tank, grab some coffee, turn around, and head north without a problem. Not many cars would be going in my direction, but the early morning commuters speeding to town in the opposite direction warned me: Pay attention!
        Exiting the gas station, I could see a pair of headlights down the road coming towards me. I had plenty of time to make my right turn onto the highway without creating a hazard for either of us. Yet, by the time I pulled onto the road, those headlights zoomed right up behind me, my rearview mirror ablaze with bright light. "Son of a bitch, that guy was going way faster than I thought." A second premonition.
        Mr. racecar pulled up behind me too close and too fast. I wanted him off my tail, but I wasn't going to speed up for his sake. My mind's eye conjured up a tangle of blood, flesh and steel further up the road where he would try to pass me in front of oncoming traffic. Mario Andretti was chomping on the bit to get by and take over the lead, so I clicked on my right turn signal, pulled over, and watched him take off .
        I knew immediately I'd made a wise decision letting that car go by. My uptight feelings about how fast he came up on me, disappeared like him, into the dark, a drop of ink into a well. I would not see another car in my lane, front or rear, until I passed Punalu'u beach park, 25 minutes into the future. The morning commuters whizzed by, in and out of view, straggler vehicles following not so far behind, keeping pace, oblivious to their place in line.
        The CD player was off and I was having quiet time to myself. I looked out at the sky, a heaven packed with stars. The Ko'olaus crisp deep outline contrasted sharply against the brilliant night light. Out here alone on the dark highway found me asking myself the ancient questions: "Who are we?", "Why are we here?", "Where are we going?"
        Sum it up," I demanded of myself, "What have you really learned up to this point in your life?"
        My answer: "Not much."
        Yet, at 69 years of age my faculty for recall is abnormal and stretches far beyond the reach of many. Conversations on this theme throughout my life have revealed to me that most people don't remember the things from their earliest days. Some scoff, and others laugh, yet I have the ability to call up images from the earliest periods in my life. I thought everybody could do it. I was wrong. And, there is one thing more. I "see" things.
        Eventually, I learned not to reveal too much about that part of me. Prescient thoughts, foresight, and telling dreams have plagued me my entire life. I don't ask for or conjure up these visions; who would want to? I am just a vessel through whom these insights flow and that's it. Whatever it is, it just comes when it comes and goes when it goes. I have no control over it other than to pay close attention. At least I had learned that.
        A friend of mine lived just up the road and I was deciding whether to stop. I knew he would be up and about, but it was too early to call him or show up unannounced. Also, his wife would not be happy about a pre-dawn visit. I drove by his house, my head filled with thoughts of how pissed off my friend's wife would be. She could get real mad, but not as mad as that facial image I spotted in a tree a few hundred yards up ahead, on my side of the road. The third and strongest premonition.
        The ocean was on my right and this stretch of road curved to the left just past where the tree stood. Shadows cast from the overhead streetlight on the tree created a profile of an angry face looking at the road beyond the curve. I mentioned a mad or angry face, but now, the look on the face I saw was one of wicked anticipation. Something not very nice was going to happen around the corner and I knew it was coming. Remember, this was happening at 35 to 40 miles per hour.
        I didn't notice how much I slowed down while trying to get a better look at the face before I reached it, nor that I had been driving right at the tree, almost going onto the shoulder. In that instant that the face morphed back into the tree, I saw another source of light coming from around the bend. Driving into the curve, there were two pairs of headlights; one pair in the opposite lane and one pair in my lane. Directly in front of me, a large black truck, passing three cars, was right in my face.
        Luckily, I was already moving over to the far right side of the road. Watch out, a telephone pole! Narrowly missing the pole, I accelerated towards the tree avoiding the head-on collision. I just made it past the pick-up truck but I still had to crank a hard left to get back on the road and stay out of the ocean. The truck missed me by inches, squeezing in front of the final car it was passing and drove on. I was really pumped when I made it back on to the road. I saw the looks of the people in those other two cars, gaping wildly about when I was going by. They were the ones who were being passed by the truck. I could only imagine how scared they were and what they must have been thinking when they saw me appear. I had just escaped certain death! And, so did they.
        I didn't turn back to follow the truck like I would have when I was younger. I didn't pull out my cell and call the police. The adrenalin rush was too much. The traffic had passed, the highway was empty, and I began to weep.
        While it was happening, I felt the mind set I remembered using to ride bigger waves take over. This was a monster wave of death. I saw my line; it was critical. If I didn't pull it off there was going to be a five-car pile up. I heard myself yelling at the top of my lungs and my voice was ringing inside my car just like it does surfing inside a barrel. After it was over, the last thought I had before entering that death curve came back to me. It was the image in the tree and I asked it, "Will this be the last thing I ever see?"
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