My mother turned Paul’s advice into a mnemonic formula: S.A.L.E. Get Still, Ask, Listen, Expect an answer. After a few weeks, I had finally recognized that quiet, subtle “voice” in my thoughts. Paul had said my guide might tell me its name, and I believed him. I didn’t trust myself enough, I wanted a name, to make it a voice outside myself, an “other.” If the voice had a name, I could blame it or decide to ignore it. If it truly was my own Higher Self, then ignoring it wouldn’t be as easy.
That midsummer night I had taught an evening class in Portland and drove home alone, late at night under a full moon, silver firs gleaming in the dark, lit white on the ends of their branches. I glided silently through long dark corridors lined with moon-silvered trees and animal eyes that flamed and glowed red in the headlights.
When I got to the logging town of Vermilion I didn’t slow down much. There wasn’t a lot to see—the only light in town was in the phone booth. The moon showed the movie theater, years ago converted into a pizza parlor and then into a Chinese restaurant and then into Arlene’s Craft Shop and then into a secondhand store the senior citizens ran when they felt like it. The big sign still called it the Moonlight Theater and the arcade still said PIZZ. Sometimes driving through late at night there were loggers fighting in the ditch outside the High Line Tavern, but that night it was late, the taverns had closed and everyone had gone home. When I crossed the bridge over the Nehalem River by the grade school, going 45, the sign said Speed Limit 25 MPH.
The voice and I were in the middle of a conversation where I was still trying to get the voice to tell me its name. I didn’t slow down. The cop was waiting around the curve past the grade school. He swung in behind me with his blue light already whirling.
I pulled over at a wide spot in the road. Through the open windows of the Blazer I heard the river gurgling around rocks, heard the door of the police car open, heard my own heart beating too loud in my ears.
His boots cracked toward me on the pavement. When he got to my window he shined his big flashlight all around inside, like he thought I had someone in there with me.
“Good evening, Ma’am,” he said. He wore mirror shades. At midnight. The black plastic visor of his hat was pulled low over the glasses. Muscles stretched the short sleeves taut on his navy blue uniform shirt, shiny gold badge over the pocket, black-banded watch pushed down to where his wrist joined his hand. Heavy black gun in a holster on his hip.
The cop was tall, had to lean down to talk to me. “Going a little fast through town?” He made it a question.
“I guess I wasn’t paying attention,” I said.
“You’re out pretty late all by yourself, aren’t you?” he said.
I thought about telling him I wasn’t, strictly speaking, all by myself. But he was the Vermilion cop and he’d think I was crazy. I didn’t answer.
The cop got tough. “I asked you a question.” He leaned down and looked right into my face, mean. Not much business tonight. He was probably one of those redneck jerks who went deer hunting near our farm and got pissed off if they didn’t kill a deer by the third day, by which time they were all good and drunk and then shot at our dogs or tried to run them over when they drove by. He even could have been the one who ran over Misty, when she was pregnant with her first puppies, veered his camouflage Jeep off the road onto the shoulder to take her out, then sped off in a cloud of dust and gravel.
“Sorry, Sir,” I said softly. “I didn’t mean to be rude. Yes, I had to work late tonight.”
I wished I’d cleaned out the car. My stuff was piled everywhere, the stuff I needed for when I drove to work. Coffee cups and the towel I kept on my lap when I drank coffee in the car so I wouldn’t ruin my work clothes, and newspapers and my tape recorder, Jack’s chainsaw in the back and my thermos and hairbrush and makeup and my journal. I hadn’t really cleaned out the Blazer since Christmas. There were still pine needles and price tags from our tree lot.
The cop looked at my driver’s license and saw my address: Birkenfeld, only twenty miles down the road. I couldn’t use the line I’d used closer to Portland, that I’d never driven this highway before and didn’t know the speed limit.
“You know the speed limit is 25 in Vermilion and I clocked you at 50,” he said.
“I thought 45,” I replied. Oh geez, now he’ll really nail me, I thought. I knew better than to argue with a cop.
“OK, forty-five it is. I’m going to write you up,” he said, straightening his back and pulling out his ticket book. “I know it’s late but people have to realize the law’s the law, twenty-four hours a day.” His sunglasses beneath the hat visor reflected the street light. “Maybe a ticket will help you to remember the speed limit next time you drive through.”
The cop wheeled and jackbooted back to the patrol car. I watched him in the rear view mirror. Now he was on the radio, checking me out to see if I was an escaped convict or was driving a stolen car. His blue light was still turning. If he asked for my car registration I’d be in big trouble.
He was back in another minute. “I need your car registration,” he said.
I told him the truth. “I had it in the visor and it blew out the car window a while back and I haven’t had a chance to get it replaced.” I didn’t have to say how long ago it blew out, so I didn’t.
He leaned down and shined his silver flashlight in my eyes. “You know you are required by law to carry your vehicle registration in the vehicle at all times.”
“Yes, Sir,” I said.
“This is another violation,” he said. “Exceeding the speed limit and failure to carry vehicle registration in the vehicle.” He stood up straight and snapped off the flashlight. “I’m going to have to write you up for both violations.”
I could see the redneck jerk heading back for his car like he had finally snagged a live possum in his foot trap, thrilled to have actually stopped someone. He got back on his radio.
He was taking a long time. I couldn’t just sit there and wait. I got still, and resumed my earlier conversation. “Hey, what do you think of this guy?” I asked. Then I listened, expecting an answer.
The voice always answered in that quiet whisper, wise and compassionate. “Everybody hates cops. He could use a little love.”
I whispered my answer. “Love. Fat chance. That’s not gonna work.”
“How do you know, have you tried it?”
The cop was still on the radio, talking and watching me so I wouldn’t make a run for it. I supposed he would have to shoot me down if I did. Justifiable homicide.
“Think of him as your brother,” the voice advised. “Think of him as your son. What have you got to lose?”
“Okay, I’ll try it,” I answered. If this was my guide, I would do what it suggested I should do. The voice was always kinder than me, and usually right.
I looked in the rearview mirror and stared at the cop. Somebody must love him. His mother must love him. If nobody loved him, no wonder he was a jerk. He reminded me of my son, not a jerk, but sometimes pissing people off when he was trying to do his job as a manager at a software company, as he understood it. So young, so eager, so intense, trying to have an air of authority. I had to smile.
I imagined the cop was my son. The guy must be bored and tired, hanging out at midnight in Vermilion, waiting for a chance to be a cop. Wanting to be a real good cop. My heart went out to him. As my thoughts about the cop shifted from fear to love, my shoulders relaxed.
The cop got out of the patrol car and slammed the door.
He didn’t turn on his flashlight this time. Stood by my window and looked at the mess in the back. The inside of my car looked like I lived in it. He probably thinks I’m homeless and I stole the chain saw, I thought. I tried hard not to laugh. He leaned down to talk to me, his hand on the window sill. He was smiling.
“Well, little lady, I don’t think I’ll give you a ticket after all. It would be pretty expensive. About $245. I don’t think you could afford that,” he said. He didn’t look mean anymore. He put his ticket book in his back pocket. “I’ll just give you a verbal warning this time.” He slapped the windowsill. “Slow down when you drive through Vermilion, okay?”
“Okay. Thanks, Officer,” I said. No ticket. Verbal warning. I stared at him, beaming love and gratitude.
“Go ahead and pull out,” he told me, “and I’ll watch for traffic.” There hadn’t been a single car pass us the whole time we sat there. I pulled out onto the highway. Slowly. In the rearview mirror, I could see him turn off the blue light and make a U-turn, headed back into Vermilion.
I whispered to my inner voice. “That’s it? That’s all it takes? I can’t believe it! I didn’t even have to do anything, or say anything…”
I remembered the Dean of the Graduate School, changing his attitude when I changed mine. I decided to believe it.
“Tell me your name,” I whispered.
“No name,” the voice said in my head.
“I know you must have a name,” I told him.
“I am your own Higher Self,” the voice said again. “Whether you like it or not.”
I wasn’t sure that I liked it.
“Call me whatever you want,” the voice whispered in my mind. “If you’re not ready yet to accept where these thoughts come from, if it makes you more comfortable, call me Peter.”
“I hate that name,” I said out loud. “I used to work with a guy named Peter. He was chubby, and he wore clear polish on his fingernails.”
“If you have to have a name, there it is. And I also like clear nail polish.”
Right. My guide had a name. And a sense of humor.
Peter. The disciple named Simon to whom Jesus gave a new name, meaning “the rock.” The responsible one.
Peter. The doubter—accepting the challenge from Jesus to walk on water as He did, believing Jesus’ words that “he that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do…” and then sinking beneath the waves when he lost his faith.
Peter. The disciple who denied that he knew Jesus—three times—after His arrest.
I was a responsible work ethic person, a believer who sometimes doubted, and a Course teacher who sometimes preferred to think that Helen Schucman, by herself, had written the Course, rather than Jesus Himself.
How ironic. The only name I could get out of my guide was too close to home. It was me. Not my ego self, but my Higher Self.
Nevertheless, I liked Paul’s method. I decided to call my guide Peter.