There’s nothing wrong with admitting your weaknesses. I happen to suck at driving.
Don’t get me wrong, I have a valid driver’s license, and it wasn’t handed to me on a silver platter either. I earned mine the hard way. I failed that test enough times I ended up skulking around the Ottawa Valley looking for places to take it where they wouldn’t recognize me. Eventually I passed the test in Kingston when I was in my mid-thirties. I squeaked in just under the graduated licensing wire.
It’s not like I’ve had a lot of accidents. Just one. Unfortunately it was on a road test, and they say that’s one of the worst places to have a collision because it counts as an automatic failure.
“I know,” said the tester, “that you’d like to have your license so you could drive yourself and your baby around,” (I was 8 months pregnant at the time), “but I think it would be better for you and your baby if you waited awhile.”
And then he consoled me by telling me even if I hadn’t had the collision, he would have failed me because I cut off a motorcycle. (And I thought I’d audio-hallucinated the motorcycle, because I could hear it but I couldn’t see it anywhere.)
I think the reason I find driving so scary is because my mother got her license when I was about five or six. Every time she thought she was going to have an accident, she’d scream “FLOOR!!!!!”, and Debbie and I would dive onto the floor and squeeze our eyes shut and cover our ears and hold our breath and wait for the collision that would completely change our lives. Then, when the accident was averted, my mother would say “Ok, you can get up now,” and we’d start breathing again and climb back onto the back seat, white as ghosts and suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome.
Then we’d talk about what would happen if there were a collision.
“You two would be okay because you’re in the back seat on the floor,” my mother would say, “It’s the safest place in the whole car.”
“What about you Mommy?” we’d ask.
“Well,” she’d say sadly, “The driver’s seat is a very dangerous place, so I’d probably die.”
“But who would take care of us if you died?” we’d ask, because kids really only give a damn about themselves.
And she’d tell us that our grandfather, Opa, would take care of us.
And then we’d talk about where she would be buried and how often we’d visit her grave, and whether she’d be cold down there, and we’d say we wanted to be buried beside her when we died, and stuff like that.
I think it scarred me for life and gave me a lifelong fear of driving.
Or maybe it was those fortnightly treks from Montreal to Kingston, which included that treacherous stretch of highway known as “Death Strip.”
People literally plunged off the highway to their deaths all the time along Death Strip, and it was only a matter of time till we would too. I could barely breathe as our little red Renault hurtled through that winding, twisty passage. It was nothing short of miraculous that my mother managed to get us safely through it time after time.
My mom kept Debbie and me from fighting over the passenger seat by telling us it was the most dangerous spot in the entire car: more dangerous even than the driver’s seat. So dangerous, in fact, that it was known as the Suicide Seat. There really could be nothing more terrifying than being in the Suicide Seat on Death Strip. Neither one of us would sit up there.
After I grew up I had a car of my own for a couple of years when I lived in Wakefield. It was a little black Chevy. I got better at driving while I had it, although I never learned to like city driving. The world was too fast, and too many life-and-death decisions had to be made on the fly. The sign on the passenger side mirror caused me great consternation: “Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear.” Jesus. How much closer?? I wouldn’t change lanes unless there was nobody in that lane as far as the eye could see.
Driving just isn’t my thing.
My mom has been in Europe for the last couple of weeks, casing out the town which will be the setting for her next novel. Apparently all the men in this town are mentally defective. She left her car at my house, in case my little sister needed my help. The thing is, my sister’s living in a rural community with four children and no car. Unfortunately I’m too scared of driving to drive a car with children in it in case I kill them, so I haven’t been a whole lot of help to her.
The car goes back tomorrow: I’ve put a total of 4.7 km on it.