Almost a decade ago when I was 15 years old, all my friends were getting their driver’s licenses and permits. Naturally, wanting to stay up with the in-crowd, I bounded over to my parents tail-a-waggin’ and asked if I could get my permit. The answer, contrary to what they say now, was a resounding “NO.” I asked more than a few times before eventually losing interest. After all, my best friend had just gotten hers, so, ultimately, I had little need for one.
The years slipped by unnoticed and suddenly I was 18 and Dad was demanding to know when I would drive. This was a couple of years after I had begun consciously collecting phobias. I thought about his question for a moment and realized just how thoroughly the concept terrified me. I had been so removed from thinking about it that the mere idea had me hiding behind walls of aggressive dismissal.
How could I, a girl who barely controlled her mood swings, let alone her life, be expected to control a ton or more of moving metal at high speeds on highways and back roads, bullied by the traffic teeming around her? It was too much.
But why did it scare me?
There’s a car downside up. There’s a girl half outside it, half in. There’s a girl, her insides half outside. She’s a puddle on a low tide beach of glass cubes and gravel, shining in a sunset of flashing blues and reds. It’s harder to hear than to feel. Everything muffled by her pained pulse. There’s a man, his edges indistinct, blurring into the blinding lights behind him. He doesn’t understand that she doesn’t understand.
He asks again, touching her. Did he ask if it hurt? Stranger danger! The childhood chant summons itself into the hollow hole of her mind. She wants to laugh. There’s not enough air to laugh. Why? What was on top of her? A glance up gained comprehension. The door was on her, off its hinge. The door was off its hinges, in her.
“Miss, you’ve been in an accident. Try not to move.”
Why does driving scare me?
Because my brain never stops writing. But rather than be a one trick pony, my innovative little brain started writing excuses on top of its frightful fiction, each as logical as the last.
“I’ll get a license when I go to college.”
“I’ll practice this summer when the roads are clear.”
“I can’t drive the Jeep while she’s using it to get to work.”
“I can’t practice if you keep loaning the car out.”
“I’ll get it when I have a car.”
Between 18 and 22, I drove a grand total of ten times. I hated it. It set flaming nails to my nerves and pounded them in with each passing car. How could I be expected to survive? An irrational fear that I would die in an accident at 23 (spoiler alert: I’m 24) tightened the tension and my grip on the wheel.
Fear mixed with a wounded pride when my brother got his license at 16. My brother is four years younger than I am. Worse still, was the discovery that of all my teachers, he was by far the best when it came to driving. Despite our fights and differences of opinion, we somehow managed to click while driving. It was a Goldilocks kind of thing. My mom was too hot, gasping, grimacing, gripping the door, and crying “Careful!” at every move I made. My dad was too cold, disinterested, ambivalent, and inattentive whenever we drove, more focused on his phone than the road. But my siblings were just right. My sister calmly corrected and talked, pointing out that I was doing fine and my fears were unjustified, though perhaps she was a touch too supportive. My brother was laid back but impressively aware, keeping up conversation while course correcting and offering advice I’d never heard before (“Don’t turn the wheel back into place, loosen your grip and let it slide back on its own so you don’t overcorrect.”). However, no matter how “just right” the meal is, it can’t last.
Eventually, our different mindsets brought our conflicts to the road as well. Like my dad, my brother lacks the ability to empathize with my worldviews. He doesn’t understand why I don’t just drive down and get my license. His logic (or lack thereof) is “Just do it.” Those words still make me cringe, regardless of what they’re referring to. Just do it. What on this planet or any other is that simple? More to the point, how could someone tell that to a person who was quite literally prone to anxiety attacks at the thought of driving and expect said person to not be offended? Offended is putting it lightly; I was livid. Nothing frustrates me quite so much as being misunderstood, and for him to think that it was so simple proved that he had misunderstood a great deal.
That said, months later I now stand on the verge of “just doing it.” As of August 25th I have my own car and drive to school with Mom almost every week. I’ve conquered driving back roads and highways, I’ve mastered not turning the wheel when I check my blind spots, and I’ve even parked in the garage next to Mom’s car without hitting it. Parking in general and backing up still pose a bit of a problem, though they are far from the monoliths they once were. Admittedly, I’ve never once attempted to parallel park. Presently, my issue, the last lap keeping me from the awkward photo-finish that is any form of identification, is yet another concept: driving alone. I’m comfortable driving now, to a degree, but so much of that has to do with the person in my passenger seat, the person who saves me from mind slips and calls out “Red light!” or “Blind spot!” the person who plays the pivotal role of failsafe, of safety net. I know that when I’m finally forced to do it alone, the anxieties will return, the unsteady lack of confidence that can be all too fatal.
I promised them the test at the end of October. I promised them the test when I got my car. I promised them so many things so many times. I promised myself. I feel the excuses behind me, see them pointing out exit strategies and pushing me towards the escape hatch.
But I have a lot to do.
But it’s Halloween next week.
But it just snowed.
But I am busy.
But I can’t do it right now.
But I can’t parallel park.
But I can drive.