I was the world’s most ass-backward teenager for lots of reasons, but this probably was reason #1. Imagine this argument going on at your own house with your own teen:
“Why do I have to take driver’s ed?! I don’t even want to drive. I don’t want to get my license.”
“Juli, you have to take driver’s ed to graduate.”
“Yeah, but I don’t have to have a license!” (in hysterical tears now) “There’s nowhere that says I have to have a license to graduate.”
“Well, no. But a license is a pretty useful thing to have. I think you’re going to need it at some point.”
“No!! No I won’t! I’m never going to drive!” (cue slamming door)
I’m not sure why my parents even argued. Wouldn’t it have saved them a lot of headaches to not have their teen unleashed on the roads of suburbia? Maybe they just went into default argue mode. Teenager is presenting an argument; therefore I must take up opposing side. I think this argument happened after I’d failed my first driver’s exam.
I had a very stormy new driver experience all the way through, actually. The summer I took Driver’s Ed was a busy one and my parents had not had time to take me out to practice with my learner’s permit before I began classes so the first time I was alone behind the wheel was my first day of Driver’s Ed class. I was terrified. I felt sure I was going to slam into someone or something. Maybe the car would sense how terrible a driver I was and spontaneously combust in a moment of hara kiri. I slid into the driver’s seat with my stomach in my shoes. Ok. There’s the gas. There’s the brake. Oh God. I’m going to kill someone. I can’t do this.
The class was in a basin in the far back of the high school parking lot. The cars were lined up parallel to each other and the day’s class was just pulling your car forward to one line in front of you and stopping and then backing up to another line and stopping. The pulling forward seemed do-able. Going backwards seemed like asking me to do a back-flip on the balance beam. Bad things were going to happen.
Our fearless leaders were the Phys Ed teachers and if they wanted to be there, they sure didn’t show it. Un-amused gym teachers teaching spoiled suburban brats how to drive during what should be their summer off is a formula for suffering on everyone’s part. Knowing that my teacher was not going to be fuzzy or comforting in any way just increased my mounting terror. To protect the innocent and the guilty, let’s call my teacher Mr. Sphincter. This guy would just as soon stab me in the eye with his pencil as give me a hug or encouraging word. I think he missed his calling as a drill sergeant. Or maybe he was retired. He wore immaculately pressed khakis and polo shirts and had a regulation buzz-cut. His eyes could bore a hole through your skull and his expression was one of permanent irritation.
There didn’t seem like enough cars for everyone, I thought cheerfully. Mr Sphincter announced we would take turns and asked who wanted to go first. My hand stayed firmly wedged against my side. He chose the first group and I watched as they completed the task at hand. “There,” I thought, “not so hard. They did it. Take a deep breath and get it together.”
Now I was sitting in front of the steering wheel and the sound of the driver’s side door clanging shut sounded ominously like those steel prison gates clanging shut in the movies. Now I was alone and operating a several ton vehicle. Oh god oh god oh god. Just touch the gas. My toes inched to the pedal and gingerly pressed. I was behind. Everyone else had already pulled forward and I was still sitting there shaking. At glacier pace I pulled toward the line as the rest of the class started backing up. Oh god. He was going to notice me. Mr Sphincter was going to come at me with his pencil of doom. Better start backing up. I had not pulled all the way to the line but I started the terrifying process of reverse. Put the car in gear. Oh god oh god oh god. I was going backwards. Again I didn’t make it to the reverse line before the class was going forward again. It went on like this for what seemed like an eternity before Mr Sphincter put me out my misery and told us to park and get out of our vehicles.
When the class was re-assembled he began going over the salient points of forward and reverse. Then he said, “I don’t know if you all noticed Juli out there? But she is an example of bad depth perception. She is going to have to watch out for that in the future.”
Great. I had made an enemy of Sphincter on the first day of class. It continued to be a stormy relationship. He about had an embolism during the serpentine when I hit several orange cones. You would think that I had crushed a small child’s head under my wheel. He hated that I drove with both feet. (Another symptom of my terror. I wanted to be as by-god-close-to-the-brake-as-possible at all times.) He failed me in several portions of the class. I averaged out to a C somehow with the written portions of the class. One of two C’s I would ever receive in high school and I counted myself lucky to have come out alive.
I didn’t want to take this test. I didn’t want to drive. Every experience behind the wheel was an exercise in abject fear. I was going to do something wrong. There were so many rules to remember. Everyone else was going so fast. Highway driving was the closest I had ever come to ascending straight to heaven based on sheer will.
I failed my first driver’s exam. On the second try I passed and was sure I had put one over on the instructor. Since then I have been in a few fender benders and a serious accident or two. Somehow I drive without anxiety. It is an ordinary miracle. Most of the time I am merely irritated as I navigate Devon Ave with its triple-parked trucks and taxis weaving erratically around them. Moving to Chicago was phobia therapy for my driving. I threw myself straight from the frying pan into the fire and somehow it cured me.
Now I drive like all the other assholes out there. I’m not sure whose victory that is.