16 years ago, I was 16. That’s when I was supposed to learn how to drive, but it didn’t mean anything to me then. I didn’t really care.
I did the test the first time because my dad offered to take me and to pay for it. I didn’t pass. Then I tried again, maybe a month later. I didn’t pass again. Then it became this thing I couldn’t do. That was the kind of student I was in school. I hated doing homework. It felt like busywork. I wasn’t interested in proving myself. I already knew I was smart. People had told me I was smart my whole life. I passed tests. Why did I have to do homework, too? So my grades looked like I was going to fail all year, then I pulled out As on the tests, and averaged with Bs. That was enough for me. The driving test became just another thing I didn’t care to prove to the world.
I didn’t try again until this September, 16 years later. I downloaded the app. I read through the book, then did the practice tests. I never failed once. It had nothing to do with being smart, with different methods of learning, with trying harder. It had everything to do with care. First, care. That’s the only rule that matters. Driving means something to me now. I put it off for stupid reasons, and now I’m doing it to prove myself to myself. It’s not about showing off. It’s not about validation. It’s about accomplishing something.
It’s also about knowing the consequences. Looking for a job is a lot harder when you don’t have your license. A lot of companies use it as a way of weeding people out at the first hurdle, even when driving isn’t necessary to the job. They just don’t want to have to deal with the hassle of people dependent on transit. Because transit is a hassle, especially out here on this side of the river. Buses don’t start early enough; they don’t run late enough. If I want to go out, not even downtown, just out after dark (and now that dark is half the day), I need to be prepared to walk home from the bus loop. That’s about half an hour. At least it’s all downhill. The transit out here is terrible, and yet they’re still surprised that people don’t want to take the bus. We’d love to take the bus. Send us some buses.
It still took me a month to get behind the wheel. Just sitting in the driver seat is uncomfortable. I feel on display in the front seat, even in the front passenger seat. I never know what to do with my hands. Everyone can see my thighs. I feel hidden when I sit in the backseat of a car. When you’re the driver, especially a driver who’s learning, this is even worse. How do I hold my hands? Is the seatbelt cutting into my stomach and making it look weird? Should I leave my right hand on the shifter or on the wheel? Where do I rest my left foot?
I’m driving with my grandpa. My parents own a big truck, but I needed a smaller car to get started. I adjust the seat, bringing it forward, pulling it upright. Everything feels too big around me. I can’t see the nose of the car. I can’t see where the back bumper ends. The first day, I let the car reverse to the end of the driveway, then I stepped on the brake, then I drove back to the top. I did that for almost an hour, just back and forth, forth and back, until every stop felt smooth.
I made it out of the driveway on the first day, and by the next, I felt ready to go a little farther. I executed the turn out and the turn into the driveway. Out, and around the corner to the end of the cul-de-sac, then back. It’s a lot of turning because I live at the entrance of a cul-de-sac with two loops. I never took the car over 5km. I barely touched the gas pedal. We did the whole hour with my foot on the brake, just idling around corners, speeding up where the road declines, slowing down where it curves upwards. That was the whole lesson. Back and forth.
I told my grandpa I felt ready for the next level, and I asked him if he thought that meant going faster or going farther. He said keep going. As in, keep doing what you’re doing, just do it more. I drove that cul-de-sac route for an hour, and by the end of it, I was bored. But I was also better. I felt better about it. I felt more comfortable. I made fewer mistakes. I didn’t feel like everyone was watching me and wondering what the fuck I was doing.
I was driving, and I’ve never done that before. I imagine the next time we go out, I’ll be able to drive around the block a bit. Maybe I won’t make it onto the main streets, but we have quite the little maze of residential roads where I live. I’ll just keep driving that route. Back and forth. Forth and back. Until I know what else I need to do.