The weekend was all about driving lessons for this little learner – two hours on Saturday, and another two on Sunday. Saturday I drove north to Palm Beach and back, but Sunday boasted the big ticket items as Llewie and I headed across town: I made my driving debuts across both the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Anzac Bridge (easily my favourite bridge in Sydney, not that I had much opportunity to gaze in appreciation this time round), and did it all again on the way home.
As we reached the car Sunday before heading off to a friend’s lunch in Rozelle, a brief, violent storm hit Man Town. Llew looked doubtfully at the gathering mini-tornado and asked not once, but twice, “Are you sure you’re okay to drive?”
It was like a Truman Show obstacle course – a specially engineered test designed to dissuade me. A palm tree flew past. Any second I expected the neighbour’s roof to lift off and hurtle down the street after us. I set my jaw and got in the driver’s seat.
“It’s probably a good idea for me to have a lesson in the rain,” I said.
“Rain is one thing…” Llew muttered.
As dramatically as it began, the burst of destruction abruptly subsided not long after I drove out of Man Town – although not before a car spun completely out of control on the opposite side of the road, ending up lying like a boom gate across two lanes of traffic – and the sun came out in reassuring shafts of light for the remainder of the trip. I was so glad I’d persevered – it would have been all too easy to say, “Oh yes, it’s too hard, never mind” – and I won’t learn to drive doing that. There are plenty of excuses not to if one starts down that slippery slope (I’m too tired, there’s too much traffic, there’s a lightning storm, I don’t know the way, etc.), and I didn’t want to allow myself a single one of them.
I wanted to cross the bridge.
I wanted to cross the bridge because now I’ll never be crossing it for the first time ever again – instead, I have already driven across it twice. There, now. That wasn’t so bad, was it? So that particular fear has been confronted – and therefore diminished – although I don’t think I’ll ever lose the sense of caution about it. Then again, nor should I. Driving is a serious business, a big responsibility, and too many people get hurt or killed on the road for me to do anything but approach it with extreme care.
Sweaty palms like you would not believe totally gave the game away – I would make a comically lousy drug mule. My palms were dripping when I managed to peel them off the wheel at a set of lights to show Llew. I didn’t feel nearly as nervous or stressed as my saturated palms suggested – in fact, I felt quite calm. Focused on the task. Determined to drive. It’s hard to imagine a day when I’ll be competent and experienced enough to actually enjoy driving, but I hope and trust I’ll get there eventually, and I look forward to it, because right now it’s just exhausting. I’m concentrating so hard that it becomes a physical and mental effort I hadn’t quite reckoned on.
Still, I am doing it. I am driving, I will keep driving, and I will get this qualification before the baby arrives. I will be a driver.
Not driving had begun to feel like the last lingering vestige of my mother’s legacy of deliberate ineptitude, and her extraordinary determination to stunt the development of her kids. It was the one remaining eccentricity of my life that could be traced directly to her. There’s no question this is part of my motivation for learning now: I want to snap that final thread. I don’t want to be the kind of mother who can’t – sorry, won’t – do this basic thing. I have clear memories of my granddad’s failed attempts to teach my mother how to drive. He bought her at least one car, and I distinctly remember her melodramatic hands-in-the-air damsel wailing every time she was briefly behind the wheel. I can hear the sound of it as though it were yesterday. To a child, she made driving look terrifying. And she never learned. The disease of her influence naturally spread down to us: my big sister didn’t learn, I didn’t learn, my brother didn’t learn. Then came two more kids with our stepfather: neither of them had learned the last time we were in contact. I believe her example succeeded in spooking and delaying us all.
I believe this because she tried to spook and delay us in everything else, too, and I now hate the fact that she succeeded on this driving front with me, because in every other respect, I escaped her debilitating clutches long ago, and know them for what they were: her sad, sick need to feel better about herself by surrounding herself with children, only to systematically cripple them one by one.
One by one, down we went – or down I was going, until I got away from her. The others weren’t so fortunate as to make an early escape. All of us had huge potential and good hearts and special gifts, but she took great care not to foster a single talent, nor to encourage the smallest shred of ability that might have led to our becoming capable and productive members of society – functional, and therefore capable of being independent of her. The force of my desire for independence was stronger than her ability to extinguish it, and that’s the only thing, I think, that really saved me. I think the others – I can’t speak for them, of course, but I’ve often wondered about this difference – felt more beholden to her than to themselves, so took their cues and made their decisions based on what she wanted – a trapped audience for her self-made dramas – rather than what they may have wanted for themselves. A criminal waste, in my opinion – but then again, she was never interested in that.
And now I am learning to drive a car anyway – all the better for continuing the lifelong work of driving myself far, far away.