I didn’t drive for nearly seven years.
I didn’t need to. I grew up in a small town, a city by my state’s standards, but a semirural dot on the map by most measures. Half the kids I knew had parents like my dad: state employees, government drones. The other half were kids of honest-working folk who farmed, ranched, used their hands.
These last kids had been driving since they’d turned twelve, their daddies taking them deep into the valley where the roads were straight and empty. I’d never once sat behind the wheel.
A week or two into driver’s ed I found myself out behind my high school, staring at the late-model ford sedan I’d soon be pushing around the parking lot. “Who’s first?” asked the cross-town middle school phys ed teacher who’d be chaperoning me and the mousy young girl whose first time it was, too.
But she’d driven before. She went first, I was too shy. She was rough, but not horrible. Once we’d taken a few turns around the parking lot we hit the side streets and then, more cautiously, an artery or two. Our instructor was curt but encouraging. We made it back alive.
It was my turn. The wheel felt enormous. The pedals were lead. The windshield was a vacancy of slate-gray cloud. I was terrified.
“Put it in gear, then go and head and give it some gas.” I fumbled with the lever on the steering column. All the cars I’d ever seen my parents drive were sticks, with the shift on the floor. “The other way,” I was told, gruffly. I managed to find reverse and tapped the gas pedal. We lurched backward and I hit the brakes, panicked.
“Not so much!” He sighed.
“Try it again.”
I did. We lurched again, just as violently.
“Jesus! You’ve got to do it smoothly. Smoothly!”
“I’m sorry, I’m trying.”
“Have you ever driven before?”
He sighed. “All right, we’re just gonna take it around the parking lot a bit. Try it again, smoothly.”
I tried, and managed to get us out of the parking space.
“Okay, now take us around the lot.” I began, starting a slow orbit. “Turn here.” I turned where I thought he’d meant me to, into the roundabout at the school’s rear entrance. “No, no, NO! Didn’t you see the sign? One way!”
“Sorry!” I stopped and made as though to turn us about.
“No, you can’t turn around now, just keep going. Jesus!” My face burned. I took us through the roundabout, glacially slow. We made it out.
“Okay, let’s get away from the building a little bit.”
For the next twenty minutes we made slow circles around the parking lot, practicing simple turns, practicing signals and mirrorwork, practicing the brakes. I said nothing the whole time.
I never rode with him again, but the damage had been done. After I finally got my license several months later (I’d failed my first attempt at the road test after backing into a small tree while trying to parallel park) I didn’t drive for nearly seven years, too traumatized to try it out.