Saturday, November 28, 2009


I took a shortcut back from the movie theater today and remembered that the road--half an hour from my parents' house--was the first I'd ever driven on.

The lesson happened in the Spring, with my dad. Off to the right, the Connecticut River, swollen with what used to be winter.

We pulled over, switched seats. My sister, fearful in back, protested mildly.

I drove like a movie character, rocking the wheel back and forth, trying to stay precisely in the middle of my lane. It's a very curvy road, one I've since taken in order to feel like a race-car driver: I cut the corners of the yellow line, accelerate over bumps and down hills (in my family, we call the feeling you get from such a maneuver a "tickle in the toodle," but I've also heard it referred to as a "Thank you ma'am").

Back then, though, I was tentative. I shifted in my seat and swerved slowly.

"Pick a way and just drive," my dad said.

On some level, I didn't want to be able to do that, to master this thing I'd always looked at with a sense of anticipation, this ability that separated the men from the boys. I think I wanted the pedals to be complex or something.

In order to feel like I was piloting the car, I fiddled, to my dad's dismay, with the dashboard (hazard lights) and then the radio (Phil Collins).

I wanted to earn the freedom that came with driving a car by having the learning process be very difficult. Not just P to R to N to D and go. I ten-and-twoed the wheel and held my breath.

I think I've always been a person who's looked for a sea change, something big to surprise me out of how I understand the world. And I expect too much from milestones. I want to believe that the benchmarks we set up--like learning to drive--actually represent a movement from one period to another, emotionally.

When I took over the car that day, I wanted the adventure to make me feel different. Not that I felt all that bad; I just figured there was some powerful experience out there I'd been getting ready for, revving up to.

I eventually straightened out, drove quickly amidst the scattered shadow of newly-grown leaves, past cows chewing wet cud, through Chevys up on blocks--on both sides of the road--being rebuilt from the inside out.

"There ya go," my dad said. I pulled over, put it into neutral. It felt good, but, truth be told, I'd expected there to be more to the shifting than there was.

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