Tuesday, June 7, 2011
I have a secret very few people know:
I almost had a nervous breakdown when I learned how to drive.
You see, when I was 16, I enrolled in the wrong Driver's Education course. I entered a program created for male high school athletes that was intended to curb the state's number of rising drunk driving accidents. (I did not know this at the time.)
The program consisted of 12 classes and 10 one-on-one driving lessons. I was the only girl in class.
The instructor was Dave, a retired college football coach. His face was red, like a strawberry, and he always wore a scowl on his face.
When I had my first driving lesson with Coach Dave, I was incredibly nervous. I didn't really know what I was doing and Dave kept grumbling under his breath, which made me even more nervous.
We drove around for 30 minutes and his grumbling got louder and louder. At one point he told me to pick up my speed because I was driving like a little girl.
As soon as I turned right onto a busy street, Dave shouted at me, "PUT ON YOUR GODDAMN TURN SIGNAL! ALWAYS PUT ON YOUR TURN SIGNAL!"
I had never had a person scream at me in such a monstrous way before and I burst into tears. I had to pull over on the side of the road because I was sobbing so hard.
Coach Dave was silent while I gathered myself together.
"I'm sorry," he said, gruffly. "I'm not used to dealing with young ladies. I was harsh on you."
He instructed me to pull through a McDonald's drive-thru and he bought me a chocolate ice cream cone as a peace offering. I'm not going to lie, it cheered me up.
From then on, the driving lessons were somewhat endurable. His voice raised on several occasions and his face would turn bright red, but I could tell that he was trying to make an effort not to erupt on me like before.
The classes, however, were a different story.
Since the class was based on preventing reckless driving amongst male teenage athletes, it based its importance on shock value. We were shown real footage of burning wrecks, with charred bodies and blood in the street.
We were also shown "this could be you" mini-movies, with plots like:
-A group of jocks were driving in a convertible along a highway, drinking beer and laughing about "smokin' hot chicks." All of the sudden, the driver realizes that he's driving off a cliff! They die.
-A handsome football player and his girlfriend were driving along a highway, drinking beer and cuddling. He leans over to stick his tongue in her mouth and accidentally drives his pick-up truck right into a tree. They die.
-A group of jocks were yelling "yeah, baby, yeah!" while drinking beer and driving along a highway. They smash into a semi. They die.
And each mini-movie was incredibly graphic. Blood, guts, and fire. And it always ended with a sobbing mother, leaning against her husband, saying, "if only our son hadn't been driving so recklessly!"
I was horrified. I had never been so affected by anything before in my life. The videos gave me nightmares. I couldn't sleep. Every time I was behind the wheel, I imagined myself driving into a semi or plunging off a cliff.
When the classes ended and I passed my driving test, my parents' proudly gave me a Nissan Altima to call my own. But I gave them the keys back with my own bad news: I was never going to drive again.
They were stunned. I continued to ride the bus to school. My parents begged me to drive the car. I flat out refused. I didn't want to die.
Finally, my second semester of 11th grade, I started seeing a therapist to deal with my problem. After a few months of therapy, I still had no desire to drive.
Plus, my boyfriend had just been given a brand new BMW for his birthday. He drove me everywhere I wanted to go! Life was peachy.
Finally, my parents got fed up. They wanted to use me as their servant and I couldn't be one unless I drove my car to go run their errands. So, they told me I was only allowed to hang out with my boyfriend if I drove to see him. He was no longer allowed to pick me up. By using a boy as bait, my parents did what four months of therapy could not do: I drove.
And by being forced to drive every day so I could see the object of my affection, I gained confidence. The gruesome mini-movie images slowly faded out of my head. By the time senior year came around, I was zooming all over town!
So if you learn anything from this story, let it be: sometimes you have to throw a baby in water to teach it how to swim.*
*Disclaimer: I would never actually throw a newborn or infant into a body of water without a flotation device.