Get ready, readers. I'm participating in The Scintilla Project! What does that mean for you? TWO STRAIGHT WEEKS OF DAILY BLOG POSTS FROM YOURS TRULY! What? Don't think I have it in me? Because that's more posts in one month than I usually do in three months? Well... You got me there. But I'll show you! The project starts today, and we were given two choices of these two prompts:
1. Who are you?
2. Life is a series of firsts. Talk about one of your most important
firsts. What did you learn? Was it something you incorporated into your
life as a result?
Who am I? Hell if I know. It changes almost daily. NEXT!
Most important firsts. Now there's something I can talk about...
The most important "first" of my life is one I've written about before on the blog, but one that continues to stick with me. I still remember this day often, and I still think about how far I've come from that day, because I never thought I'd get to that first, much less beyond it to where I am now. What was it?
The first time I drove a car.
Unlike a good portion of you, this didn't happen when I was 15 or 16. Not even at 17 or 18. It didn't happen until I was 25 years old. I had been married for almost a year at the time. I'd lived in the mountains of Western Pennsylvania (IUP, holla!), Towson, MD and then York, PA. I worked, part time while in school, and full time after that. I got by just fine without ever having to get my license and learn how to drive.
Why didn't I drive? Fear. Plain and simple. No matter how I tried to rationalize the decision, it was fear at the heart of it. (You can read about how the fear started here.)
The first time I sat behind the wheel.
I laughed. I don't mean a good-natured "hey, look at me!" kind of laugh, either. I mean a nervous, couldn't control myself kind of giggling. For a minute. Maybe two. That's the moment I think about so often.
If you look at the post about fear I mentioned above, you'll probably see how the fear developed, and how it grew, and you'll probably understand the why and how of it. But you can never understand just how real the fear was for me unless you've experienced something similar. Or unless you were there to see me that day.
I could see on my husband's face that part of him wanted to laugh with me (I bet I was a pretty funny sight, to an outsider, and laughter is contagious anyway) but I could also see another part of him that finally, finally, after six years knowing me, realized I was truly afraid.
I say often that my husband is my safety net. I feel safe with him in situations that might otherwise freak me out. He'd never pressed the issue of me not driving, but I still felt silly every time we talked about it. I felt a little bit sheepish whenever I explained my non-driving to anyone. Knowing my fear wasn't rational didn't make it any less potent.
But seeing the way he looked at me that day, at that moment, it was like I had suddenly been validated. The way his eyes said I get it now spoke to the tiny piece of me that had always whispered You're crazy. You know that, right? And it told that voice to SHUT THE FUCK UP.
It's something that I recognized only with a certain degree of distance. That whole hindsight is 20/20 thing. I'd never realized before that I was even saying that to myself and believing it until seeing the recognition in someone else's eyes that what I was feeling was real.
That first day was only the beginning of my long road to becoming a confident driver. We didn't do a lot of driving that year, and I let my permit lapse. I don't think I was emotionally or psychologically ready then, but that moment when my fear bubbled up in the form of laughter was a moment of release for me. Knowing my husband finally understood how much anxiety I had over the issue, and recognizing my own self-shame about it freed me, in a way, to deal with the fear consciously, rather than pushing it away as I'd done for years.
I did finally get my license, last May, three years after that first day learning to drive. There have been a lot of anxious firsts since then: first time driving alone, first long-distance trip (following behind my husband and his brother when we moved across the state), first solo long-distance trip (from Pittsburgh to Easton, MD - only five months after getting my license). But nothing compares to the first time.
What did I learn that I carry with me?
Believe it or not, I'm slowly learning not to care about what others think of me. Not in a big, monumental way. Not yet. I struggle with this every day of my life, and some days are better than others. But I've had to incorporate it into my life in tiny ways, related to driving. Sounds strange, I know.
You know how they say road rage happens because people feel anonymous or invincible in their cars? I'm the opposite. We'll call it road empathy. I'm always thinking about and aware of other drivers, anticipating what they're doing, where they're going. If someone is trying to merge on the highway, I'll let them in in front of me. These are all good things, of course. It does have a downside, though.
If someone rides my bumper, I'll probably speed up a bit, even if it makes me uncomfortable. I always use my blinker, and rarely merge/turn/whatever unless I have plenty of room, because I don't want to be rude, or inconvenience another driver. But goddamn, I live outside Pittsburgh now. Driving in the city can be crazy. I can't worry about whether the person behind me will think I'm a jerk for easing my front bumper into the next lane during rush hour, forcing them to let me merge whether they like it or not. Not everyone is as considerate as I like to be. I can't let someone else's impatience put me in a potentially risky situation.
It's only driving for now, but maybe... little by little... I'll let it seep into the rest of my life and stop caring so damn much about the impression I make on everyone else. I guess we'll wait and see.