Monday, July 4, 2016

New Driver, New Passenger

I'm a late bloomer. The good part of it is, when all the other flowers are starting to wilt, I bloom. All my friends got their driver's licence when they were in their late teens; me, in my late thirties. More precisely, at thirty nine and a half. 

I had just moved to Yellowknife to join my newly wed husband J., and had plenty of time on my hands, so why not take driving lessons. At first I was quite nervous, whatiffing myself: what if I am too old to learn new tricks? What if my reflexes are too slow? What if I'm too emotional to be let loose on highways?

My driving instructor was reassuring: "You are a very good driver - you have a bit of a heavy foot on the acceleration, but other than that, you'll be just fine". And I was. The road test was a piece of cake: the city is too small for accidents, with traffic too light, and not enough lanes to change; the only time of the day where a bad driver stands the chance to make an accident is between 4:55 and 5:00 pm sharp, when the government employees rush home, time fondly known as the city's rush minute.

We bought a family car when we moved to Ottawa, in the end of the year 2000. Now, if you are a new driver behind the wheel in your own town and neighbourhood, you kind of know your way around when you switch chairs from passenger's to driver's. This wasn't my case - I was new in Ottawa, new behind the wheel, newly married and newly Canadian, and quite overwhelmed putting it all together. There was tension between two of my inner voices: one side of me saying: "Go, drive, be free!" while the other voice, and quite a loud one too, was saying, in a high pitch: "Whaat? Are you trying to get yourself killed? Do you know how people die in car accidents?!?" I could feel both voices inside my body, the fear tightening my stomach in a knot, while the voice of my soul opening my chest in warm spaciousness, warmth spreading all around my arms and the rest of my body.

At first I drove with J. in the car with me, but my husband's temperament was far from reassuring: he'd lit a cigarette, puff nervously on it, and instruct me with an alarmed voice to go that way or this way by stretching his index finger in front of my face. J. was so stressed by my driving practice, he'd dream about it at night, and I'd hear him yell in his sleep: "It's green! Go, go go!!!"

The first time I drove alone, it was both scary and liberating. My worst fear was of getting lost - this was before GPS and electronic maps and sexy voices telling you where to go while keeping their fingers to themselves. The next scare to overcome was driving on the highway. 

And then the scariest of all was driving the most precious cargo I was in charge of, my new puppy girl Kinook. She sat on the back seat, nose glued to the window, checking the sites for a while, then sat back on her tail, calmly gazing ahead of her. We went on exploratory drives together, spiralling around our home, every time widening the circle of our exploration as my confidence grew. 

One night I took the wrong turn on the highway, and instead of heading towards home, I found myself across the river, in Quebec, driving towards Montreal, with nowhere to stop and consult the paper map. I muttered "Oh, shit!" and briefly turned to look at Kinook, who shared none of my fears, but looked at me with her characteristic calm, serious face.

"She trusts me!" I noticed. I looked up from my new driver tunnel vision and followed the road signs. I followed the road and drove us back home, to live up to my dog's trust in me.

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