I’m 25 years old and I can’t drive.
I didn’t always plan for it to be this way. It wasn’t like I set out from the beginning to make it hard for geographically challenged friends to meet up with me, or annoy employers with my lack of mobility, or make everyone in line at the liquor store wait while I dig around in my bag for my passport (which I carry everywhere). I just don’t have a driver’s licence.
I can’t drive because my dad was hit by a car.
I always wanted to make him proud. My dad was a successful and well-liked journalist who seemed like one of those gentle giants, though I don’t really know because I don’t remember him. He was 6 feet 4 inches tall, balding but handsome. All the photos I have of him convey a kind, thoughtful guy.
One afternoon, two months before my second birthday, he was out training for a triathlon.
He was biking along a busy stretch of road about 10 minutes from our house when he was hit by a guy in a van who had momentarily fallen asleep at the wheel. He died that day.
I have struggled to learn to drive my whole adult life. I’ve never done more than a bunny-hop in my mum’s van in a McDonald’s parking lot when I was 14.
While almost all my friends and even my little brother went through the rite of passage of sitting their various licenses until they eventually got their own cars, I would casually put it off. Weekends would come and go with my mum and my step dad’s good-natured offers of driving lessons around our quiet suburban streets. At first it was easy to dismiss them with an “I’m busy” or “Maybe later,” but then it started to get embarrassing.
Soon almost all my pals had their licenses and I was starting to feel like a bit of a freak, but I’d use my environmentally conscious beliefs to justify my bus commutes an hour to university and back. I’d make use of my time in transit by reading, knitting and writing. I was proactively avoiding confronting my fears.
I knew as long as I lived near the city and on public transportation routes I’d never have to learn to drive. Besides, New York (where I want to live happily ever after) is the city of public transport! Who drives there, apart from cabbies?
I did try to drive a couple of times, but couldn’t stop thinking of Dad the whole time. Images of him being hit and flying into the air would replay over in my mind like warped crash-test dummy footage. (I have morbid thoughts.) I could never relax and understand how a person could calmly control a large cage of metal, confident they wouldn’t kill themselves and everyone around them.
I would stall my mum until I literally stalled her van while doing 10 miles per hour in a parking lot. I’d then use that as an excuse -– “I can’t do it! Oh well. Guess we better go home.” I’d approach a speed bump and feel like I was going to hyperventilate.
“How does anyone do this?”
Like Spiderman said, with great power comes great responsibility.
I often wonder what it’d be like if my dad was around today. Things would be so different. Sometimes my car-less-ness feels like solidarity with him.
I had plenty of cuddles and adventures with my dad, but I don’t remember them. I look at photos of us together and stare at my little baby face and try to recall some sort of emotion. But who remembers life when they were not even two years old?
These days I’m too scared to even bike, let alone get behind the wheel of a car. I feel like I have a hard enough time steering my body away from counter tops and corners, regularly forgetting that I have elbows and hips, smashing into things and getting gnarly bruises. The thought of trying to steer a tonne of metal away from people and curbs and other tonnes of metal just freaks me out.
I just couldn’t fathom the possibility that I could also kill someone. I could take away someone else's dad before they got a chance to know him. Anybody could do it at any time.
I know that’s no way to think in life, but truth be told, I get by just fine not driving. I live in the heart of a city, and find being transport-less forces me to walk a lot more often than I would if I had a car at my disposal. I see more of the city and get more exercise, it’s a win-win!
Some people make driving cars look so easy. They don’t even think when they accelerate through red lights, cut corners, fail to indicate, or get behind the wheel when they’re tired or drunk. They don’t notice me staring in disbelief when they’re doing these things, or when they’re wisecracking and shrugging about it afterward.
I want to take them by the shoulders and yell at them, so that maybe they’ll stop.
I really could do with my dad being around. Not just for the cuddles and advice, but because I’m pursuing the same life as him, as a writer. I’m not sure if he’s part of the reason I’m doing this, it just feels right. And I get cut up every time I remember I can’t ask him for advice.
Although I may not get over my fear of driving anytime soon, I can at least take pride in the fact that I’m doing something with my life that I hope would make my dad proud.