I got into the car and grinned at Agnes. “You taught both my aunts to drive,” I told her, my grin stretching across her seat. “That’s nice,” she said studying my very happy facade, the silvery grey hairs on her arms suddenly standing at attention. I fiddled with my mirrors and fussed with my seat for several long minutes, before finally jettisoning us away from the curb, grin fixed, veins popping.
Agnes was very nice; we just didn’t have the same sense of humor. For instance, she didn’t think it funny that I occasionally confused the gas with the brake. I thought this was hilarious. She also didn’t like that I pretended to accelerate when I saw old people crossing the street. I fondly remember my own mother doing the same when she first learned to drive. In fact, she took it a step further––or funnier rather––and yelled “let’s get ’em Maggie!” (her cars were always named Maggie), as she bunny-hopped toward our elderly targets, innocently making their way to mass. We kids in the car would implore Maggie too, hollering and hooting along like the barbaric old-people-chasers that we were. Then we’d hush and put on our serious faces, and quietly cruise by the little potato-shaped ladies, leaving them to wonder if they should have had those salty mushrooms at breakfast. It was even funnier when the old folks were on bikes …
It didn’t work out with Agnes, in fact, I bet she’s joined a nunnery by now. She seemed very religious: blessing herself every time we screeched past a church; fingering her rosary beads every time I dramatically halted at a stop sign; reciting a decade of the Rosary every time I closed my eyes when bypassing a truck.
I wonder now if I could claim that I was scarred by my mother’s driving? I’m sure most people would interpret my fond memories as child abuse. Like when our little green Fiat would cut out abruptly at a red light, and my mother would colorfully threaten Maggie to get a move on before a big bad articulated truck made mashed beans of us all. I’d hold my breath waiting to be crash-mashed. Or our “Sunday drives,” when my mother would pretend she was a Raleigh driver, racing the winding backroads of West Clare, all of us laughing––and ignoring the fact that at any minute we could slam into a busload of tourists or a herd of cows. Or what about that time last year when we were driving around Cork city in the dark and rain, and my mother––needing to cross to the other side of the road but annoyed with no break in traffic––forced a break, and skidded across yelling “Ohhhhhhhhh fuuuuuck!” at the top of her lungs.
Maybe it’d get everyone off my back. I need a trauma or disorder to explain my lack of motoring skills to my fellow New Yorkers. See, I happen to be the only person in New York who doesn’t drive. Maybe even in America.
I was a closet non-driver for the past few years because we didn’t have a car. We swapped alternate-side parking obligations for a car-sharing service, and forced our lazy butts to walk or take public transportation when a car wasn’t necessary. I’m well able to walk and call me a show-off, but I’m kind of great at taking public transportation too––so for the first time in my life I didn’t have to apologize for how I got from A to B (or rather, how I was taken from A to B.)
After four years of car sharing, we don’t want to share anymore, and so now I have to face down the interfering finger-waggers again––the smokers of the world breathing a congested sigh of relief to have them off their backs.
People are meeting my still-not-driving news with even more horror than when I stepped out of the passenger side, well rested, four years ago.
My aunt’s sister-in-law told me I’m a disgrace to the feminist movement. My husband’s ninety year old grandmother told me I’ll be sorry when I’m in my eighties and my husband won’t take me to the beauty parlor. My neighbor said learning new things only gets harder the older I get ––and then she stared pointedly at my crows feet. My son’s friend’s mom said I was putting my kids in danger by not being able to drive. My running partner’s sister said I’ll never be able to move to the suburbs.
I’d imagine that I’m supposed to feel awful about all of this, and guilty too. But I don’t. I tell myself that it’s not that I don’t want to drive, just that I don’t want to learn … though sometimes I wonder if it’s really something deeper. I’ve been watching Oprah long enough to know that it’s usually something deeper. Maybe I can’t drive, can’t learn to drive, can’t want to learn to drive, can’t care to want to learn to drive, because I can’t face some really dark disturbing truth. Oprah would throw that question out there right before a break and the whole audience would sit looking at me, looking right through me, anticipating my breakthrough, or even better, breakdown.
Back from the break, Oprah would stare into America’s living rooms, and suggest that maybe my “truth”––that’s the theme for today’s show––is so traumatic that I don’t even realize how traumatized I am. Here the audience nods together, on the verge of their seats and tears––except for the row in the back who are already crying that today isn’t the Oprah’s Favorite Things show. She asks me why I fall asleep in the car. She uses air quotes when she says “fall asleep,” because she believes I am instead passing out––to protect myself from the truth that I am afraid to face. She asks why I took up running, and just as I warm up to my explanation that Olympic Runner Eamonn Coughlan was my uncle––though not really, he wasn’t even related to me but my actual uncle told me he was, and I believed him, and then got in trouble in school for boasting to everyone––she cut me off to say that I am running away from myself. And running away from her questions too. Oprah could see, the whole of America could see, just how far up that river in Egypt I was.
Oprah paused for emphasis.
Then she rolled out her star guest … Maggie.
Maggie is my shiny new Volkswagon Rabbit. I remember the first time I watched that VW Rabbit ad, where the little black Rabbit and the little White Rabbit go into a tunnel together and then they come out the other side with a trail of little black-and-white rabbits. I said, “that’s the car we should get.” I didn’t care that Volkswagon was no longer giving away a free electric guitar with a purchase, or that for a family of four the Rabbit might be a tight squeeze on a camping trip. I didn’t consider safety features or fuel economy or resale value. I just tested the volume of the horn and hoped my husband––and driver––would consider practicalities, though of course I never asked him to, because that’d be me setting back the feminist movement again.
Oprah asked me to face Maggie and to tell everyone what I had promised my adorable little automobile. I tried to steady myself on my shaky legs, a deer in Maggie’s headlights.
“I told her I would drive her.”
Gasp! Cut to commercial.
I do want to drive her. She’s so cute and friendly and I truly believe I could park her with minimal damage to surrounding vehicles. Thing is, I’ve been saying I don’t want to drive for so long now that it’s kind of my cause. If I sat behind the wheel, I’d feel like a PETA activist who suddenly discovered she liked fur. Even worse, I’d feel like all the finger-waggers won, and I’d have to live with their self-satisfied smiles in my rear-view mirror for the rest of my life.
But I’ve ignored my Maggie. I’ve ignored my driving desire to tail old people.
The camera zooms in as I get down on one knee in front of Maggie and say, “maybe I should just get my bloody license, and formalize our arrangement.”
As the credits roll, the audience cheers, and I realize that Oprah is right––it’s never that straightforward. If the camera had closed in on me once again, you would have seen that my darkest fear is in fact that if family, friends, and strangers aren’t so busy wondering why I don’t drive, well … maybe they’ll start wondering why I don’t cook.