In the Driver's Seat

I've owned two cars in my life, and I considered them both pieces of junk. I learned early on in my driving career how to fill coolant and check my oil not because I wanted to know but because I had to know. These tasks had to be done before I took any trip over 30 miles.

However, the extent of my car knowledge didn’t expand much past coolant and oil. I made plenty of emergency stops at roadside gas stations in the middle of nowhere to call a parent or a friend to come and rescue me.

And yet road trips were always a love of mine in my early driving years. I had friends throughout the state, and I wouldn’t think twice about visiting Lansing or Detroit on a whim, map in hand and with a vague idea of where I was going.

I used to drive the 2.5-hour-long trip back and forth from college to my mom’s house all the time. It was routine. It was easy. I’d pop in the soundtrack to Rent, Aida, Ragtime, belt out the lyrics and bounce up and down in my seat. The minutes, the hours would tick away and I wouldn’t even notice. By intermission, I’d be in Brighton. By the finale, I’d be home.

But college finished and I started dating the man I would eventually marry. And from then on, I had a travelling partner to accompany me on those long rides across the state or anywhere else we wanted to go. He’s always had the more reliable car, and his car maintenance knowledge extended far past coolant and oil.

Me with my crappy rusty Malibu

It was natural, then, that we got in the habit of taking his car when we went out. I was content allowing him to take the driver seat and for me to climb into the passenger seat. I enjoyed not having the responsibility of driving. I much preferred the freedom of my relaxing post the next seat over. From there, I could watch the world go by outside the window, only changing my glance to look over at my husband and smile. My hands, not needed on the steering wheel, could reach over and rub his shoulders. My feet, with no pedals to press, could be tucked up under my leg. I could make myself comfortable. There is nothing I have to do but ride.

But recently, I had to make a 2.5 hour-long trek up to Traverse City alone for work. I borrowed my husband’s 2010 SUV and let him take my rusty 2002 Malibu for the day. I climbed into the driver’s seat, his seat, and shut the door. I adjusted the mirrors and took a deep breath.

I wasn’t sure I could get myself there in one piece. I was inexplicably nervous. I didn’t want to go. I didn’t have any CDs. My phone wouldn’t get a signal up there. What would I do if I got lost, if I got in an accident? Who would be able to help me?

The driver’s seat wasn’t mine. The passenger seat was where I belonged.

I had grown afraid of the driver’s seat. I was used to depending on my husband to safely transport me places. I somewhere lost confidence in my ability to get myself anywhere on my own. When I had to drive somewhere, even if I had a good idea of where I was going, I still put the address into my GPS and followed it obediently thought it may take me a way I wouldn’t normally go. I had completely lost faith in myself.

The thing is, as much as I tell myself I can’t drive, I know that I can. I know that I must.

Of course I got myself to Traverse City and back, though there was snow and ice and darkness and deer jumping across the highway. My knuckles may have been white from grasping the wheel too hard, but my tight grip helped me stay on the road. I hadn’t forgotten how to drive. I just had to believe in my ability to do it.

Last weekend, I bought a new car. It’s reliable. It’s good on gas. It’s the car we’ll take across the state to visit family or up north for vacation or anywhere else we want to go. “I’ll drive,” I’ll say, and climb into the driver’s seat unafraid.

I know what I’m doing. I know where I’m going.