Driving Instructions


We are driving in circles.  From my reclined position in the back seat of the car, I watch the glass square of sunroof above us become blue, cloudy, blue then cloudy again, the mirror image of a hawk turning lazy circles in the sky.

“Keep going, keep going, keep going!” Paul is offering directions and then adds “Sometimes the safest pedal is the one on the right.”

With this bit of advice the car lurches forward.

“That’s it!” he says.

Beanie’s posture behind the wheel is as stiff as a pose from a nineteenth century daguerreotype portrait, her face as stoic and her complexion just as pale. 

“You act like you’re driving a piece of glass,” Paul says.

I want to add that we are surrounded by multiple pieces of glass, which can shatter into a million razor sharp shards upon impact, but I withhold this information. My job, as I have been told many times before, is to sit here or in this case, to lie down and look pretty. I am keeping my head, indeed my entire body out of Beanie’s field of vision.

“See how I’m turning my head? I’m always looking left and right, left and right, left and right,” Paul says as he demonstrates, his head bouncing like a bobble head doll and then adds “Ow,” when his neck cracks.  

We continue our Sunday afternoon tour of the Lowe’s parking lot in Sanford, Maine. I lie still as a corpse, biting my tongue, while Paul tosses out dubious bits of wisdom, “Don’t think, just drive!”

I don’t remember my father giving me driving lessons, although he did throw out doubtful snippets of word vomit.  It was the type of thing parents said when they were navigating their own treacherous intersections and didn’t have time to think about the word pairings.

“The army would make a man out of you,”

“Just join us for one date with my girlfriend’s daughter,”

“Do you really think you can support yourself with a degree in music?”

The words seemed benign enough, but when combined with my own heightened sense of insecurity they sent me in a direction in life that required some back tracking.

I remember when I was eighteen, on a hot summer day when even the breeze seemed to be heated up by the sun, sitting in a diner with my father on a stretch of road somewhere in the middle of North Carolina, a dot on the map.  We had come to Asheville to rescue my grandmother’s old blue Chevy Nova from her failing eyesight and trembling hand that was more accustomed to holding a highball than a steering wheel.

“Son,” he said, the same name he used to address all five of his boys, “You finish your lunch up here, I’ve got to go.”

“Honey!” he shouted out to the waitress, the same name he used to address every woman and gave her a twenty.  He left to the tinkling of a bell over the door before I could swallow my chew.

Faced with the challenge of finding my own way home, before the advent of gps or smart phones and in a strange car with no air conditioning, I tentatively pulled onto the highway. Within minutes, I peeled off my sweat soaked shirt, rolled down the windows and cranked up the radio. Like it or not, I was driving down this road on my own, searching for signs.

If you were a hawk and could see a great distance, you’d laugh at all of the circles and mistaken exits I have taken. But no one can deny, lying in this backseat, listening to my husband teach our own daughter how to drive, I finally found my way home.



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