Since my husband’s near-fatal fall last summer, I have been the driver whenever we go somewhere. For most couples, maybe this wouldn’t be such a big deal. However, since we married decades ago, I’ve hardly touched the steering wheel if he has been with me in a vehicle. I’m a better driver when I’m alone, I think. That might be because there are no witnesses. But put a spouse in the passenger seat, and it’s like taking driver’s education class all over again with that instructor who was also the football coach.
I haven’t always been a hesitant driver. As a teenager when I first had my driver’s license, I was fearless. I drove in Winnipeg. I drove in Sioux Falls. I drove in Chicago. It didn’t bother me much that I had no idea how to convert miles into kilometers or that I couldn’t quite figure out how to get off a major turnpike until after having passed around a loop six times and the scenery started to look familiar. But somewhere between postpartum depression and the empty nest syndrome, my skills, courage, and driving opportunities in the presence of others deteriorated. Badly.
Now I have a few obstacles to overcome. I’ve evolved into a timid driver when it comes to passing other cars. I like to speed if the road is straight. I like to drive very slowly if there are a lot of cars. I can rarely park between the white lines in a parking space on the first try. I can do a back flip easier than I can parallel park. And I know that the side mirrors on a vehicle are supposed to be very helpful in navigating in heavy traffic, but I have yet to find the magic in them.
Throw into the mix that my husband, who has already worked hard to recover from so much trauma to his body, has had to adjust to sudden quick turns and my ability to consistently hit potholes with my right side tires. He has had to get used to not having a steering wheel to hold on to. He has had to adjust to my sometimes unusual way of finding an address. (Doesn’t everyone drive by instinct?) He has had to give up control through no desire of his own.
He has also found his voice in giving direction and criticism. “Watch out!” has become a term of endearment between us. He says it often and with more intensity as the days pass. If that doesn’t express love, what does?
I am sad for him. I have had to drive in very large cities recently and that should be cause for concern to everyone. I have tried to pump myself up with courage by saying to myself things like, “there’s people driving in these 12 lanes who are probably on drugs or have had a drink or two or have a physical or mental disability and they are able to drive here. Surely I can navigate it on my Miralax and cholesterol medication.”
My reflexes are still really good, though. It is a blessing most of the time. I may need to modulate them a little better, though. My reflexes sometimes cause me to hit the brakes suddenly when someone switches lanes quickly, even if it isn’t into my lane.
Sometimes the road signs are a bit confusing too. They’ve added some new ones, I think. Don’t tell anyone, but one day I thought the speed limit was 75 on highway 55 for about two hours. It turns out that I was on highway 75. The speed limit was 55. I’m sure that there are many others that have mixed up the highway number with the speed limit before. I think they have changed the shape of the sign or something.
I try to get my spouse to rest while I drive, but he never does. His eyes are bigger when we arrive at our destination than they were when we started. I’m not sure why. Maybe it is because of my stimulating conversation or the loud rock station I have on the radio.
My husband always tells people that I’m a good driver, even if he is hoarse from hollering suggestions during the ride. He says that I just lack confidence, but I’m getting better. He says this because right now he doesn’t have much of a choice. He says this even though he hears me talking to all the drivers around me in heavy traffic as I say things like, “Be careful honey. You are pretty close to the back of my car,” and “What were you thinking just now? Don’t you want to live long enough to have a home and family?”
I think there is an underlying blessing in my “iffy” driving skills. I think it is making my husband more determined than ever to make a full recovery so that he won’t have to submit to this situation for the rest of his life.
Apparently, not only am I his chauffeur extraordinaire, I am also his life coach.