Learning to Drive

aunt gladys' chrysler

I didn’t learn to drive until Steve told me he was leaving me for another woman. We were living in West Palm Beach in a two room apartment over Mercedes Gomez’ garage. We slept on a mattress – no frame, no box spring, just a mattress. We were lying on that mattress when he told me he was leaving. Nothing between me and the floor but a thin mattress. Nothing between me and loneliness but Steve. And I didn’t even know how to drive. The next morning as soon as I got to work I called Aunt Gladys. “Aunt Gladys, Steve is leaving me and I don’t know how to drive. I’m almost twenty-four years old. My marriage is over. And I don’t even know how to drive.”  The next day she picked me up in her gold colored 1972 Chrysler and drove me to a remote part of Martin County where Paul had taught her to fire a gun. She put the car in park, got out and told me to scoot over behind the wheel. When she had settled herself in the passenger seat, fluffed her hair and checked her lipstick she took a deep breath. “Okay. Drive.” I drove. If she hadn’t injured anyone with Uncle Paul’s pistol then I probably couldn’t do much damage with a Chrysler. “Ten o’clock and two o’clock.” I realized she was telling me where my hands should rest on the steering wheel. This was before airbags. Hell, it was before seatbelts. “When you turn, turn like this.” She demonstrated the way the steering wheel should move through my hands. “Don’t cross one hand over the other when you turn.” I was getting the hang of it, but there were no other cars within five miles of us. Aunt Gladys helped me study for the written test. I only missed one question. (When do pedestrians have the right-of way?  The correct answer is all the time, not just when they are in the crosswalk like I said.) I passed the driving test in spite of the fact that I had learned to drive barefooted and had a really hard time driving with shoes on – still do – even in the winter.  And Steve didn’t leave me after all – not then at least. He waited until four years later and by then I didn’t love him anymore.


Filed under Breadcrumbs, Nonfiction

4 responses to “Learning to Drive

  1. My first time was when I was 12. My grandpa let me drive his little Chevette on the farm roads behind his house. His big mistake was letting me pull into the garage. Just as I neared the stopping point, I thought he gas was the brake and I floored it through the back wall of his garage.


  2. Francesca

    I love this post. Especially the last line. You are the cat’s pyjamas, Brenda.

  3. Emmy

    Fairfax City, 1972

    “D’you see ‘im? D’you see ‘im?” My father sat in the passenger seat, pointing at a car stopped about six houses away.

    “Slow down! Slow down!” He punch-punched an invisible brake with his foot. “Oh, god damn.” He grasped the long silver handle over the the car window, his knuckles white as chicken bones.

    “Keep your eyes on the road, now! Don’t be looking around! Get your foot on the brake now!”

    I planned to touch the pedal gently but the Chrysler lurched forward. My father mashed his left hand onto the glove compartment. “That’s it! That’s it! Now you’ve got it!”

    I had driven one block.

    Thanks for bringing back the memories, Brenda!

  4. brendamantz

    Nice hearing from you Emmy and Francie. Ain’t technology grand?

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