As I write this story, I’m taking breaks to study the Tennessee driver’s licensing manual. Tomorrow, I’m planning to take the permit test so I can legally practice driving and finally get my license.
I’m 37 years old, and I have never owned a car until now. There’s this 2008 Volkswagon Touareg that’s been parked in my driveway for at least a week. And now I’ve got to bite the bullet to actually get that license.
For decades, driving has been this thing in my life that seems too far out of my reach. My friends all got their licenses in high school, but driver’s ed and behind-the-wheel training was too expensive for our single mother family. We lived off Welfare in subsidized housing and my mom didn’t even have a car.
Since the Twin Cities has a robust transit system, we relied upon public transportation and the whole process of getting my license seemed impossible. As I moved into adulthood, not driving was inconvenient, but learning how to drive wasn’t something I felt able to remedy.
I married young, but my husband didn’t want to teach me how to drive. In later relationships, I had boyfriends who got irritated that I didn’t drive, but they didn’t want to teach me either. In those days, I didn’t feel as if I had any control over my life. So, I never tried to take matters into my own hands.
Instead, I just got by.
Life without a car is extremely lonely in the US. It’s better in metropolitan areas like Minneapolis or NYC, but in the South, it’s a literal road block.
In East Tennessee, sidewalks and public transportation are a joke. My daughter and I moved down here nearly three years ago, but I wasn’t prepared for how isolated I would be without a vehicle. For a long time, I was terribly depressed about not being able to leave my apartment without needing a ride.
But after a while, I got used to staying at home. And then, Uber finally came to town, so I began to venture out more.
Last month, my daughter started pre-kindergarten at a private school 10 minutes away. It’s $555 for the monthly tuition and between $400 and $550 for Uber rides. I am spending more on preschool than our rent.
Clearly, it’s way past time to deal with this. So, I’ve finally got a real car, and I’ve got insurance, but now I need the actual license. Which begins with a permit.
When I was 15 years old, I did actually take the permit test in Minnesota, but that’s as far as I got. Sure, I passed the exam on my first try and got the yellow slip of paper, but 22 years later I’m pretty damn anxious about taking a test that kids pass every day.
I don’t know how to verbalize the anxiety I have about driving because I only recently discovered that it was there. I ask myself how this could happen. How could I be so freaking nervous about something that’s going to make my life exponentially better?
Maybe it’s just because I’ve spent most of my life… not driving. So, it simply doesn’t feel natural me right now. But perhaps it has more to do with the fact that I’m on the spectrum. Sure, I’m not a total Sheldon, but I’m practically just as awkward anytime I’m learning a new skill. I carried the same sort of fears before learning how to use a cash register.
Honestly, when I looked at the car key, well, the fob, I was like, what the hell is this thing? Cars have changed since the 90s when I was first excited to start driving.
All of these years later, I’m still excited to experience the freedom of car ownership, but it’s such a foreign feeling to me that I’m not sure how to dial down my nerves.
Tomorrow, I’m going to head over to the DMV to take the written and vision tests. Omg, the vision test. I happen to be extremely nearsighted and have a strong astigmatism. I'm not positive that I'll pass that part either.
My confidence level about passing these tests that children take is embarrassing. I don’t know many people who understand. I just keep telling myself the worst case scenario is that I fail and have to retake the test next week. Best case? I get the stinking permit.
Either way, time is passing and I can’t afford to keep putting this experience off. I may be nervous and Aspie, but one day, all these moving pieces should start making sense.
At any rate, it's time for a few more practice tests before hitting the real thing.