Stick Shifting

I don’t remember if I mentioned that the car I just got is a stick shift, a five speed, a manual transmission. I’ve had stick shifts before, but it has been twenty years. I’ve driven a five speed recently because I always use my sister’s car when she goes out of town. Today, as I was perched uncomfortably on a hill, I remembered how I learned to drive a stick. I was seventeen and pregnant with my daughter. Her father, whom she now lovingly refers to as her sperm donor, was trying his damnedest to not go to work, but his mom was forcing him to go. I’m not sure why he thought that if I took him to work, I could come get him early and it would make any kind of fucking sense. In hindsight, he could have just made up an excuse and left, but we were young and I was in love and thought all of his ideas were good ideas. Anyhow, I dropped him off at work and was going to pick him up later. The truck he had was a little five speed pick up and he had given me a few driving lessons that included him yelling at me, laughing at me, calling me stupid, and making me cry. It got to the point where I would almost have a panic attack every time I got behind the wheel of a manual transmission. That day, I dropped him off at work and was going home to his mom’s house, I think. I got to East Town Mall. There was a red light on the tiniest of hills and I had to stop the truck. When the light turned green, I tried and tried to get the truck to go forward but I kept rolling back. Until I rolled back into a car. I was so shaken and hysterical, and did I mention pregnant, that when the man whose car I had just hit got to the driver’s side of my door, he apparently felt so bad for me, he told me to move over so he could drive the car to “flat land.” He then proceeded to ask me what kind of piece of shit man would let his pregnant girlfriend drive a car she had no idea how to drive? I was smart enough at the time to realize that he was definitely right and our relationship started going downhill from there. Ever since that day twenty four years ago, I still get anxious behind the wheel of a stick shift. I can deal with it now like I deal with all of my other anxieties, but every single time I am sitting on a hill with my foot on the clutch and the other on the brake and I know that at any second I am going to have to swiftly move my foot to the gas and ease up on the clutch to get the car to move forward without rolling back into the, most likely, brand new car that will be behind me, I always regress to that day oh so long ago when I was forever traumatized by my boyfriend while having my faith in humanity restored by the very nice man who told me not to worry about the damage to his Cadillac because he was going to be selling it anyway.  It took me years after that to even get behind the wheel of a five speed. I would practice shifting gears in my head all the time until I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that I would be able to drive a stick. As an adult, I actually learned how in practice because I had a boss who had a truck very similar to the one that traumatized me and he told me to go somewhere one day and I told him I hadn’t driven a stick in a very long time. He threw me the keys and told me now was as good a time as any and he let me just go on my own with no worry about his car or my safety. When I got behind the wheel, although I was nervous, there was nobody there yelling at me or telling me I was stupid and even though I killed it a time or two, there was still much more peace in that vehicle than the first time I learned to drive and I drove with almost no problem. Most of my anxiety about driving is gone now. I took me a while to figure out that if I killed it and there was a long line of cars behind me, it was still only going to take a few seconds to get going again and if they were in that big of a hurry, well, they’d just have to go fuck themselves because I was not going to stress out about driving ever again. Until I get on a hill, of course.

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