It’s noon on a hot June day, there’s a lot of traffic downtown. My driving teacher, Dana is making me practice left turns. At forty-two, I’m learning to drive. There’s sign on the top of the car reads: ABC Driving School. We’re at the intersection at Holland and Wellington. The light is green, and I’m preparing to make a left turn. An opportunity presents itself and I miss it. The guy in the car behind me begins to honk his horn repeatedly. An old man watching from the sidewalk shouts, “Give her a break she’s learning.” The impatient guy in the car tells me and the old man to “Fuck off”.
I never wanted to learn to drive. People always think it’s because I was afraid. But originally, it was just lack of desire. I figured as soon as I was old enough I was going to live in an metropolis like London or Paris so why bother, those places all had undergrounds and cabs.
It wasn’t until I moved back to Canada in my late twenties that driving became an issue. Still I probably would have remained a non-driver except a bunch of my drama students heard about a driving school that offered a group discount. I agreed to join, but privately told myself I didn’t have to stay if I hated it. By then I was scared.
As fate would have it, I’m lucky I learned to drive when I did. It wasn’t long afterwards that India became ill. I’m grateful to Dana for teaching me though there are times I long to be a carefree passenger again.
It takes bravado to drive. This is why it’s best to learn young. Driving and sex are the two things I’ve never heard anyone admit to being bad at. Generally instead of thinking in terms of good or bad drivers, I tend to label people experienced or inexperienced. What I’ve discovered is like lovers, drivers aren’t necessarily more considerate or talented because they’ve had practice. They just appear to have more confidence.
One of the things that really shocked me about learning to drive was how rude the other drivers were. They randomly drove through red lights, stop signs, and yield signs. They forced their way through intersections while pedestrians struggled to cross. Tailgating as far as I could see was a form of bullying. And of course, everybody was desperate to be first in line.
The other weekend we all went to the mall on one of India’s wobbly days. We decided it would be best if she used a wheelchair. Shops are not designed for the disabled. At the shoe store, all the boots were on the top shelf and the narrow aisles were filled with sales items. I was terrified I’d run over someone’s feet or knock something down. I had to park India while I brought her any shoes that interested her. If she’d been alone she wouldn’t have seen anything.
The elevators which are supposed to be used by the disabled and parent’s with strollers were frequently packed with able-bodied adults who seemed disgruntled that we were in their space and who pushed past us whenever they could.
It occurred to me that here at the mall, people observed the same lack of etiquette as on the road. A mother with two teenagers cut us off, a woman in her twenties stood blocking the entrances of a shop, a man practically pushed me over in his rush to get in front of us in case we slowed him down.
The sideway glances and stares no longer bother me but occasionally I feel angry on India’s behalf. Then my inner teenager stares back very hard. Generally they avert their eyes quickly. I have it on good authority I can look mean.
I don’t mind the little kids in the strollers who stare though, they make me laugh.
At the mall, we decided to visit the food court so India could take her MCT oil and have a snack. Her diet is restricted so we had to choose her food carefully but we managed. A clear beef noodle soup. (India wasn’t allowed the noodles.) While I waited for her food, Mark and India hunted for a place to sit.
A young woman in a wheelchair approached Mark and India and invited them to join her and her friend at the table for people in wheelchair. The young woman was dressed in long shorts and a crumpled T-shirt. She was slight, with short fair hair, and bright almond-shaped eyes. She could have been fourteen or twenty. It was difficult to judge. She was strapped into her chair. Her companion, who at first I assumed was her caregiver but later realized was her pal, was a tall gangly man of about twenty. There was a certain fragility about him as well. They were sharing a small box of Kentucky Chicken.
Mark said she asked him what was wrong with India. He thought it was odd that she didn’t address India. After he told her about India’s illness the young woman listed her own ailments casually despite the fact these included Grand Mal seizures and cerebral palsy. I joined them at the table, just as Mark was handing the young man some money.
“They don’t have any money for dinner,” he explained after they’d gone.
Some people I know would think it was wrong that Mark gave them the money. They would argue there’s support in the system for them. That they scammed us. This might be true but I’d argue as someone dealing with the system that it’s not always the easiest to divine especially on one’s own. Anyway, it’s not about the money. What struck me that day was how vulnerable they seemed. I found myself worrying about them. Wondering do they have parents? If so where are they? And who drives them home when it’s cold.