Obtaining my driver’s license had certain freedoms, such as being able to drive myself from one place to another without being chaperoned. I was under strict guidelines to be home after work or school within the amount of minutes it took for the commute. If my shift ended at 9, I had to be home by 9:10. If it was a busy evening and I would have to stay extra, a phone call home was mandatory, with an accurate estimate of how many extra minutes I would be delayed. If I wasn’t on time, I’d have to sit through a lecture about night safety and being a young girl out alone on the road and wouldn’t be able to drive, and would need a ride the next day.
I began timing my drives meticulously. If I hurried and sped the whole way, I cut a minute of my commute. The added risk of getting a speeding ticket kept me on my toes. In fact, it was so thrilling for me that I kept pushing the limit. How quickly can I make that turn? If the recommended speed was 25 mph, could I do 30?
How about 35?
Piece of cake.
That was close. Especially with the car driving in the opposite lane; almost veered into it.
Wow! What a rush! I could feel my heart thumping furiously as a huge grin spread over my face. And thus my drives continued with me attempting to break the records I set for myself.
When I moved in to Uncle John and Aunt Jenny’s house, I had a vague set of expectations. I fantasized about them fitting the roles of my parents. I wanted a father figure who would be interested in my opinion and thoughts, who would tell me I was pretty, who would go driving with me, who would ask me what I learned in school and how I was challenged by it.
I knew he liked donuts. One Saturday morning, before everybody woke up, I whipped up a batch of batter to make deep-fried homemade donuts. Uncle John wasn’t a morning person and being woken up from the greasy smell of oil seeping into the bedroom was not the ideal way to start the day. In fact, he was furious. Well, fine then. I won’t make any more goodies for the household. Why am I even trying? It seemed to me that he cared more about his life and not the stuff I wanted him to care about.
I remembered the quirky couple. Mr. Tee’s words sprung to life as confirmation. He and Mrs. Tee had showed up for another visit and checked up on my sisters and I, and reassured us that the bank account was still open and we should feel free to take anything from it should the need arise. Thanks, but no thanks. I had my own job and didn’t need handouts from a stranger. Who were they to sashay into our life full of advice when we didn’t even know them? They even dared to show up with a single bachelor that was trying to get married. So were they truly interested in helping out or trying to marry somebody off? Linda and I acted indifferent and tried to remain as silent as it was possible in a dinner setting. The mostly one-sided conversation was a hint for them to stop visiting us. They stopped.
Uncle John became excessively busy with his job. If I ever saw him it was on weekends or late at night after work. He said that he cared for us, and wants the best for us, which is why he has to put in so many hours at his work. Every so often we had the luxury of receiving a quick pep talk that sounded something like this:
“You girls are at the age where you need to think about your future. Guys are looking at potential wife material, you hear? Make sure you help your aunt cook and clean, so you can be top-notch housewives. Make your hair, behave well in church, ok?”
The following school year I signed up for a Running Start program at the local community college. It allowed me to take courses that counted for college credits and satisfied the high school requirements at the same time. The students were older. It was a surprising relief to be surrounded by adults. They seemed more aware of the reality of life. They also didn’t care, didn’t ask too many questions. I could get lost in the midst of them, in the packed classrooms, in the large libraries, like a shadow.
I got to drive for longer periods of time. Accelerating quickly, my Honda Civic handled whatever I made it do. It wasn’t enough to go 10 miles over the speed limit. I tried to go twice the speed limit. The adrenaline rush from flying past cars was incredible. It gave me something to feel. It made me feel alive.
And drove faster.
The best roads consisted of hilly curves and the harder I pressed the pedal the faster my heart beat. My little green racecar raced forward. At the top of the hill, my heart would skip a beat as the car almost caught air and continued tearing downhill.
As we all know, actions have consequences. My driving adventures resulted in speeding tickets. One may think that with each ticket a lesson would be learned, but no. I kept the tickets a secret from my aunt and uncle. Some friends from college advised me to get a lawyer to get some tickets off my record but in my naïve mind, it was cheaper to just pay the ticket than pay the lawyer fees.
I tried to drive smarter. Avoiding the familiar cop corners, I saved my speeding for the most dangerous roads. The tickets were getting frustrating. I tried making up excuses and tried crying, but my sob stories didn’t let me off the hook. From all the traffic infractions, I’m not sure which particular example stood out the most, either the time I got two tickets in one day, or the one where an undercover Dodge Charger caught me racing onto the carpool lane illegally without a turn signal to pass a slowpoke. “Slowpoke” according to me, as the car was actually following the rules of the road and I was the reckless one. Regardless, driving fast in my car was becoming old and I needed a boost.
I got acquainted with some dangerous boys who rode fast motorcycles that were called crotch rockets. I discovered that special gear and training was needed to ride safely and successfully. It was also expensive. But, somebody could take me for a ride. That was good enough. The best rider was a skinny guy who knew how to go ridiculously fast and how to pop a wheelie. Let’s call him Bob. I was impressed.
“Hey Bob, will you take me for a ride?”
“I want to go super fast. Can you do that?”
“Can you pop a wheelie with a passenger too?”
Now Bob hesitated. “I haven’t really done them with passengers, but if conditions are good I might try one.”
I got decked out in a heavy motorcycle jacket and fitted the helmet over my head.
Bob didn’t disappoint. The lightweight, aerodynamically styled bike peeled off. After we got onto the highway, that’s when the real experience began. I listened to the wind whooshing by. The gears being switched built up the excitement. All of a sudden it felt like I was falling so my fingers tightened their grip on Bob. It was a wheelie! Whoo-hoo! To be honest, it was scary to see the pavement from a different perspective.
Then we went faster. I felt like I was watching a racing movie, or a video game. No, I felt like I was inside the video game. The lanes of the highway and lines of the curbs were whizzing by in a colorful blur. I glanced at the steadily climbing line on the speedometer. The cars on the highway seemed to be standing. The line approached 120 and I turned away from it.
My sense of awareness was heightened. I could very much feel every breath I took. My heart rate was thumping dangerously. My stomach had an intense sick feeling. I felt slightly dizzy. It felt glorious.
It was the ultimate rush.
When we returned, Bob hastily jumped off the sports bike and helped me down. His short brown hair was messy as he removed his helmet. My hair would probably be even more tangled because there was more of it.
“How fast did we go?” I was still trying to catch my breath.
“140,” Bob muttered.
I was confused. He seemed upset or disappointed about something. “Wow! That’s awesome! What’s wrong? We didn’t go fast enough?”
He glanced at me with a pained expression on his face. Then he turned his head and squinted into the distance.
“That was really dumb of me. I shouldn’t have gone that fast with you or done any wheelies.” His voice trailed off.
“But everything was fine!” This was the most adrenaline I’ve experienced yet. It was totally worth it!
“Yeah. Thank God. But if something didn’t? I endangered your life. That wasn’t smart. There’s safe, and there’s reckless. This was plain dumb. Never gonna do that again.” And with that distraught attitude he walked away.
I drove home thoughtfully. The reality of the risks didn’t seem too terrifying. I pondered on that some more. I arrived home and carried in my load of textbooks.
“How was the study group?” asked Aunt Jenny.
Oh, that’s right, I was supposed to be studying. I forced a yawn. “Got some stuff done. That’s why I’m a little late; it’s a huge project plus, uh, we have a test coming up.”
“Oh ok. Well, good night!”