It hasn't been til this last year or so that I've realized how much I genuinely enjoy driving. Last summer I was essentially given my first car, which was amazing - but it's a stick shift, which I had never had to learn how to drive before. Learning how to drive manual left me in tears every day for a week. I cried in parking lots, I cried when I stalled at stoplight, I cried when I rolled backwards down hills, I cried when I threw the car into the wrong gear and it felt like I had just killed it dead forever. I'm not actually a big cryer, even when stressed, but something about this foreign driving method wrung me dry for ten days.
I swore to myself that I wasn't going to be able to do it. Driving stick shift was for everyone else who knew how but not for me and I was terrible and a failure and I needed this car to get to my first job outta college, I needed this car like I needed nothing else in that time. I needed to know how to drive this car in order to do everything I needed to do in my life. If I didn't learn how to wrestle this creaky vehicle from first to second to third properly, if I couldn't coordinate my hands and legs and clutch foot right, I wasn't going to be able to do life after college and I would have failed myself.
Um, whoa, girl, learning to drive is not the end of the world and have you ever considered you may have a problem with stress? Okay, rationally, I knew this. I knew I would learn how to drive the car and that my life would not be aversely affected by this week of trauma (Also yes, thank you, I am medicated for the stress thing). But I couldn't feel it, the certainty that everything would be okay, and it sent me into a panic.
It took me a few months to figure it out, really. I was able to drive it within a week or two, but I stalled twice a day. And then once a day, and then once a week, and then barely at all, ever. This summer hit, and it'd been a year, and I was irrationally proud of myself for mastering this simple skill. A few weeks ago as I was driving home from running errands, I found myself on a back country road. The setting sun dappled through the trees, I had the windows rolled down and the radio up, and I just kept driving, because I wanted to. Because it was a perfect day for it, because I didn't have anywhere to be, because I could. But mostly, because it was fun.
A few days ago I was on my best friend's mother's couch, a place where I often find myself when I'm at wits end. After relaying some news and telling a few funny stories from my day, I circled around to the things that were bothering me, the problems I was having, the challenges I'm facing.
"I don't get it," I said. "It feels like it's easier for everyone else, like they know something I don't. Am I doing something wrong?"
She assured me I wasn't. "You know, honey, life is in the gravel," she said.
Life is in the gravel, and as much as I want it to get easier, quicker, better, now, it's not. I've felt a little stuck, a little beaten up, and it's affected different areas of my life. Rationally, I know I've made so much progress in a short time, and that at twenty-two I'm worlds - galaxies, really - away from where I was at nineteen. But sometimes, it just doesn't feel like it. It feels like I'm going to be stuck in the gravel forever, like I'm never going to learn the secret everyone else holds smugly behind their smiles.
When I'm in a depressed period, I tell myself "It won't be like this forever." It's a mantra that allows me to remember that there have been happier times before and there are happier times ahead. When I'm in the gravel, as I have been a lot this year, it's hard for me to remember that it really won't be like this forever. As much as I can tell myself that, it doesn't often permeate the layers of stress and late nights and overdrawn bank accounts to get to the spot where I feel it's really going to be better. Where I know it, without a doubt, where it's a certainty in the very core of me.
It's quite possible that nobody has that certainty I crave, or that I won't ever have it myself. All I know is that right now, I'm in the gravel. I know a lot more than I did when I was young, but I'm beginning to realize that I know so very little. I'm trying to make decisions that are healthy and balanced, that will set me on the right path, but so often I feel like an impostor at the adult's table.
I wasn't prepared for this, and I don't know the way.
Tonight, I took another drive - this time, deliberately. I took my time, circling around town, relaxing into the shift and the clutch and the rumble. I rolled all the windows down, turned the music up, let my hand drift in the stiff wind. I did it because I wanted to, because a good drive at the end of a long week can fix a lot of things. The very first taste of fall nipped at my hands as the sun set, just a hint of coolness sneaking into the air. The moon rose, full and bright, reflecting off the trees on the rise.
I drove just a little bit, because I need to save the gas until Tuesday, whereupon I will hand over a thick wad of ones to the gas station cashier and apologize sheepishly for using tip money, and they'll say they understand, it's what you have to do to get by. As I crested over the last freeway overpass before home, torquing the engine just enough to make the shift into fourth without a struggle, I let the wind whip my hair around my eyes. I let it whisper promises to me, and I let it carry me toward home.