I learned to drive in England. I had a maroon, two door Ford Escort. I can't remember what year the car was, but it didn't have power anything so it was old. I had two driving instructors. My first instructor David, was planning on retiring fairly soon. I kid you not when I say that after giving me a handful of lessons he told my mother that I needed way more help then he had the patience to offer. Can you guess why? I was the kind of teenage driver that every parent prays they will not have. I WAS AWFUL and I terrified anyone who got in the car with me. My next teacher was a tall, soft spoken, patient man named Nigel.
Nigel was wonderful. He didn't yell at me when I came close to hitting cars. He didn't brace himself against the dash when I would slam on the breaks at every traffic stop and he didn't clench his jaw. Instead, he would make me laugh and that relaxed me, since I white knuckled the wheel at every lesson.
"Colleen, I'll give you 20 points if you can hit that old lady." He would say in his lovely English accent. I thought that was so funny, that he would make light of such a stressful situation for me. I started taking my driving lessons in April when I turned 17. I was one of the first of my friends to start lessons because I was older than most everyone else. It was embarrassing when months later, many of my friends caught up to me, passed me and received their license before me. After the third time I failed my driving test, I was officially humiliated. Nigel, the ever good teacher that he was, was always encouraging, sympathetic and kind to me. I looked at him with glassy eyes and a stinging red nose. "I don't think I'll ever be able to pass." I said. "Nonsense. You're a good driver now, it's just that tests make you nervous." He was actually right. I had had so many lessons by this point, that I was comfortable behind the wheel, even a bit cocky. (Yikes!) I just would collapse under the pressure of testing.
Things got the slightest bit awkward for me when after so many lessons and so much time together, Nigel commented on how he liked the smell of my perfume and he kinda started looking at me funny. Not so much like a dad anymore, but maybe a little bit like an admirer. I remember thinking to myself after that lesson, "He's like, 35! He's like, old!"
I laugh now, because I don't think 35 is that old to me anymore. But I remember determining that I would pass very soon. Thankfully by the time I took the test for the 4th time, I was pretty relaxed about the whole routine and I passed. Thankfully Nigel never said another word about my perfume and once we got home we shook hands and said what was to be good-bye forever.
I miss the winding roads of England now. I miss the terribly narrow neighborhoods and all the round-abouts. I even miss that silly Ford Escort. But I will never forget the feeling that I felt the first time I got into my car all by myself and drove off to pick up my best friend. I had the windows down and was singing along to my built in cassett playing, no doubt playing something from the Indigo Girls or Natalie Merchant. Although I was singing the words to the song, in my heart I was singing of my independence and I was singing of my Freedom.
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