Life is a highway

by Eva Shimkus, Editor-in-Chief

I didn’t want to learn to walk. It was bad — here I was, a 13-month-old, scooting around on my butt everywhere because I was too lazy to take my first steps. My parents were concerned. They’d put my toys at the other side of the room and cheer me on, hoping I would snap out of it and start walking. Uninterested, I would find something else to do, convincing myself that I didn’t need to have the toy in the first place.

Ironically enough, I recently went through a phase where I’d walk everywhere in order to avoid having to drive. I often make things impractical for myself in order to avoid being challenged. 

During driving school, I figured I’d just cut corners and do the bare minimum. I put in the required hours and practiced parallel parking and three point turns with my dad in Needham Street parking lots until I didn’t feel like it anymore.

Then in October, I failed my driving test. Shocked and dejected, I sniffled in the passenger’s seat as my dad drove me home. Throughout my driver’s education, I’d held onto this overconfident ideal that I was somehow unable to fail. Failing was for losers, I told myself, not for me — I was a great driver!

My dad wouldn’t have it. He made me practice every day leading up to the next test to the point where I could probably back up 50 feet in my sleep (legal disclaimer: I never attempted this).

After a lot more practice, I passed my second test. But oddly enough, when my dad asked me if I wanted to drive home afterwards, I said no and climbed into the passenger’s seat, like always. Over time, I felt myself lose my desire to drive at all. 

Despite having a license, I refused to drive, especially on my own. My parents still drove me to friends’ houses, to school, and, of course, to all the weekend Roar paste ups.

When my dad picked me up from school, he started making me drive us back home. Defiant as ever, I began wearing the chunkiest Dr. Martens boots I own because I knew he wouldn’t let me drive if I couldn’t feel the pedal through my thick soles.

My friends would sometimes ask me why I was so reluctant to use my license, to which I didn’t have a good answer. I saw other people driving their friends home in their cars, and even though I had the means to do that too, there was a mental block holding me back.

Perhaps it was fear.

I hadn’t changed much since I was a toddler scooting on the floor, staying stagnant in familiar territory. I told my friends I didn’t drive because I preferred looking out the window or listening to music.

Beyond feeling lightly embarrassed in front of my friends, I felt especially guilty for forcing my parents to drive me everywhere. It felt babyish to be scared. I would be out of the house and in college soon — what would I do then?

My mom reminded me of how lucky I was to be able to drive at 16. Freedom, she said, is knowing how to drive. Especially for a woman. My mom had learned to drive in her early twenties, so she understood how essential mobility can be for independence. With a car, you can leave anytime and go anywhere you want. Without a car, you are perpetually reliant on someone else, oftentimes a man.

My mom’s feminist attitude towards driving really struck home for me. I hadn’t really thought of it that way before, and seeing driving as a way to become an independent woman made the daunting prospect of being behind the wheel become almost beautiful, like an affirmation of power. I told myself I would rather tough it out and learn to drive so I wouldn’t ever have to be dependent on anyone to take me where I want to go.

So I started easy. I drove myself to Wednesday night Wind Ensemble rehearsals at school. Then, I drove myself to Newton Centre. I drove my mom to run errands. I drove my dad to Home Depot.

Instead of constantly asking other people favors and expecting them to show up for me, I began being truly in control.

After I drove my mom to Natick last weekend, I felt strangely giddy. I loved the cathartic click sound from locking my car and unzipping my purse to drop the car key next to my wallet containing the money I made over the summer. I loved double checking that all four wheels were straight and within the white lines and that I hadn’t left the lights on. As I walked away, I just kept thinking to myself, “I am such an independent woman right now!”

I think it was worth the effort.