I intended this post to be Part 2 of the Ghosts of Therapists Past. But as I continued that story, it really just became about my Senior Year of high school doubling as a freshman year in college, the year in between therapists. And then it really became the struggles of how I learned to drive with a handicap in my Juior year. So I changed the title a few times – These words are the ones that wanted to come out today. Sometimes we have to write the story that wants to be told.
My Senior year of High School was therapy free. I thought I was fine, and had put all my troubles behind me. I focused my attention on being perfect and getting into college. I left High School and attended a community college full time through a state funded program. I got permission to overload my courses and take an extra class each semester to cram more in, free college credits I was thinking. I had decided I was going to be an engineer, something fabulous and impressive in the medical field, so I added volunteering at our local hospital to my schedule. (How I hated that! I started in pediatrics and it broke my heart to see sick kids. I tried cardiology, and it broke my spirit to see naked old men – they have no modesty left)
I didn’t want to ask my parents for money, so I had two jobs – one at the library and one making pizzas. (I started working at age 15 with a fake birth certificate my Dad made for me so I could stop costing him so much money and actually be useful) Well 3 jobs if you count the odd babysitting jobs here and there too. I gave myself $2 a day for food. I had more, but I wanted to save my money for college, and to limit my calories. I didn’t know it, but I was basically anorexic then. I would pack one piece of fruit in my backpack for breakfast, and then buy a taco from Taco Bell, or a baked potato from Wendy’s for lunch. I only drank water. In between meals, my main fuel was actually Tums. (I had my first stomach ulcer that year, and self-treated it with a few Tums each hour before giving in and seeing a doctor the summer before college.) Mom usually had something at home for dinner to make for myself or reheat. I left each morning about 5am, and returned home each evening about 11pm. This schedule allowed me to do all my homework on campus, go to work, and volunteer, and also allowed me to avoid seeing or speaking to my Mom – pretty much ever. Sometimes she would be sitting in a chair waiting for me to come home, and say something like “wow, you’re out late tonight” And I would say “Yup” and go get ready for bed.
But I need to back up and describe how I got myself this freedom. To have my own schedule I needed my own car.
While I still lived with my Dad, I saved up and bought an old car from my Dad’s mother and paid my own gas and insurance, and nearly daily repairs for that lemon. Ironically it was actually yellow, though theshade was more banana milkshake than lemon colored. That car leaked from every orifice and I had a jug of water for the radiator, quarts of oil, tranny fluid, and power steering fluid that I topped off every time I started it – but that’s how I met my handy Hubby (and a few other guys that wanted to rescue a pretty girl and impress me with their car knowledge, but don’t tell Hubby that), so no hard feelings. OK, that’s not true. Lots of hard feelings. How did my parents think it was OK to let their girl drive something so unreliable? One night, after an evening class, I headed home from campus about 10pm and my car died in the middle of the parkway. I coasted it in to a parking spot and walked home, alone, in the snow. Made it home about midnight or so, and Mom just said “You’re home late” and I just said “Yup”. I got up extra early the next day to walk to my car – I brought extra water and oil. The battery had died, and I managed to flag someone for a jumpstart. I was terrified to be late for class, but made it just in time. All the walking, especially in the cold, caused my leg great pain to be dragged that far past the fatigue point. I didn’t worry about the pain though, pain was a constant in my life. I worried that the twitches from irritating the nerve would cause me attention. I did my best to hide my flaw. I never asked for help or complained, just handled whatever life threw at me.
I also have some hard feelings about acquiring that car. I never thought much of it at the time, but with my new eyes, I see how terribly I was treated. So I need to back up again and explain. Nothing like telling a story in reverse. (Bear with me – I have no idea where these memories are coming from today – best to just let them out)
My spinal injury in 7th grade had left my right leg weak and withered and slow. I could walk, but with a slow pace, and with extreme effort and concentration I could step on my left leg firmly to painfully drag my right along. I could not drive a regular car with my right foot. They put a restriction on my learner’s permit, that I could only drive with a left-foot pedal. My dad did not believe this was true, and made me try, for hours on hours, when I still lived with him at age 15 to make my noodly leg push the pedals. Back then I had no spatial awareness of my leg, the disconnected nerves made my brain think my leg was missing when I was not looking at it. So to watch the road, and not my foot, was just impossible and it slid right off and would get wedged under the pedals, requiring my hands to pull it back out. He put a full glass of water on the dash of his car, and said I could drive his car if I didn’t spill any water. A drop always spilled as soon I touched the gear shifter to reverse, and he would laugh, saying he didn’t know why “we even let women learn to drive at all”. Then he would get cold and furious and told me I wasn’t trying hard enough and I just wanted to be difficult and special. He seemed to think that I dragged my leg around for all the great attention. Yes, Dad, I loved being called a freak and laughed at by cruel adolescents.
My dad was pissed, and was not going to be driving his gimp around forever, so he made some calls for me and found a place that sold handicap equipment for cars. I remember how irritated my Dad was that he had to deal with this. He told me that pedal would cost $600 and that he’d have to drive to the next state to get it. Not sure how much of that was true now, since I still use a left pedal and get it quite easily. It turns out I am not the only annoying gimp in the world that wants to drive. (dark humor there, sorry, to avoid getting angry) So I saved my money, the $600 plus gas money for him to drive so far for it. I even took him out to dinner that week to repay him for his kindness in wasting a day for me. I realize now he probably was just avoiding shipping costs and purposefully adding to my guilt. But it sure worked then. So then I had this pedal, one step closer to every teenage dream of freedom and driving. But Dad would not have that thing installed in his car, no way would he have a reminder of my weakness in his own car, and no way would he allow them to drill holes in his floor to do it. A few more months of saving and I had a car. I called the driving school that all my friends were going to, and was denied. They did not have instructors certified to work with handicapped students. Sigh. Lots more calls and I found one that would take me, for twice as much money as the others, since I was obviously a liability.
And then came the driving exam. I passed the course, but only had driving time with my pedal with my instructor. My Dad would not drive in my car with me to practice, as he did not accept that I needed that “handi-crap” pedal (he had so many terms of endearment for my impairment) and would only help me if I was willing to do it the right way. He put a full glass of water on the dash of his car, and said I could drive his car if I didn’t spill any water. A drop always spilled as soon I touched the gear shifter to reverse, and he would laugh, saying he didn’t know why “we even let women learn to drive at all”. I think I did that twice before giving up on him. So I took the exam with just a few hours experience with my pedal. The left-foot pedal is mounted on the left of the brake pedal with a bar that extends across the floor and attaches to the actual accelerator. I needed a specially certified exam proctor as well, and had to wait for one to be available. My test went fairly well, though I did bump each cone during the maneuverability portion, having never attempted this before. The proctor passed me anyway, but made me promise I would ever attempt to parallel park. I promised – and actually have held that promise to this day. I will walk several blocks just to avoid a parallel parking situation. Humanity is safe from that one threat at least.
- Where Stanford invents self-driving cars (reviews.cnet.com)