by David-Matthew Barnes
I was three when the lock broke
on the passenger door and
I fell out of our family
car. Into the intersection I went —
missed by inches, grace, the quick-thinking
truck driver who veered his diesel away.
My mother screamed, panicked, let me
miss a day at the Peter Pan preschool
where I was hoping someone would teach me
to fly. When I was seven, the brakes failed
and our mean green Mercury Cougar,
rolled down our driveway and pinned me
up against a redwood fence. Splintered,
I vowed I would never drive. For years
I avoided the DMV, getting a license, my rite
of passage. I was just fine rollerskating,
bus riding, bike pedaling, subway taking, slow
strolling through life and city streets all the while
refusing to get behind the wheel. I was paralyzed
by the thought of it. At the age of 37,
I finally found the courage to face my fear
and learn to drive. In a late-night parking lot
of a 24-hour grocery store, I turned
my first ignition and put the car into gear.
For hours, days, and weeks, I practiced
in open spaces, trying my best to avoid
imaginary cars. Eventually I knew
I would have to take my terror
on the road in order to pass
that long-dreaded test. The cars
were real — automotive dragons breathing
exhaust, determined to make me doubt. Still,
I persevered, refusing to give in to the cold
sweats, trembling hands, pounding heart.
A license was in my future, of that I was
certain. No longer would I settle for less.
When I passed on my first try, I knew
I had allowed myself to be a pedestrian
for far too long.
IMAGE: “Car in the Clouds” by phloxil, used by permission.
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Writing this poem made me realize how long and complicated by relationship with cars has been (both imaginary and real). My deep-rooted fear of driving was crippling for me at times. Overcoming it (and becoming a licensed driver) was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever gone through. This poem is a reminder to me of that difficult journey.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
David-Matthew Barnes is the author of several novels and collections of plays, poetry, scenes, and monologues. His literary work has been featured in more than one 100 publications. He has been an arts educator for over a decade. For more information, please visit davidmatthewbarnes.com.
AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: Outside the DMV, moments before my driving test (Nov. 2007).