“It's been while, let's see if I still remember this.”
There a couple of people you don't want to hear that sentence from. Your surgeon. Your tattoo artist. Or the driver of the car you are currently occupying. When she said those words, my mind was filled with all kinds of imagery of broken glass, flesh smashing against dented metal and black and grey smoke. In that moment, I recollected that another name for the passenger seat is the death seat. I tightened my seatbelt, grimly aware that it didn't make a difference.
All we had to do was drive for 15 minutes. I quickly started calculating the turns between home and school as Debbie stalled the car trying to get it to start.
“This always happens the first time.” She laughed.
There were 37 turns between here and school. 37 opportunities for another car Debbie failed to spot to smash into them. Probably in the side I was sitting on too.
After two more stalls the car started and we began our journey.
Now, I'm not a driver. I have never driven a car. The closest I have to come to driving is going go-karting. I am not speaking from experience.
However, having seen many different people drive cars, I was pretty sure car journeys didn't being with an abrupt acceleration followed by an immediate stop which threatened to give everyone in the car whiplash. However, exactly this happened when Debbie first got going and what she said as a follow-up did little to reassure me: “I don't remember it going that quickly.”
God help me.
She accelerated again and we actually got down the first street without incident. Then came the first proper turn. It felt like the universe was punishing me for not studying for my physics exam yesterday night by brutally demonstrating the effects of Newton's Laws of Motion on my body. Debbie's hard right turn sent me careening towards her and I could feel the seatbelt digging into my side. I was a very skinny boy too, and the seatbelt actually managed to lodge itself underneath my ribcage. When Debbie completed her turn I was launched back towards the door and I hit the window with my shoulder.
I was fucking terrified.
In a moment of panic, we tend to look at figures of authority for comfort and the closest thing I had to that was Debbie and she did not have the expression of someone in control of the situation. You needed to look a bit closely to tell but the combination of palpable fear in her eyes and the patch of sweat that had formed on her upper lip despite the fact she had been driving for less than 30 seconds was all the permission I needed to panic. So I did what all people do when they are inside a car and frightened and grabbed the overhead handle and squeezed it with all my strength. It felt like a source of stability in a world where nothing was certain anymore.
After a while I got used to Debbie's driving. It actually had some benefits. I found trying to stay seated upright while the car tries to send you flying in all directions a very good core workout.
“As long as things stay like this,” I though to myself, “everything will be –”
Then a car nearly ploughed into us. Debbie tried to change lanes but had forgotten to check her rearview right as she started merging and an absolute speed demons whizzed by and Debbie, in a total panic, spun the steering wheel to go the other way but way overcompensated and ended up in the oncoming lane instead. Had it not been for the quick reflex of the driver in the oncoming car swerving to get around us while Debbie struggled to get us back on the correct lane, it would have been a head-on collision. There was a good chance we would have both died, no matter how hard I squeezed the overhead handle.
We were back on the correct lane, at first wobbling from side to side but eventually resuming a straight course. My eyes were fixed on the road and neither of us took a breath until we reached the red light and – for the first time this trip – came to an gradual stop.
I turned to look at Debbie and the moustache-like patch of sweat above her upper-lip had turned into a full-on sweat goatee.
She drove the rest of the way absurdly slowly and ended up dropping me off at school about 20 minutes late. I wasn't complaining. I didn't even realise how tense my muscles were until I got out the car.
I thanked her for the ride and she asked me if I wanted her to drive me back at the end of the day. I said I'll take the bus.