You’re phobic about driving,’ my instructor says as I fail to line up the car at a close enough angle to the kerb to reverse park.
‘Do you know what a phobia is?’
‘Yes,‘ I say. I do not tell him I have done three years of psychology at university. We spent a couple of sessions in third year learning de-sensitisation techniques. If a person is phobic about spiders then you gradually re-introduce him.
First a picture of a spider, next maybe a soft toy spider, a rubber spider and so on. You let the spider sneak up on the person, at each step he masters, you inch up the degree of reality, eventually exposing him to a real spider. Alternatively you can try flooding. Sit the person in a room full of spiders. It will either free him of his phobia or it will drive him mad.
I have been learning to drive for at least a year and a half, two lessons a week, paid for out of my earnings as a second year social worker. I am ashamed of my slowness but there is no one who can take me out for practice, so I try to practise on paper.
My instructor, Marvin, is of Maori extraction. He has a mop of wiry hair very in keeping with the afro look that is now coming into fashion, only Marvin does not care. Fashion is not one of his great concerns. Not that I know what they are. He is teaching me to drive, that is his concern, and he is sick of my slowness in getting hold of the ideas.
Marvin drives a turquoise Datsun Y, a sleek hatchback with a suede blue interior. Marvin has controls on his side of the car, which perhaps accounts for his easygoing approach to riding out with me.
I, on the other hand am terrified. I clench the wheel as if to hold myself together. If I let go I imagine the car will take on a life of its own instantly. My previous instructor told me I had to keep my eyes on the road all the time. He demonstrated by getting me to look at a clump of birds and as I did so he pointed out the way in which I had turned the wheel in the direction of what I was looking at, the birds. If he had not righted the wheel we would be into a post.
I am phobic about driving.
‘You aren’t coordinated,’ Marvin says. ‘It’s not unusual for women to lack co-ordination. It’s the way you’re built.’ He hesitates as if deciding whether or not to go on. And you have a very bad case of it.’
I am not good at guessing my right from my left. In my last year of school when I wrote page after page of notes for history and English I developed a writing lump on my third right finger, my long finger. I rub it with my thumb and I can tell where I am. My lump tells me my right from my left.
I also have trouble stopping. I do not like to stop. I have trouble working out what I should do with the clutch. I would like to put my foot on the brake and push it down and that be enough but I think there is more to it. Something about the clutch and going down the gears. All this coordination is too much for me. And I must remember too that every twenty seconds I must look in the rear vision mirror. I must look behind me.
Today we are diving in the streets around the Caulfield Race Course. The billboards are full of images of women in big hats holding champagne glasses with long stems. Not a horse in sight though I know everyone looks forward to the Melbourne Cup if only for the holiday and I am looking forward to the holiday too.
I took this job with the promise that I would be getting my driver's licence in a matter of weeks. That was five months ago. The job required a current licence. I said it blithely to the interviewer when he had asked.
‘Oh I’m about to go for my licence,’ I said. 'I'm ready,' I said and almost believed it but then I remembered I am phobic.