Lessons: In Driving As Liberation

two parts

Trigger Warning: car crash.


“Is it nine and three or ten and two?” I wondered for weeks. I sat in the chair at my desk and imagined how my arms would feel. Would they levitate or need to be lifted by the puff of my thighs? Would they find ease at the wheel, the leather smooth under the wrinkles of my sanitized hands? 

For years I had renewed my permit instead of following the typical process of obtaining a permit and then a license. I did so without updating the photo. I had held on to the position that, with the exception of that bronze bowl cut, I looked fairly similar to the girl who had and sat smiling in that old Atlantic Avenue DMV photo booth. 

“You want a new photo?!” the man at the DMV counter yelled at me behind a mask and  plexiglass.

“Ughhh….” I muttered. “Maybe?” I suggested. “Only if you feel like I don’t look the same!” I went on to make a horrible joke that wasn’t fit for the time and space. I am not one to care about how people perceive me, but I cared if my ability to gauge my age was slipping into the distance along with my own memories of driving to begin with. 

“Stand back,” he yelled. Then he counted down and a flash blew into my eyes and speckled stars began to overtake the yellow lit room with far too many people during the summer of the COVID-19 Delta variant. I waited three hours, took the permit test. Passed, within minutes, (drops mic), and went on my way, forgetting about my split-second decision on the photo. 

It arrived one afternoon two weeks later, and I was stunned. He had made a decision: I needed a new photograph in his opinion. Years between the two, and it was visible. But maybe more than the photos on my permit ID, what was most visible, to me at least, was the desire to follow through with getting my license this time for real. 

The fear of driving isn't just mine, and it isn’t isolated to any one event. It is something I developed, a phobia as a result of several traumatic incidents. Specifically speaking, it could be called, Amaxophobia, the literal fear of driving. I googled it one afternoon this summer to be sure: “Amaxophobia is the pathological fear of driving a car. When we say pathological, we mean that the very idea of having to carry out this activity - driving a car - generates physical disorders in the person. This phobia affects people of both sexes. Statistics in Europe indicate that it is suffered by people who are between 30 and 40 years of age and that it is suffered by 6% of the population,”explains lease plan.

Prior to that Google search, there were eight years in cognitive behavioral therapy that helped me steer through the PTSD that had made driving impossible. Friends quelled the intensity of my fear, with normalizations: “It's  a city girl thing!” I took on this narrative too, pretending as if, when sitting in the back of anyone’s vehicle, I did not vividly imagine a  semi truck smashing us into the guardrail of the highway. Or, when rolling up a hill, sitting in the back with my children, devising a plan to protect us all if my ex lost control of the vehicle. At night, the fear became so tangible, I would have nightmares about backing out of a driveway and into a two-way street, tangling the tires to lead to my demise--or someone else’s. These are not easy things to write. And they weren’t easy things to navigate, even in therapy. Driving wasn’t something I just didn’t do. It was something I could not do. 

Thirteen years ago, my grandmother passed away. And a year later, so did my father. And then a year after that, I became pregnant with my daughter, River. And three years after birthing her and loving her and caring for her, I lost a baby at 21 weeks. In the grand photo album of life, all of these events collided into a single photography in my mind. It was the birth of my phobia; but now, as I enter and settle into this new phase of openings, closings, and large shifts, I am ready and able to say goodbye to it.

In The Body Keeps The Score, Van Der Kolk writes something I’ve been meditating on, 

“The polyvagal theory helped us understand why (techniques like yoga, breath exercises, body work, martial arts, singing and drumming) worked so well. All rely on interpersonal rhythms, visceral awareness, and vocal and facial communication... The body keep the score: If the memory of trauma is encoded in the viscera, in heart-breaking and gut-wrenching emotions, in autoimmune disorders and musculoskeletal problems, and if mind/brain/visceral communication is the royal road to emotion regulation, this demands a radical shift in our therapeutic assumptions.”

My grandmother wasn’t a driver; but when I was about 12, she purchased a Cadillac on the southside of Richmond, Virginia, and had my brother drive it back to Brooklyn, and park it in a local parking lot. She sent it to the local shop, where it was supposed to be fixed, and she would tell me that she would often walk past the parking lot or the shop to go visit her car, planning the day she would have her licence and would drive it out of the lot. 

That day never happened, and  I do not know the story of where the car ended up. Still, I have been thinking about her hope to one day drive in her Cadillac, preparing for my own driving test.

When getting in the car, I didn’t ask the teacher  all of the questions that I wanted to ask, like, “Are you vaccinated?” and “Do you know what PTSD is?” In truth, I didn’t need to ask, within seconds of walking into his store front office, with one single school desk, two dimly lit overhead lights, and a few dusty boxes atop a grey carpet that smelled slightly of soot and smoke, I regurgitated it over the slim pale grey receipt with $180 written in cursive. 

Minutes later, there I was. I held the wheel tightly, and let the yellow lines guide me. “Always look ahead, not down,” my teacher said to me. I sat upright, and drove an hour up and down winding hills and on a highway for the first time in 15 years, only looking ahead. 

After the class, my teacher said, “Well, you’re not nervous at all. Or at least you don’t drive like it. You’re a good driver.” I walked away with my knees nearly buckling and called the kids. They shouted in excitement on the phone. As if they knew the feeling or relief that shot through my body. 

My friend recently wrote to me that driving, especially for Black folk, is liberation. 

To be young, gifted, Black, and liberated. Oh, what a precious feeling. 

More soon.

 With love,

L


Other Things:

I handed in my other book and while that’s with my editor, I’m so happy to announce my first children’s book, The Hair Book, co-authored with Amanda Jane Jones. Available in board book and picture book format! It will be published March 8th, 2022, and I am so excited about it!

I truly appreciated Adele’s interview with Vogue on finding herself, and essentially, moving away from marriage to do so. I’ve been listening to Easy On Me  since, and adore the cover photographs of her for each album, and what their evolution may mean if you study them as a collection.

The Mae House has been outfitted with Purple mattress! And I wrote about design, comfort and the collection of spaces, on LY