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I was driving in my first lesson the other night, and Eduard, my gigantic Latvian former pro volleyball playing instructor, kept having to remind me to check the right mirror and my blind spot before making a right turn. Real drivers know to do this–they know it instinctively. “If you going to walk right, you won’t just go wit your eyes closed, would you?” Eduard said. “Same sing. If you drive to right, you look to right.”

It made perfect sense, except I had no instincts left, because I had to banish them to the Latvia of my brain so that I would be able to get behind the wheel in the first place. That is why this driving thing is so terrifying to me, at my relatively advanced age.

Kids who learn to drive may intellectually understand the risks of getting behind the wheel and thus being in control of 3000 pounds or whatever of heavy metal going far, far faster than human beings were meant to travel at ground level (or any level, for that matter.) But adults, I think, are capable of understanding it at a deeper, more visceral level. We have seen accidents, have perhaps been in one, and are in any case a hell of a lot closer to our own mortality than a teenager is. You can kill people, and they can kill you, and it’s that simple.

Someone like me, who is not practiced at compartmentalizing that information like those of you who have driven since you were 16, has to make the conscious decision to deny the danger each time I get behind the wheel. I must set aside my instincts, which have served me very well over the last 42 years, as evidenced by the fact that I am still alive. If you are sane and in touch with your emotions, those instincts are probably screaming, “What the FUCK kind of idiot are you? Take the subway!!” Not for nothing, car accidents are the number one killer of women of childbearing age, or were the last time I checked. And I think I am still of childbearing age, although no more children are forthcoming.

Talking myself into driving, given all the risks, is hard enough. But actually operating a moving vehicle stripped of those instincts that have kept me alive all this time is even scarier. With no gut to follow toward the obvious smart thing to do (check my blind spot before turning, for instance) I’m just a quivering Jell-O mold of Formerly with an enormous Latvian sitting in the passenger seat with his foot on the spare brake.

Just sayin’. I’d hazard a guess that no matter what your longtime fear–driving, flying, falling in love, eating seitan–I think that something like the above is what makes it harder to overcome when you’re older.

I had my second lesson this evening, and Eduard said he wasn’t as scared this time. Then he assured me he was joking, because he’s not scared of anything. I can’t imagine he’s scared of much. He’s 8 feet tall and knows the secret Latvian self-defense tricks that all Latvians probably know. If he had any sense, he would be scared of this.

Photo by Ice.bluess CC