Driver’s Seat

‘I said I wasn’t feeling well,’ Spike Milligan’s famous epitaph…are words to live by.

There’s always something hanging over one’s head, isn’t there? In my case, it’s backing into the garage. I may feel that I’ve got the driving thing down, somehow, post-holiday, but this is a different matter.

So I wasn’t exactly overjoyed when Jane mentioned that our former contractor was going to be in the neighborhood and had offered…generously, one must add…to help me back in my van. At the heart of this story is one essential question: why do I need help? What’s the problem?

The problem is that I don’t quite know what the problem is. True, the garage aperture is a narrow one. But once one has aligned the van properly…no, I am skipping an essential step. Getting the van backed into its proper position is slow. I block traffic and need someone to direct cars in a minor way, which is vaguely reassuring. In short, I need a particular variant of patience…which includes the absolute certainty that the process is slow, it’s difficult to the point of being barely doable, a.k.a., delicate. And very important: no one else understands.

For a little added frisson, our contractor – Ken – suggested I put on my emergency flashers. Do I have them? Of course. Where are they? This took me a moment, and this did not exactly increase my sense of confidence. It is all very embarrassing being disabled, being older, being what feels very much like incompetent. That’s where authentic patience comes in. I just have to acknowledge that this is difficult. And I deserve credit for giving it a try.

And all this might have worked if I wasn’t someone vulnerable on the point of ‘who’s in charge?’ Anyway, emergency lights flashing, I backed down our hilly street, maneuvered the van left and into alignment with the garage. And felt rather pleased. Now it was just a straight shot. Unfortunately, it’s a delicate straight shot. The entire garage floor slants uphill. Why, any sane person would ask. Live in San Francisco, and you’ll get used to this sort of thing. Anyway, that’s what’s required. Backing into my garage, slightly uphill…and in a very tight space. The garage door clears the van’s front bumper by a couple of inches.

Backing requires just enough accelerator to move up an incline, which actually is a fair amount…then shifting the foot to the brake. With poor feeling in my left foot, including a bad sense of where the limb is in space, this is tricky. Furthermore, exercise machines have gotten my extension muscles strong in an unbalanced way. Pushing is all too easy. So I delicately apply the accelerator, feel the car gaining backwards speed…then go for the brake. But prematurely. At which point, our driving coach/contractor began urging me backwards. Don’t roll forward, he advised. Which, in retrospect, made me slightly livid. ‘Obviously I don’t want to roll forward,’ I felt like screaming.

With exasperation rising, I decided to go for it…probably pushing the accelerator a little too hard…and then being unable to brake. At one point, I had both the accelerator and the brake depressed, engine screaming…and heard the telltale signs of crash. I had jumped the protective bollard and smashed into the back wall of the garage.

Doom, failure, destruction, stupidity…and in the ensuing moments the contractor waited while I got my foot disentangled…it had actually slipped under the brake and onto the floorboard in the final moments. Then while still behind the wheel, he showed me a picture, the iPhone evidence that I hadn’t damaged the car. Just the back wall, badly denting the plasterboard.

I believe I can still back the van into the garage. It’s nice if someone directs traffic. I don’t mind them lining me up. But after that, I will roll forward and backward, moving foot from brake to accelerator, as often as I need to. And next time I get angry, I’m going to listen. Sometimes anger is the clearest message…if one gives it some room. And the message? I am in the driver’s seat. The quadriplegic driver’s seat. And no apologies.

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