“It’s like when you first started driving and you loved the freedom of it, and then after a while of having to drive places, it becomes tedious,” my western literature professor casually said one day during a class discussion last semester.
His aside was correlated to the assigned reading, possibly Larry McMurtry’s “Horseman, Pass By.”
Someone concurred and added his two cents. Heads in the room bobbed up and down in agreement. They understood and sympathized.
The conversation turned into praise for the alternatives to transportation that they didn’t have to drive.
Lightrail. Bus. ASU Shuttle. Anywhere a paperback could be fondled.
What were they talking about?
I didn’t understand this moment of disgust for personal vehicles. How could someone marginalize the freedom of movement, one of those first unalienable rights? It was a concept that seemed foreign to me . . .
Then it made sense: my car accident.
I had an accident on the afternoon of a Friday on May 16, 2008, near the end of my junior year. It shook me up so much that for two years I never got behind the wheel of a car. And afterward I took baby steps when finally back on the road.
Trepidation devoured me and I depraved myself of potential fulfillment (and maybe that eventual burnout) everyone else experienced.
At that moment, I think I finally clued myself in on the barricade made all those years ago.
My junior year: It wasn’t a particularly fun school year, yet one with highlights and reason for some jubilee as senior year rapidly approached.
The first stories of my professional career saw publication in the high school paper, and the pleasure of seeing my name in ink resulted in another semester on staff.
And if that self-aggrandizing wasn’t enough, I was certain that a girl a year ahead of me who had just signed my yearbook that day fancied me.
I started driving the previous fall and then regularly drove an automobile to take me wherever I wanted — a pristine metallic burgundy 1989 Toyota Camry, except for a minor cosmetic ding above the right headlamp.
You could see the metallic flakes glisten on it on a glaring sunny day in the Phoenix heat.
Before I drove it, it belonged to my grandfather. From the outside, it was difficult to deduce this chain of ownership because my family used it just as much as he did, something he championed.
Shopping trips around the city, expeditions to Christown 11 near Montebello, dinner at Tucchetti’s and other excursions south. He was always invited, and sometimes joined our adventures.
It also facilitated movement during the summer days when my grandfather watched over me when my parents worked. What memories!
By when I drove it, he had been gone for just over two years, with the use of the Toyota since shared between the family and myself. For me, the car was almost a second home. Shelter.
That weekend there were important things to be done. The exterior of the car was dirty from various wear and tear and due for a wash, which I was looking forward to giving.
And celebratory photo of the clean car was also in order.
I enjoyed the responsibilities of the car — making runs to the corner CVS, gas fill ups — and I looked to expand them with trips of farther distances. I felt grownup for the first time.
What was next for me and that car? For once, I thought I had a lot going for me, figuratively and literally.
But, bad omens followed me the week leading up to the crash. Saturday was prom and in preparation the school brought in ICU Doctors for a cautionary, bleak presentation on the effects of drinking and driving. As I got out of my car the morning of the accident, The Number of The Beast flashed on the analog speedometer.
I should have reset the damn thing.
I ducked out of yearbook class a few minutes before the last bell to start my weekend early. The non-event of my five-minute trek home was to begin.
My car was one behind another in the left-hand turn lane.
The first car turned and cleared the intersection.
My turn. I saw my opening. A white SUV approached in the distance, yet I judged enough time to clear.
Halfway through the turn, somehow the SUV gained an unfathomable distance quickly and was about to collide with the right rear tire, which I saw out of the corner of my eye.
Next, my heart pounded and adrenaline peaked as the Toyota spun and rested on the northern median outside of the intersection.
I looked out on the new world that awaited me. Adulthood. Responsibility. Guilt. Only I wasn’t aware of it then.
While we observed from the sidewalk as the tow truck fished the car from the concrete median, a quasi-optimistic haze of shock still lingering, I remarked to my father the car was salvageable.
He gently rebuffed this notion. Didn’t think anything of it. Mr. Debbie Downer.
The farfetched notion of fixing it didn’t hit until the next morning when, undeterred, I snagged a Chilton’s automotive guide for the Toyota from our bookshelf, fully intending to fix and bring it back from the brink.
“Alignment’s all messed up, numerous repairs to the body … This is gonna cost more than it’s worth,” my father reiterated in that matter-of-fact tone as his jack hoisted up the impact zone the next morning.
I forgot that my father was a foremost authority on cars. And we weren’t The Rockefellers. I would have to start walking home from school again.
Over the next several weeks — as the twisted car-covered frame created wind tunnels while it sat on the back driveway — simple trips in the passenger seat of other cars became white-knuckles journeys. My throat tightened and my body tensed up at every left turn.
Anxiety continued for well over a year with gradual decreasing dominance.
Life moved on, the vehicle’s remains left one day to collect an unknown fate elsewhere, and I went to traffic school and found out the state of Arizona hates left-hand turners.
Yet, the psychological effects spanned longer.
It took two years to get behind the wheel again — and probably would have taken longer if my good aunt had not provided a re-baptism while I was on sabbatical in Long Beach the night before a day trip to Universal Studios.
This 10-minute drive around the neighborhood was enough to help find my bearings again.
If her purpose was to push me into the water before I could swim, then she did a good job.
Another two years passed until I finally felt comfortable driving on a mostly permanent basis again.
If it wasn’t for that particular Toyota, I probably could have coaxed myself back into driving sooner. But it was that Toyota.
Driven by a man who left for the Promised Land and my last living connection to him. I had killed a friend.
But time heals most wounds — and four years was the layaway version.
I saw some of my best qualities as moving that car around and didn’t show true strength in the wake of the accident to carry on. A missed opportunity for life.
Now that I know better, maybe knowledge alone will prevent history from repeating itself.
It’s time to get up of off the mat and get back to work. What’s next?
Reach the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @TaylorFromPhx