She left a trail of tickets when she jumped on a plane bound for Vienna, Austria. A trail of tickets which became a crucifix around her neck each time she got behind the wheel. She had an image to uphold, that of a sensible, trustworthy driver for her newly, married husband but especially for herself. Driving around the heart of Europe offered her the prime opportunity to make an impression. The stakes were low as she sported around in her hubby’s company beamer. It didn’t seem to matter to her husband that she wasn’t so good at learning stick, although other’s might have begged to differ on that view.
She had a few close calls, like the time she was trapped on one of Vienna’s many one-way streets going in the wrong direction. A Straßenbahn, otherwise known as the tram came directly towards her and one was closing in from the rear on the left-hand side. The only way out was to wait until the rear tram had passed and then make a backwards U-turn. After that experience she never sneered at the announcements on the Blue Danube Radio concerning ghost drivers on the Autobahn.
She managed to improve her skills at the stick shift over time or so she thought till her husband changed jobs and cars. With the arrival of a baby girl the decision was made to get a practical, family sized beamer with an automatic to ensure everyone’s safety. Safety from what….this Jekyll and Hyde behind the wheel…this monstrosity of a person who couldn’t get a grip on herself? Who was to say….certainly she herself wasn’t about to begin some extraordinary inward search for the truth.
The exchange of automobiles seemed to set a voodoo chain of events into motion. The automatic made life simpler, but the dangerous attitude of complacency wasn’t shy about being an unwelcome guest in her heart. The beamer would come home from time to time with a scratch or dent after spending time in the depths of some Viennese parking garage. There was also the revisiting curse of speeding tickets, occasionally accompanied by her sister, vexation of parking tickets. The stakes began to rise as she noticed her husband’s set jaw every time she put the keys in the ignition. The cool demeanour of the sensible, trustworthy driver began to erode under the pressure of guilt, doubt and mistrust.
Many a moon went by which brought the addition of a baby boy to the family. Talk of yet another automobile lodged the idea into her partner’s head that what the family needed was a truck. She had to smile at this notion inspired somehow by her own American roots, but financially she couldn’t bring herself to support this scheme. However, her husband’s persistence won in the end.
That sleek, black beauty breezed in as his new baby right from the start. At the time, what unconsciously added injury to insult was that he decided to go back to school to earn a Master’s in Business Administration because it only added to the financial strain from the purchase of black beauty. A firm believer in supporting the dreams of others and especially those of a loved one, she encouraged him to pursue his goals. As it turned out, sometimes the self-sacrifice was more than she bargained for, although she appeared to enjoy the role of being the martyr. A silent estrangement began to grow like a deadly cancer that goes undetected in the body.
Company policy grew stricter at work with the mutation of bosses which meant that black beauty could no longer accompany her dearest to work. The privilege was awarded to the company automatic beamer much to the personal dread of wife. Thus, enfolded a new dimension in her association with black beauty. Stick shift became the focal point of their unexpected connection. Driving black beauty definitely had it’s perks as well as drawbacks. It was always entertaining to see astonishment splash unto Viennese faces when they saw a woman in a truck. Parallel parking wasn’t even a vague consideration in her mind.
Over the next few months the truck went through a roller coaster ride of ordeals. It probably would be safe to say so did the people who engineered this vehicle. The rear end including the bumper had been smashed in after husband backed into a pole at the parking lot of a sports community centre. Everyone has accidents like this right? Cruising around with a deformed, Nissan pick-up took pride’s toll, so eventually it was sent to the repair shop. Just a week after black beauty showed her face at home a nervous, aged man slammed into wife from behind while she stopped for a little girl and father crossing over zebra stripes which coincidentally lead into another one-way. At this turn of events black beauty’s rear end emerged as an area of great sensitivity as it does for most feminine creatures.
In a matter of days, black beauty was no more. Husband’s baby had kicked the bucket. Another pesky, elderly imp of a man, who materialized out of the banished realm of nowhere rammed into the side as wife was barely slowing down for a yield sign into the intersection of Höhenstraße and Neuwaldeggerstraße. What was it with these old aged ogres of Vienna? It was her fault, no point in denying that as the reality of the situation. The registration papers had been removed since the truck had just been picked up at the garage two days earlier from the previous episode. As the looming clouds continued to darken, wife realized that she had forgotten her purse which contained her driver’s license. The impatient, cantankerous troll threatened to call the police if documentation didn’t emerge in a matter of magical minutes. Before damsel in distress knew what was happening, all the kings horses and all the kings men were being summoned to the crime scene.
Desperation surged in like the rise and fall of the tide from head to toe. The telephone call to her beloved wasn’t long since the entire incident had been disclosed just as if it had been any indifferent business transaction. Her husband with the coldness of winter in his voice asked her if she was hurt, and then upon hearing that she was still in one piece unreservedly and decisively informed his wife that he was in the most important business meeting of the year and could not leave. Therefore, she’d have to deal with the situation alone since he had absolutely no time. In that moment, a stone in her heart submerged her to the depths of nothingness.
She completed the entire routine with the police by rote. Firemen came and moved the truck from the middle of the intersection to the side of the road. She was stranded there for three hours since her husband wasn’t picking up the phone, no one could pick her up and she had no money to pay for a taxi.
One internal question persisted: “Was this the love she promised herself to for a lifetime?” So, she wept.
Eventually, the ÖAMTC, an Austrian motor club and travel organization, showed up to wheel black beauty out of sight. Not long after, the automatic beamer appeared from over the hills and far away to tote her home. The automatic beamer, which had seen better days, was being traded in for a new 520I BMW that consequently upheld the automatic tradition. While attending Dreams on Ice at the Vienna City Hall a few months after all the drama, wife was to learn that she wouldn’t be permitted the liberty of driving the 520I. Coming to grips with the “why and how” this message had been delivered, sent her reeling into a whirlwind of painful, emotional confusion. Doors perceptibly seemed to be closing all around, making her feel like a caged animal.
She had to make an escape even though they were driving to pick up the kids from his mothers’. When Schwarzenberg Café came into view, she mumbled that she had to be alone and exited the vehicle. Sitting down at a table by the window, the cozy comfort of the Viennese coffee-house began to weave its magic spell. A gentle memory drew near to assuage the stone weighing down on her heart and mind. This café had been the first real European café she had ever entered after wandering around Vienna like a frightened, yet elated, little church mouse, thankful to be in Europe…to know that Austria would be home. It was a moment not so different from this one to realize in reverent awe the joy of new discoveries…the joy of a new life. Perhaps now was another beginning.
At first not having to drive around the narrow streets was a welcome experience. However, it soon grew to be a nuisance which intensified her dissatisfaction with the quality of her present existence. Juggling kids, her job and the everyday responsibilities of having a home spurred the desire for a new car. When one of her students mentioned that she had a 10-year-old Opel with a stick shift in good condition, a discussion ensued between the dissidents of the household. A thorough inspection thereafter ushered the lackadaisical, fir-green tortoise into the long line of family autos.
Becoming acquainted with the tortoise wasn’t an easy task. It was like trying to make friends with a stubborn, crass old dame set in her ways, like the antique madams one meets on the streets within twisting,Viennese districts. The first excursion was taking the kids sledding just two kilometres down the road. She couldn’t coax the tortoise to start, all the while her son repeatedly asking, “Can’t you please make it go now? Why is it always not going?” Cursing the cranky vixen under her breath didn’t seem to help the situation. As she was trying to find where the lights turned on, she bumped a lever on the left side of the wheel turning on the windshield wipers, and for all she was worth, she couldn’t find where to turn them off again. The key continuously got stuck in the ignition, and when she shifted gears the old dame would stall.
The most nerve-racking problem of all was that she never had any way of knowing when the old dame was out of gas since the gauge was irreparable according to a warning from the previous owner. The owner had cautioned that when she would reach the 700 kilometre mark on the odometer it was time for a trip to the gas station. The old cranky tortoise certainly had an estranging sense of humor. For instance, the hatch had a knack of falling on the head whenever an attempt was made to put something in or take something out of the trunk. Whenever she turned off the engine, one of the headlights always appeared to stay on refusing to comply with the laws of physics. All in all, she had a peculiar connection to this old, quirky dame. Their affinity ran relatively smoothly for the first three-quarters of the year, besides the aforementioned eccentricities.
It was the first snow, when she had gone shopping with her sister to buy some Christmas lights. The accident occurred just around the corner from home. Although she was driving a safe distance behind the car in front of her, it stopped suddenly with no way to turn right or left. The only alternative was to slide into their rear end. The damage was minimal. It was the kind of coincidence that the universe brings when a lesson goes unlearned, reopening a deep inner wound. For Christmas, she received a gift certificate from her dearly, beloved husband for a ÖAMTC security driver’s training course.
The peevish nag on wheels was due for a check-up, after returning from the garage the tortoise was geared up for the next driving adventure despite all the adjustments. Her owner on this occasion had a need for a fine tune-up as well. It was the impact of the last accident that gave birth to a fresh perspective. Wife no longer felt the compulsion to foster the illusion that she was a sensible, trustworthy driver.
On a grander scale, there was no need to pretend that she had it all together any more. The truth was that she didn’t, and it was OK. An understanding of being true to oneself was born through the acceptance of how she drove her car. There was no longer reason to fear disregard or rejection because she didn’t have to pass judgement on herself. The healing of inner reconciliation did wonders for the stones in her heart and mind. This new relaxed outlook brought confidence in herself as well as in her driving experience. Whoever would have imagined that Driver’s Ed. in Vienna could contribute to this most valuable lesson of self-awareness and inner growth on the soul journey of being true to oneself?
Copyright © 2006 Salem Islas-Madlo