I walked in with my shoulders pulled back and my chin at least level with the ground. Three people were already seated there in the lobby; I chose a chair, fell down into it like a real hard-ass, and then took an idgaf swig of my Publix-brand chocolate milk.
“So what are you guys in for?” I asked.
A lady with thick-rimmed rectangle glasses turned to look at me. “I ran a red light…”
“Ditto,” I nodded, looking down at the pipsqueak pint of chocolate milk in my hand. Then I glanced up and over at the two other folks.
One of them answered for both: “We’re speeders.”
I nodded my head knowingly (although I do not speed, so I don’t actually know). Within thirty minutes, 43 other human beings had joined us, and the lot of us were going to experience our – presumably – first Defensive Driving Class together.
Now — while I wasn’t NEARLY as cool in REAL life as I just portrayed myself to be (above), I did ask what everyone was “in” for (ha!) and took a few generous sips of that chocolate milk (and doing both of these things made the evening seem WILD!). The four-hour class wasn’t nearly as boring as some had warned me it would be — I learned some legitimately useful things, like:
- If it’s snowing (which, in Alabama, it mostly doesn’t), you can tell that it’s SAFE to drive forward if the tires on the car in front of you have a “mist” coming off of them (IE, if they’re kicking up snow). If there is NO mist, then they’re prob rolling across ice, and it could be black ice (which is very dangerous), and you should NOT drive. You also shouldn’t drive if you’re intoxicated or on your goddamn cell phone.
- Alabama is on the “points” system, and the kind of ticket you get (whether it’s rolling through a stop sign, “running” a red light, or driving under an influence) has a certain number of points associated with it… if you get 12 points within like, two years, your license can become revoked. Yikes!
- “You HAVE to die… everything else is a choice.” This wasn’t written anywhere in the curriculum, but our instructor said it, and it meant a great deal to me.
…did I ever mention how I ended up in this class?
As one of my best friends likes to say, what had happened was: Last month, I was innocently driving from the Whole Foods in Hoover to a local branch (I’m a credit union trainer). I was parked at the light behind this big ole’ semi, slowly eating a banana, when the semi began moving. I trailed slowly behind it and, once we were halfway through the intersection together, the traffic light became visible to me: red!
Holy shit, I mumbled, soft, mushy banana pieces crowding my mouth. I decided that reversing through the intersection would be a stupid waste of time, so I sped the rest of the way through it. Bad call. You know why? I then heard the sound. I’m sure you also know the sound.
A cop on a motorbike pulled me over, and my heart REALLY was RACING. I preemptively rolled my window down before he walked over and then sat there, still as a – you guessed it – statue. You hardly have to tune into the news to know why.
And personal bias aside, this dude was seriously the “mean cop” type. He said or asked me something about the incident, can’t remember what exactly, and when I apologized and tried to explain that I honestly hadn’t realized the light was red, he laughed and said: “Ma’am, that light was turning yellow before the semi had even pulled out.” I wanted to say: “Well how the heck was I supposed to know that?! I’M not as tall as ANY semi!” I also wanted to tell him – to prove my point re: honesty – about the time I’d asked my mom mail a $10 check to a random gas station in Florida because – six years earlier, as a nine-year old – I had been the evil-hearted accomplice in the theft of a packet of Pokemon cards… but instead of sharing this, I apologized again and – unable to stifle myself – cried quietly while he stood a few yards away and wrote out my ticket.
Once he returned, I asked him how much it was.
“$185?!” I repeated, incredulous. I’ve got two music gigs lined up this weekend, so that’ll ABOUT cover it, I mused, valiantly trying to console myself.
And then he mentioned my court date.
“A COURT DATE?” I screeched. Not the kind of date I want, I scoffed inwardly. He narrowed his eyes at me.
“Am I like — in serious TROUBLE?” I asked him, panic seizing me. He proceeded to explain that the court date was optional — that I needed to appear only if I wanted to contest the ticket — and that, otherwise, I could either pay the ticket BEFORE the date rolled around or take a defensive driving class.
“A class?” My ears perked up at this.
The class costed $$$ too, but there were three + one (aka four) benefits to taking the class instead of just paying the damn ticket and moving on with life:
- The ticket wouldn’t go on my pristine record, meaning (among other things) that my insurance premium wouldn’t rise bc of the (unjust) incident.
- The class costed a little less than the ticket itself (we’re talking a difference of 6-7 lattes — that’s considerable).
- I’d probably learn something interesting slash useful in the class.
- I might meet the next love of my life in that class!
I did NOT meet the next love of my life in that class, but it was still enjoyable. I got my little certificate, drove home with it VERY carefully, and then passed out in my comfy, blanketed bed after a few sips of wine and a hunk of manchego cheese on a thin slice of sourdough.
Since we’re (sorta) talking about love now: The first love of my life was Christopher, and yesterday would have been our 8-year anniversary. I made the mistake of saying it was our anniversary yesterday morning, and Charlie quickly corrected me: It would have been, he said gently. You’re right, I replied sadly.
And earlier today, as I was writing out my daily list of Spanish vocab — nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and prepositions that I’m filing away in my mental dictionary — it occurred to me that I’ve made really good use of a few items from Chris and I’s wedding.
Things I’ve “recycled”:
- The registry book: This is where I log my Spanish vocab now. It’s a nice, big, leather-bound book with pretty, lined paper on the inside, and other than the word “Guests” repeating at the top-right of each page, it’s entirely blank, meaning I can repurpose it however I’d like. Right now, it’s a great retainer for new words that make the world a little more colorful and a lot more interesting.
- The wedding dress: Earlier this year, my dress became lots of dresses.
A good friend of mine named Emilio works with a group of women who take old wedding dresses and cut + sew them down into burial dresses for premature babies. When she shared this with me, I was mute with feeling and thought to myself, what better way – TRULY – to repurpose this thing? So I took the old box down from that dusty, unused closet the next day and brought the dress to her.
- The rings are still around, somewhere… I kept them in my backpack for a while, telling myself I’d run into a pawn shop one day and sell ’em for twenty-something bucks. I’ll give Charlie a dollar to give Chris his nine, I’d told myself. But I could never actually bring myself to walk in and hand them over… and when I went fishing for them in my backpack the other day, thinking that maybe I was finally ready, I couldn’t find them. Maybe I’ve forgotten that I gave up on trying to give them up a few weeks back and placed them somewhere in the house, or maybe they just fell out and got lost somewhere along the way…
Regardless; a history book became an educational one, and that tiny, lovely, and perfect dress that I could (and would) never wear again was able to gently cradle the little bodies of those beautiful, quiet souls. And the rings are simply gone.
It’s not that the things that mean something to us change in and of themselves; it’s the way we view them that changes… and I know I’m not letting go and moving on as quickly as most (we’re three years out now — isn’t that nuts?), but I’m doing the best I can; releasing this here, relinquishing that there…
It’s just, when you set out to live your life honestly – with your heart resting right there on your sleeve – it’s really hard to hide it, you know? And I think that’s my big thing — that’s why I love animals and children and special people so much: They don’t try to hide anything. It’s very beautiful.
I read a Spanish proverb yesterday that hit deeply: Ojos que no ven, corazon que no siente. This means “eyes don’t see, heart doesn’t feel”, but we usually say it like this in English: “What you don’t know can’t hurt you.”
But that’s the other thing: Once you’ve loved someone, and I mean REALLY loved them, you know that love is there — you know what it feels and looks like, you know the realness of it, and you understand, intuitively, that it will never go away. So you never forget it, and it can’t not hurt you.
And I’m honestly not sure what this post was even supposed to be about… I’m sorry.