There we were, young and in love and….car shopping. While newlywed bliss hadn’t worn off just yet, it was time to have 2 vehicles.
We were no longer at a tiny post where car sharing was easy. Plus, I was about to land my first job that I didn’t get to via subway. After 5 years in NYC my parents had sold my car and all my husband and I had was his SUV.
So car shopping we went.
We settled on a brand new car that was just out of our desired price range, because, hey, brand new! But it was the most basic model you could get. A Ford Fiesta with manual transmission, manual windows and no automatic key locks.
It was perfect, except that I didn’t know how to drive stick.
“Don’t worry,” my husband assured me. “I’ll teach you. It’ll be easy. Plus, you can drive the SUV full-time so you won’t have to worry too much about it.”
Except that I did worry about driving our new car.
He was set to deploy 3 months later so my car driving lessons began immediately in the local mall parking lot.
I won’t lie, I think newlywed bliss faded A LOT during these lessons. I got mad and could not for the life of me figure out why it was so hard to get into first gear. Seriously, why is it so hard?
Add on top of that that we lived on a giant hill, so I was scared out of my mind of rolling backwards. Even though the car had some fancy technology to prevent that, it was in the back of my mind.
The real reason I was fighting my husband every step of the way? He was leaving.
It was that pre-deployment anger and nerves.
Learning how to drive this car meant that he was gone. Across the world. For 9 long months.
The same amount of time we had been married.
The symmetry was nice, but the looming loneliness was not.
When my husband left, I could sometimes get going in the Fiesta. Once I was going I could keep driving, no problem. I could do this. I just needed to drive it every once in awhile. I decided that weekends would be great – no traffic. I’d drive it to my weekend assignments for the base newspaper and outings with my new friends thanks to the FRG.
About a month after my husband left, there I was, driving along to post for a weekend assignment. It was going great. Until I hit the line at the gate. My nerves kicked in.
“OMG, I’m going to have to get in first gear soooooooooo many times,” I thought to myself.
I stressed myself out so much about this that I stalled the car…a lot. Enough times that all of the cars in front of me, maybe 8, had all gone through the gate. And there I was holding up the line. I finally got into first gear and met the gate guard. I timidly handed him my ID card.
“There are a bunch of empty roads out in the back of post, you should practice back there,” the older gentleman mansplained to me.
“Thanks,” I said shyly, taking off as quickly as I could, this time on my first attempt.
I was mortified.
But I survived.
I continued to practice on weekends, but not as often to post, and definitely not to that gate.
There was the time that I also didn’t completely put it in park and it rolled into the parking lot of our apartment complex, blocking traffic but not hitting any cars.
As the weeks went by I got better and better at driving. I took friends with me in the car who cheered me on and gave me moral support as we drove the streets of Tacoma and Seattle.
At the halfway point in deployment I got a part-time job in Seattle, an hour away, and was starting grad school, near my job. The new car got much better gas mileage so I started to drive it more frequently. And in traffic. Crazy stop and go highway rush-hour traffic. And I lived. No major stalling.
By the time that 9-month deployment ended, I could drive that car better than my husband. And I kept driving it, not only because of the gas mileage but because I liked it. It was fun!
Deployment wasn’t necessarily “fun” but I conquered it.
Those lonely nights were filled with laughs from new lifelong friends. I pivoted my career in a way to make it more portable and make myself more employable.
I learned how to be more independent in a marriage while still having a partnership. Yes, there were some stall outs and bad days, but you get through it.
You keep trying.
You drive with confidence back through that gate you stalled out in and hope that the same gate guard is there so you can say, “I did it.”