After a couple of weeks on the truck with Wayne, I had learned where all the gears were, and could go up even mountains without missing a gear. Wayne picked a foggy night in Pennsylvania to teach me to go down.
Once Kelly had fallen asleep in back, Wayne once again told me it was my turn, flipped on the cruise control and slid out of the driver’s seat. I no longer tried to argue with him about driving, but just slid over and took the steering wheel.
“It’s so dark.” I could barely see the road in the dark, and there were foggy patches here and there.
“They say night driving is hard to get used to,” Wayne said. “But I never had any problem with it.”
“Maybe I should learn to go down hills during the day.”
“No, this is fine.” He said, leaning back in the passenger seat and crossing one leg over the other, arms across his chest, and head resting back against the seat.
I made my way up the hill, entering a construction zone near the top. There was a concrete barrier on one side and barrels on the the other. The lane didn’t seem big enough for our truck to fit.
“I don’t like this construction.” I complained.
“Pennsylvania – the construction state!” He laughed at his own joke and ignored my hint that he should drive.
I was in 6th gear at the top of the hill, going about 25 miles-per-hour.
“Okay, shift up.” He said.
“But the book says to go down in a lower gear.”
“Not this low. You have to go faster.”
“What gear should I be in?”
That was our top gear, that can’t be right. But he pushed me through all the gears until we were there, going 45, the construction speed, then 55, I turned on the jake brake to try to control the speed.
“Turn that off.” He demanded.
“But we are going to fast.” The needle was edging up to 65 and then 70.
“No we aren’t. We’re going too slow. We need to get some momentum to make it up the next hill. You need to put it in Georgia overdrive.”
“What’s Georgia overdrive?”
“It means take it out of gear.”
“What? Why? You’re not supposed to do that.”
“So you can go faster. I bet we could hit triple digits going down this hill.” He started to sit up a little taller and bounce a little in his seat.
I forgot about the dark foggy construction zone for a second and just looked at him. Was he insane? The needle on the speedometer had hit 85 and stopped, but the truck was still speeding up.
“Faster, we don’t need to go faster, we need to slow down.” I was starting to panic and step on the brake.
“Don’t touch the brakes! Take it out of gear.”
“No. I can’t, you aren’t supposed to. It’s dangerous.” I was gripping the steering wheel as hard as I could, partly because I was scared of going off the road, and partly because it was starting to shake violently.
Orange barrels were rushing by almost as fast as I was breathing and the fog was getting thicker.
“You have to take it out of gear or it will burn up the engine.”
“I need to slow down.” I said, hitting the brakes again. The truck slows, but the speedometer is still resting at 85.
“Don’t touch the brakes, you’ll cause a brake fire. You can’t slow down or we’ll be late.”
I hated being late. But I didn’t care this time. It was his job, not mine. His truck to burn up or not. His license. He had one, I didn’t. And he was the one who was always playing around in the truck stops. I didn’t think we were in danger of being late, but even if we were, it was his problem, not mine.
“No. If you thought we might be late, you should have left the truck stop sooner.” I flipped on the jake brake and tapped the service brakes, holding them just hard enough to slow the truck down until we were going 65, a speed I was more comfortable with, and held it there to the end of the hill.
There was no brake fire. The engine did not blow up. And we were not late for our delivery.
More importantly, I directly refused to do something my husband wanted me to, even when he yelled and demanded it. I had known Wayne for years before we got married and never believed that he would actually hurt me.
His threats held power over me because I was raised to believe that the husband is the head of the household and the wife had to obey him in all things. She can disagree and argue, but in the end, if the wife can’t convince the husband, she is supposed to do it his way.
I was always quick to obey authority figures in my life: parents, preachers, teachers, police, and even my husbands. I was afraid to object most of the time, and never to openly defy one. This was the first time I can remember directly refusing to obey an order, but it would not be the last.
It was not just my fear of authorities that was being dismantled either. Wayne and I had always been a team, working toward the same goals. But that night when I refused to care about getting the load delivered on time, I took the first step toward turning us into him and me.