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A Lesson Before Driving
By Melissa Roth

"I haff only one problem," Arnold says, "trouble wit English."

Arnold pulled in next to me in a supermarket parking lot. When he approached my car, I thought he was going to tell me my left turn light was out -- because my left turn light was out -- but when he said he'd been following me, I sensed something else was afoot.

Would I like to have dinner? He asks. I say no. Thank you, I have a boyfriend. He says I look "too independent" to have a boyfriend. Would I like to be friends? I say no. Thank you. Would I like to teach him English? I say no. Thank you.

I start thinking that Arnold's one problem is that he thinks he has only one problem.

"This is not business card," Arnold says, handing me a business card, "It is eeenvitation."

Arnold has fifty Rolexes in his trunk. Would I like to see them? (And the movie in my head begins. I survive the 100-mile ride through the desert in his trunk only to die a gruesome death in a dungeon under his house.)

"No. Thank you."

Arnold smiles the smile equivalent of a shrug and gets back into his car. Then I realize, his only business there was to talk to me. No one's ever done that before. Then again, I'm from New York. I lived there until I was 32 until I did the unthinkable. I moved to Los Angeles. I'd fallen in love. Hard. So hard I quit my job, gave up my apartment, and left everything I'd ever known to live with my boyfriend -- Andrew -- in Topanga Canyon. (Those who don't know Topanga, consider this -- when Charles Manson lived in Topanga he just blended right in.)

"I have a lot of shoes," I'd told Andrew one night. We were on the phone, he in Topanga, me in New York. Ours was a costly courtship.

"I'll just have to build you a shoe closet," he replied.

But when I arrived with my shoe collection, all Andrew said was: "Are all of those yours?"

While the shoes were an issue, the fact that I didn't drive was a bigger one. One night, Andrew drove to a parking lot and handed me the keys to his newish, bluish Toyota. (Though he'd owned many dangerous, sexy cars, I met Andrew during his Corolla years.) I drove in reverse, then forward, then reverse, then forward. Andrew assured me that going in reverse was so difficult, going forward would be a relief. It wasn't. After twenty minutes my shirt and pants were so swampy with sweat they made a thwacking noise when I got out of the car.

Andrew decided I should drive from Topanga to his physical therapy office in Santa Monica (I ostensibly worked there; he needed the help, I needed to be within walking distance of a shoe store and a latte.) That morning, I sat on the porch, hoping he'd forget. Andrew emerged from the house dangling his car keys. I stood up and thwack! Even the thought of driving drenched me with panic.

Topanga Canyon Boulevard wasn't bad, except for mountains on one side, cliffs on the other, hairpin turns, s-curves, a harrowing 45-mile-per-hour speed limit, and precious few places to pull over. My reward for surviving this stretch was getting on to the Pacific Coast Highway Deathtrap. Even the right lane wasn't safe. And Andrew, in the passenger seat, became a living, breathing incarnation of the California Driver's Manual. He'd tell me to get into the right lane, and I would, then tell me it was illegal to change lanes within ten feet of an intersection, which I'd also done. I arrived in Santa Monica and burst into tears.

A year after I moved in, Andrew and I began to break up. It happened in spasms. Deciding the amount of suffering we would endure was directly proportional to the amount of time I continued living in Topanga, we agreed I'd look for a place. I started sleeping in the guest room, and in my own bed. Ah, my bed. Andrew hadn't understood why I wanted to bring it all the way from New York. After all, we were going to share a bed forever.

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