For weeks before I got behind the wheel, I had nightmares about head-on collisions. Sometimes, in my dreams, I was alone in the car. Sometimes my boyfriend was with me, or my grandmother. At the moment of impact, I’d jerk awake and fall quickly back to sleep, the memory of the imagined crash disappearing until the middle of the next day. I’d be standing on the subway platform or waiting in line for lunch when I’d remember that, once again, I had dreamed about killing myself, and usually someone I loved, with my driving.
I’m not a bad driver. The problem was that after almost 12 years of living in the United States, I still hadn’t learned to drive on the right-hand side of the road. I grew up and learned to drive in Australia, where left turns are tight, and the driver sits on the right-hand side of the car.
“It’s not like I can’t drive at all,” I’d often insist, intent on setting myself apart from people who had never learned an essential life skill. And as long as I lived on a college campus or in New York City, my allegiance to the left-hand side wasn’t a problem, because I never needed to drive: There was public transport, and taxis, and friends with cars who could be bribed with cupcakes. But when the opportunity arose to do reporting out of state, or the option arrived to move to a more car-dependent city, my allegiance to my old Australian ways began to look like inability. In theory, I could drive; in practice, I couldn’t. I’m a dual citizen, but until now, I’ve only ever been a passenger in America.