Uneven Progress: Windshield Wiper Trauma

When I pull out of the driveway, it isn’t raining, yet. Thunder rumbles in the distance and dark clouds threaten. W says he’ll drive me into town for my therapy appointment but I say no, I’ll do it. I tell myself I can’t be a fair weather driver. Eventually I plan to drive back and forth to work every day, by myself, even if it’s raining.

In a few minutes it starts drizzling. I am doing just fine, I tell myself. Look how normal it is to drive in the rain. Then the drops turn into big noisy lobs and I switch from intermittent to full on wipers. “Is that hail?” I ask W, even though I know hail bounces rather than splats. The truck roof amplifies the sound.

“If the rain gets bad, you can just pull over,” W says.

“Okay,” I say, not planning to take this out. The rain accelerates and puddles are already forming on the road. Everything is just fine, I tell myself, even as I need to turn the wipers onto scary-fast. Suddenly I don’t think I can do it. The rain is coming down too hard, the puddles are getting deeper, it’s hard to see, and the wipers have to go just too fast.

Is anyone else in the world afraid of super-fast wiper-speed? This goes back twenty years ago, my therapist will remind me during our appointment. It happened my very first time day driving solo at 17, my driver’s license brand new. I went to the library (of course), down winding back roads to the highway, then a few minutes amongst the New Jersey highway traffic, and then my exit. No problem. It was a sunny day when I left, but while I was inside, it started raining.

As I pulled out of the library lot, the rain pounded harder and I turned up the wipers to double-time. Swoosh-swoosh-swoosh went the wipers for several beats. Then, a little way down the road, ka-thunk! The whole wiper blade on the driver’s side launched over the top of the car, leaving just the arm racing madly and uselessly across the glass. I couldn’t see the road. Desperately I stuck my head out into the storm to try go guide the car to someplace safe to stop, hopefully with a pay phone to call my dad.

I wound up at a fire station, if I remember correctly. My dad soon came to the rescue. I guess he brought a wiper blade with him. All I remember clearly is the surprise of the wiper flying off and then realizing how much one needs wipers when it’s raining really hard. Ever since then, turning the wipers up to high has always made me nervous.

“I don’t like this,” I tell W, and pull over. He pats my leg and shifts the truck into park. The rain seems like it might be slowing. “Okay, I guess I can go now,” I say.

“I’ll drive,” W says, “but I’m not getting out of the truck.”

“You climb under and I’ll go over,” I tell him. He shakes his head, so I take off my shoes, clamber into the back seat, and let him scoot across the center console. I’ve forgotten to push the driver’s seat back first, so he’s scrunched into the seat trying to go backwards as my feet are in the air between the back and passenger seat. The gymnastic break makes me feel instantly better.

“If you didn’t have an appointment, you would’ve just waited a few minutes and then driven the rest of the way in,” he said, knowing what I was thinking.

“Twenty years later you still remember it?” my therapist asks, as if a person could forget such an incident. Yeah, no one got hurt. I didn’t even dent the car. But it was traumatic. How could a person ever trust wiper blades again after that?

My therapist says I could test the wipers each time to reassure myself they are functioning. This is my least favorite advice she’s ever given me. That seems completely crazy. Like checking the door twenty times to see if it is locked. I imagine myself compulsively checking the wipers on a cloudless day, just in case. And wipers don’t like dry windshields. Maybe they just don’t like to go fast, I’ve often thought. Besides, just because they work now, doesn’t mean they’ll stay attached.

W counters that most people never have a wiper fly off in their entire driving careers. Because it already happened to me, I’m pretty much safe in assuming it won’t happen again, he says. I know the logic doesn’t follow, but I prefer thinking it is just really unlikely to happen, rather than doing a wiper test all the time. If I started checking everything that makes me nervous about a vehicle—tire pressure, lights, fluid levels, and who knows what else—I’d never leave the driveway.

I know cognitive behavioral therapy is about using one’s intellect to conquer irrational fears. But in this case I think I have to learn a little trust, kind of like my therapist has said with the vehicle as a whole. Yes, things do go wrong, and other people do drive like maniacs, but most of the time it’s fine. I just have to learn to trust the wipers and trust myself.

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