Keith Wells and Me….The man who would not let me give up…on myself.
There were very few times that my mum was ever disappointed in me. In fact, I can tell you how many. Two. Twice in my life my mum was ever disappointed in me. I mean…. she had many reasons and opportunities to be disappointed. What I put that woman through at times is unforgivable. But she would always find a reason for my behaviour. Maybe not an excuse. But a reason. She always saw the best in me.
Except for these two times. One I may never talk about. But if I do its not now.
But one I will. The first time.
My mum never had nothing. She died in debt. Everything was used in some way. She never moaned. I never once heard her talk about wanting a big house or anything like that.
My mum learnt to drive when she was 41. In them days, the women didn’t really drive, when she was growing up and so she never learnt. Then, in the late 70s my uncle, a famous Chelsea Football player, Peter Houseman, my mum’s brother, was killed in a car accident. Peter, his wife and their two friends were all killed when a drunk driver, aged about 21, came round a corner too quick and killed them all leaving 6 children with no parents.
When I was born and my dad was not around, my mum realised she needed to drive. Her mental health was already shocking in terms of anxiety and driving exaggerated this massively. I can remember my mum throwing up in the bathroom before driving lessons. But after a long time, she passed, and we now had a car. A Lada. It was like a brick and the ugliest car I had ever seen. And she loved it. It brought freedom and a whole new world for her. After that car she had this giant battered estate car. She always drove an old banger that she would find for under £300 (It was the 90s)
Anyway…when I was 13 My mum had saved and saved for about two years. Scrimping and saving and she finally revealed what she was saving for…a new car!
I don’t mean as in off the show room. I mean a second-hand car where the windows work. And the bumper stayed on. She brought it home one summers afternoon. It was a shiny green ford. So shiny. I have never seen her so happy. She took me out in it every evening to practice. She loved it. It was hers…just for her.
I had driven a car by this age. Not around the high street or anything, but the older kids would think it was funny to get the youngers to bomb cars up and down the road. I knew how to get into a car, start it and go. People I hung around with had knicked and we had driven around in them all night.
One night my mum, who was asleep by 9:30 due to her medication, was fast asleep and I had let people in my house. This was usually. Not allowed……but usual. We would go in my room, play music…smoke…drink….it would not matter because nothing was waking my mum until about 6 am. No amount of noise would raise her. I had a free house.
We had drunk a lot when a tap on my bedroom window broke me out of whatever haze I was in. It was someone I knew. Said there was a fight. I can’t even remember……but what I do remember is everyone suddenly becoming hyped. We all wanted to get to wherever this drama was and quick as we could and I said something like “I can just take my mums car”. As it left my mouth, I felt sick. I was trying to show off and now people were buying into it. Yes…get the car keys. And I was caught up in the moment. Almost as if I was not here.
I went into my mum’s bag and took her keys, and we all went out to the car. One of the older boys was saying to give him the keys and he would drive, and I remember thinking…. shit…they have no idea how much this car means to my mum…I will drive it.
And so that’s how, 5 minutes later, I was sitting in the driving seat of my mum’s car with a load of us in it with the keys in the ignition. I started the car and just pressed the gas. We shot forward and I hit the brakes and then we swung out the car park. I sort of shot off down the road and someone said, “Take the side road, your too obvious” and I swung left….and drove very fast into a brick wall.
The impact was sudden and so scary. The noise…the sensation…. everyone screaming and shouting. I had no seat belt on and smashed my face into the driving wheel. Because that’s the hight I was at. People got out and run off and I was left…. car alarm screaming…. horn blazing….
The police came and took me to the station. I was 2 seconds from my house, but they took me to the station. And placed me in a cell and the policewomen said….” We are just going to call your mum”
And I sobbed. Because the police had said that the car was a right off. Said that when they found the owner, they would be heartbroken. I couldn’t say it was my mums. I was ashamed. So, I said nothing. But they worked it out quickly.
I don’t know how long I had been in that cell. It was not the first time I had been held in a police station. Being in the station didn’t really bother me. Not really. But this was different. After ages a policeman came and said, “your mum is here to get you”. I just stood in the cell. Frozen.
“Come on” he said sternly
“IS she angry” I said. It should have been loud but came out a very light whisper. He shook his head in a disappointed way and just gestured to the door.
Man…that was the longest walk. Just before we got the door where my mum was the policeman stopped…looked at me and said “Your mum is very emotional…. she has been crying for a while”
I stopped and looked up at him. I was about 4 foot 3 and he was a good 6 foot. I staired up at him, wondering if he had any idea how much that had just hurt. The door swung open and there was my mum, sitting on this chair, sobbing into her hands. Big loud sobs. With my social worker sitting next to her, rubbing her back. My mum was saying something along the lines off “Angela, I don’t know what to do, I am a shit mum”
And in that moment, I knew I had broken her. I knew I had gone to far. I knew I deserved what ever she gave me in a moment and if I cried I would make it harder for her to do that. I was not worthy to cry. And so, I did what I did when the boys would put me in scary situations.
I went into neutral. I switched off. No emotion.
She looked up at me and started shouting
“How could you”
“They say you was drinking…. after Peter…how could you”
“I can’t afford a new car…how will I get to work…I will lose my job Kendra”
And the killer line….
“Why would you do this to me”
And I just stood, like a solder. Staring straight ahead. Nodding sometimes. But that was about it. Giving her the space to tell me off and not find a reason. Because there was not one. Me not crying made it worse. She said that I didn’t care. I did mum. So much. But I did not deserve the comfort you would have given me if I had of cried. This was one time that I could not allow you to find an excuse for my behaviour. When she got tired of shouting…. she cried…and then grabbed me in a massive hug. Mums…. mad like that.
Life was hard for a while after that. She got over it quickly. Much quicker than I did.
When I turned 20, I decided to learn to drive. It was obvious very quickly that there was a massive issue. I would shake behind the wheel, cover my eyes when a bus got to close. There were times I would just get out at traffic lights and walk off if it all become too much. I think I have had over 15 driving instructors in my life. All equally frustrated with me at one time of another. Driving brought out some deeply embedded trauma in me. And it made me sick.
Just like my mum, I would throw up before lessons. Panic attacks.
So, I decided that actually…there is no reason to drive in London. Everything is so close together and accessible…why bother. AND that was that. My mum was upset. She said that I needed to drive. I deserved that freedom. She begged and begged me to take lessons. But I couldn’t. She never had a decent car after that. That still kills me. Once again, she had to play catch up because of me.
I then moved to Kent. Have you ever tried living in a seaside town…? with no car…. with 3 kids…. on your own.
Its hard. Its not like London. No Tube. Buses come when they feel like it.
And so, I decided I needed to start lessons again. And it did not go well. Not well at all. I remember sitting on the drive with one instructor, who had really tried with me, and I physically could not pull off my drive, I just went in and that was that.
I bought a car. Because that will fix it. In fact, I had two over the years. But no…. that did not make any difference.
And, over time, driving has become my nemesis. Every single day I have to get a cab to get my daughter to school and then wherever I am going. Not out of laziness…or not wanting to walk…. Because the public transport is so bad that I would have never made it to work. It costs me a fortune and the cabs are sometimes so late that it changes my whole day. My daughter, who is autistic, struggles if we don’t know the cab man…or they park in a different place…or she doesn’t like the small…you get the drift.
Living where I do now and not being able to drive has been the hardest struggle in so many ways. Not being able to drive in lock down was the worst. But we muddled through just like we always have.
And so…Last year…. I decided that this was it…. again…. I was going to do it. I spent ages looking into it. Finding ones with good reviews…asking people.
And the same name kept coming up….Wells .
So, I called. Spoke to a lady called Mandy. We had an emotional hour on the phone. I think I told her my whole driving history. That I would never be able to pass a driving test, but I needed to prove to myself I can drive. I told her about my anxiety and my fears. She listened. She said that her other half was one of the teachers, it was his business, Keith Wells, and that I would have him. And that was that.
The first time we meet I once again told this new driving instructor how bad I was, that I would never drive and that I was rubbish.
And so, the start of a very emotional journey and relationship begun.
Keith was unlike any other driving instructor I have ever had (And I have had a few). He heard me. Seriously. Each driving lesson has been like a counselling session also. We got to the point once…where I was going to go for my test…. It was almost in my grasp. And then it all went wrong…like always. Self-sabotage. The voice kept reminding me that I could not do it. That I should no be driving. That I was not capable.
And I would remember that crash…my mums face…. the shame.
Man…. our own mind can be an evil source at times.
Keith, however, would not hear of it. Every single driving lesson he told me something positive about myself. If I had not had a great drive (which was rare) …he didn’t say that…but he would tell me what a great mum I was. And remind me how much I have achieved in life.
Keith would tell me that I was good enough. Not many men have ever said that to me in my life. I don’t think he will ever fully know how powerful his words have been over the past year.
Keith likes speedway and county music. I like Studying and Grime. We come from very different worlds. But …we have so much in common. We have laughed…real belly laughs…on our lessons. I once took a wrong turn on a roundabout (Forth exit is not my friend) and ended up having to drive on what felt like the motorway. I just kept giving out little screams and shouting at Keith. Lots of swearing on my part. Lots of “I can’t do this”. And Keith laughed and laughed…until I started laughing too. And it was Ok. Both the mistake and the drive. Not once has he got annoyed at me or told me off. Never rolled his eyes or made me feel like I was wasting his time. He has treated me with respect through the whole journey whilst also holding me accountable in my own dream to drive. We have banter. We talk about everything. He feels like a friend.
If you know me, you will know that I don’t often cry. Never just out in public.
Today Keith had to hold me as I sobbed into his arms at 8:50 am in the middle of a car park. Picture the scene…. the car pulls up that I am in..…Keith walks over to see what’s going on and I get out…no words….and just throw myself at him…sobbing. He tried to find out what was going on, but I could not speak. So, he just held me. And said “It’s OK…. I will sort whatever it is”
Because that man…. He makes me feel safe…Truly safe in his company. My mum would have liked him a lot.
When I calmed a little…. Keith took me back over to the car…. with quite a few people watching at this point
So, I could get my pass certificate for my driving test.
1 drivers’ fault….in case you were asking.
I passed my driving test today. Me.
Keith said he had no doubt I would pass…but then…. he always says that. He always means that.
Today my life changed. I’m in shock and have not had time to take it in.
When we were doing a lesson before the test today a song came into my head, and I started to sing it as we went round the roundabout (Twice…because I keep missing my turning) “Little children” by Billy J Kramer (Yes…. exactly …who the hell is that). As I sung it, I said “Bloody hell…. where has that come from…it’s one of my mums’ favourites” ….and then me and Keith tried to sing it and I said…. That’s my mum here with me.
Do I believe that…. I don’t know.
But she would have been proud of me today. For fixing another part of my past to make room for the future.
As for Keith…well…. unfortunately (For him) we have to stay lifelong friends now. We know to many of each other secrets after hours of driving together. So, we have to stay friends or one of us has to die….
If you live in East Kent and are looking for a driving school, then you should only go to Wells. The level of pride taken here for you to achieve your driving license is above and beyond. I will always be grateful to Keith for never giving up on me.
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