Driver Education is a story about the Kirk family in a genre I call true fiction. All the events happened, just not on the same day!

by Donna Kirk on January 7, 2013

Driver Education, circa 1989

Everything is perfectly perfect. My daughter Kelley is upstairs in her room doing homework, a.k.a, tying up the phone and listening to the latest rock dysfunction. I know where she is and I’m happy with that. Ed, my un-handyman husband, is in the basement adjusting the air filter. My mother, Elsie, upstairs in the laundry room, is putting the finishing touches on the last load. Yippee! No washing for me this week.

Matthew, our oldest child, tirelessly follows me around the kitchen as I prepare the Sunday roast. His autistic brain compels him to check my every move. When he is satisfied that I am on track and can be left alone for a few moments, he confirms the perimeters of his world. In the bathroom, is the toilet seat down and the door closed? In the family room, is his blanket still folded properly over the couch?

Joseph, our youngest, wanders casually into the kitchen, his new driver’s license burning a hole in his wallet. For a few moments he watches Matthew and me dance the Sunday tango.

“Mom, I have to return some movies. Can I go to the mall? I’ll take Matt with me to get him out of your hair.” Joe smiles broadly. “I know how he bugs you while you’re trying to cook dinner.”

Funny, he never seemed to notice this before he got his driver’s licence.

“Joseph, dinner’s nearly ready.”

“Awww, Mom. I’ll only be fifteen minutes. I need to get these movies back before I have to pay late fees. Wanna come, Matt, buddy?”

Matthew, who loves car rides, shakes a closed fist, his sign for yes. It would be nice to finish one Sunday dinner without my sous-chef stirring and tasting.

“Okay, Joe. Make sure it’s only fifteen minutes. And look after Matthew,” I add. My gut warns me that perhaps this isn’t such a good idea, but I ignore this instinct.

“Thanks, Mom!”

“Don’t forget it’s your turn to help Matt set the table,” I yell after them. Joe waves at me without turning around.

I am happily alone at my tasks in the kitchen, though not for long. I hear Ed shouting to me as he runs up the basement stairs, holding one hand in the other, blood dripping on my Berber carpet.

“I’ve cut my hand!”

“Yes, and you’re bleeding all over the stairs.” I rush over and cover the wound with the dish towel I had in my hand. “Wait in the hall. I’ll get something to wrap it with.”

“Hurry, Donna, I feel faint.”

My mother calls me from the upstairs landing, “There’s something wrong with the washing machine. Water is leaking out.”

“Just turn it off for now, Mom. Ed’s cut himself. I’ll be up in a minute.”

“I can’t hear you dear. The machine is getting very noisy.”

I rumage around for our first aid kit and yell for Kelley to help her grandmother.

“Did you call me, Mom?” she shouts back. “The washing machine’s making a crazy noise.”

I pull a chair towards my husband, who is looking pale, and wrap a tight bandage around his hand. The cut is a nasty one. Emergency room, I’m thinking, as I race up the stairs before the washing machine explodes. Fortunately, there’s a drain in the laundry room and water is already gurgling in that direction. My poor old machine is banging and dancing a jig across the floor. I slap my hand on the control and everything comes to a shuddering halt.

“What’ll I do with all the wet clothes?” my mother asks.

Kelley joins us in the laundry room. “Holy crap! What’s going on in here?”

“Kel, you and Grandma keep an eye on the roast. Daddy has cut himself badly and I need to take him to the emergency.”

I race back down the stairs to Ed, still sitting in the chair but looking a little more composed. It takes me a few moments to check the hasty bandage I’d wrapped on Ed’s I hand. “Come on, dear. I’m driving you to the emergency.”I propel him to the car and start backing down the driveway.

“Donna, stop the car. Something’s up,” Ed says. He gestures to Kelley, who is running towards us waving her arms.

“Mom, Joe’s calling from a pay phone. You better come in and talk to him.”

I leave my daughter with her father while I run back in to the phone.

“Hi Mom. You know I came to the mall to bring back some movies, right?”

“Joseph, what’s going on?”

“I don’t know how to tell you this but…”

“Joseph, for God’s sake!”

“Well, when I came back to the car Matt was gone.”

“You left Matthew alone in the car?”

“Mom, he’s lost. I can’t find him.”

“You’re at The Mammoth Mall, right? Daddy and I will be right there. Keep looking.”

I race back to the car, shoot down the driveway and head towards the plaza, a couple of blocks away, running two red lights as I explain the situation to Ed.

“Jesus Christ!” says Ed, shaking his bandaged fist in the air.

As we approach the mall, we see our van heading towards us. Joseph is driving with Matthew sitting beside him, drinking a large coke. Like two cop cars, we pull up beside each other, facing in opposite directions.

“I’ve got him, Mom. He’s okay,” Joe calls out. “Aren’t you, buddy?”

Matthew grins and signs yes, nearly spilling his drink.

“Joseph, get your brother back to the house, right now,” Ed says. “Then we’ll talk. Donna, turn around and go home.”

“What about your hand?”

“I’ll look after it later. I feel okay now, and we have to deal with this situation.”

I do a quick, illegal u-turn and follow my sons home. We all crowd into the entrance hall. Kelley and my mother hurry to join us.

“You’re in deep shit,” Kelley hisses to Joe.

“Oh, hi everyone,” says my mother. “That’s a good bandage on your hand, Ed. Did you have a nice drive, Matthew?”

At Ed’s request, Joe and I follow him into the office.

“Close the door, son.” Joseph complies.

“Okay, the floor’s yours.”

“Dad, I know I shouldn’t have left him in the car. That was really stupid.”

Ed frowns. “Too bad they didn’t teach you about responsibility to your passengers in that expensive driver education course I paid for.”

“I’m so sorry. But you can see he’s all right.”

“Where did you find him?” Ed and I ask in unison.

“I ran up and down the mall looking in all the stores, then, I called you. The next place I checked was the restaurant. He was sitting at the bar drinking a coke. Two gorgeous waitresses were looking after him. They just loved him, Mom. Thought he was really neat.”

“You need to realize that leaving Matthew alone is more dangerous than almost anything you could have done,” I say to Joe. “He can’t talk. He had no ID on him. Anyone could have taken him and done God knows what.”

“Ma, he saw that restaurant and was so smart to go right in and get attention from two knock-out blondes. Plus free cokes,” he says with a smug grin.

“There is nothing amusing about this, Joseph,” Ed says. The grin dies on Joe’s face.

“I guess I won’t be driving for a while, eh, Dad?”

“No,” he agrees, “I guess not.”

As if on cue, Matthew opens the office door, still wearing his coat. He walks over to Joe, a happy expression on his face, and presses the car keys into his brother’s hand. I smile at my two beautiful sons, relieved that this crisis has ended happily, and take a deep breath.

I smell something burning.

“Cripes! The roast!”

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Crystal January 8, 2013 at 9:49 am

I just love this story. Talk about “when it rains it pours”. The best part of this story is how smart Matthew truly was! Nothing like enjoying his favorite beverage amongst great company!


Kelley January 8, 2013 at 10:24 am

I’d totally forgotten about this rather busy Sunday. It certainly was an interesting one. How you and dad remained sane is beyond me! *hugs*


Karen Neill January 8, 2013 at 11:32 am

I just love this story. It is the story of many families- just trying to contain the mayhem. You seem to have done it with strength and grace. I’m looking forward to reading more!


Donna Kirk January 8, 2013 at 12:36 pm

Thanks for your comment, Karen. It’s very helpful to receive input from readers.


Urve Tamberg January 9, 2013 at 1:12 pm

Great story! It’s a window into your life with the challenges and joys of Mathew, and the maturity of your other children (and yes, they do sound like they are mature).


Carolyn January 9, 2013 at 4:34 pm

You are a “multi-tasking DIVA” mom. I loved it and it makes we want to read more of such stories.


jennifer mook-sang January 12, 2013 at 7:59 am

such a funny story. and so real. thanks for sharing, donna.


Julie January 12, 2013 at 4:50 pm

What a great story, Donna….I felt like I was there with you fielding the accumulation of crises.
Thanks for sharing!


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