In the 80s, teenagers in Ontario could write a test to obtain a driver’s license at age 16. Called a “365” this license allowed you to drive with a licensed driver in the car with you. For the next 365 days, you could practice driving and take the final test to get your full driver’s license at the end of the year.
I rushed to get my 365 the day I turned 16. We had two family cars that I could use to practice driving. A blue 1971 Chevrolet BelAir (a boat of a car) or a 1978 Honda Civic (a 5-speed).
Fortunately, my brother’s best friend, Dennis, had a more reasonably sized automatic car. I convinced him to let me practice driving. We would drive around the back roads of Douro and over to Trent University on the Otonabee River.
On our many drives, we talked.
Three years my senior, he was in grade 12 while I was still a “minor niner” (a student in grade 9). Dennis had a great ear. As I shared my trials, he probed with questions and quiet nodding.
Eventually, our discussions turned deeper and I shared with him my desire to end my life. This upset Dennis tremendously and he begged me to talk about my feelings with him. He relayed the reasons I had to live. He encouraged me to seek help. He assured me things would get better.
He offered to take me for driving lessons regularly — I imagine to keep me talking rather than just to teach me how to drive.
But no matter what he did, no matter what he said, I could not break free of the dark depression that exhausted me.
Then one afternoon I got called down to the school office. Sister June Nash, the Chaplain and Pastoral Counsellor, wanted to talk with me. I stepped into her office and saw Dennis seated in a corner chair.
My face flushed. I clenched my jaw and narrowed my eyes at Dennis.
Sister June spoke softly. She explained that Dennis had come to her with concern that I may commit suicide. She wanted to know if what he said may be true.
I couldn’t look her in the eyes, mortified to think that anyone at the school would know that I wasn’t the perfect, A-student who teachers favoured.
Tears started to pool in my eyes. Before they could fall onto my cheeks, I stood and shoved the chair back.
“No! Of course not. Dennis exaggerates. He’s making it up.”
I stormed out of the small office.
Although I never took driving lessons from Dennis again, I did look back at that moment many times over the years with gratefulness. I know that in seeking help, Dennis called on a woman who could help me. As a nun and school chaplain, she would pray fervently for me.
Over the years, I’ve come to believe that I was covered and protected by the prayers of God’s people.
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