My father took me to the Division of Motor Vehicles to take my driver’s test in June of 1978, the day before my high school’s graduation, the day before I officially became a senior. I was four months past sixteen, four months overdue. The DMV test course was on the edge of a swath of palmetto thickets. Daddy insisted I spend the extended wait-time practicing parallel parking. We were in the family VW camper; I was more comfortable with my mother’s Ford Fairlane.
For two hours, I attempted to parallel park the VW. Dodging gopher tortoise holes and the coiled rattlers I imagined behind every clump of grass, I tried in vain to make the wheels align next to the edge of the asphalt. The more I floundered, the more frustrated my usually placid father became. When it was time to return for my test, he looked me in the eye and sighed. “Well,” he said with a sorry shake of his head, “you may as well take it for practice.”
But during the exam, I lined up the clunky bus with ease. I leaned down on the gear, angled it up and left and glided backwards, stopping only once to adjust the wheels, parking perfectly straight. The inspector was impressed with how I handled the stick shift. I got my license. My father was amazed.
That night, I drove the Fairlane to a keg party in the neighborhood, just blocks away. I drank two foamy beers. When it was time to leave, I backed up and pinned the leg of a kid I knew from band between my Fairlane and the car he was leaning against. By another miracle, the kid wasn’t hurt — plus, he was drunk and didn’t want to report anything. But this was surely the end of my short-lived driving career. I couldn’t sleep, sicken by the damage I had done, paralyzed by the horror of what more damage I might have done, churning through stories I could tell to make it all go away.
The next morning, I didn’t confess about the beer, but I had to explain I hit another car backing out — technically true; except, there was this kid’s leg in between my car and the other one — and dented the Fairlane. My father frowned. Then, he handed me the keys. “Get in. You need to drive.”
“No, Daddy! No!”
“Yes,” he said, lips tight. And with my father in the passenger seat, shaking like I’d never shaken before, I drove slowly through the twisting pink streets where I had learned to walk, and ride a bicycle, and now, was re-learning how to drive.