Essay by Jonika Wells Ω Photography by Aparna Mendu
I remember the day when I decided to get behind the wheel. I had already waited longer than all my classmates. The exciting stories of their brand new driving experiences had gone cold by now. I had to ignite one of my own.
“No!” was my mom’s instant response to my wish to start learning to drive. “You are too young. Wait some more,” she said, asserting her power as my mother.
I turned to the only other person in our family of three and petitioned for a second opinion. “Dad?”
“Well…” he replied, seemingly half-involved, as he took a turn on a street that wasn’t on the way to our home driving back from the grocery store.
“You took the wrong turn!!!” my mom and I screamed together.
“Well, don’t you want to learn how to drive?” he asked with a big smile, looking at me in the rear view mirror.
“Now?” I probed, confused and with a sudden nervousness grappling at my excitement. Careful what you ask for.
“Now?” my mom echoed, panic-stricken. “Are you crazy? Can’t she wait a couple of months more? You are going to let her drive on this street? You are crazy.” My mom tried to hand my dad a verdict on his mental status. Secretly, I think I agreed with her momentarily. Careful what you ask for.
Dad just smiled.
“We are going to Perrysburg High. The parking lot should be empty right now. It will be perfect for her to practice,” he announced with the demeanor of a general laying down a battle plan that guaranteed victory.
I felt a sudden surge of confidence fill me and agreed that an empty parking lot would be like climbing a mountain laid horizontal. I pumped my fists and yelled, “Yes!”
By now my mom probably realized that my driving was inevitable like all other universal truths of this world- the sun rising in the east, the night in between days, partisan politics, death, taxes and the like. Still, she continued staring (glaring?) at my dad for a minute or so to see if he would rescind his plan. Dad kept smiling, perhaps deriving some amusement from my mom’s understandable yet unproductive anxiety. Or perhaps his smile was masking his own fear.
In a last ditch effort, Mom proposed, “Don’t you think my car would be safer and easier? Let her practice on that.”
“It is the driver’s responsibility to be safe, not the car’s,” He placed his hand over my mom’s and said, “Don’t worry, she will be okay.”
As we came to a stop in the parking lot, Mom had a look that said, “Okay…but I’m not just worried about her. I’m worried about all of us.”
Each of us then swapped seats- dad to the front passenger, mom, with reluctance, to the back and I, yes, I to the driver’s seat.
My dad went over the controls with me. My mom repeatedly interrupted him with her own set of instructions from the back seat. This went for too long, and I remember thinking, “This is a car, not an F-16.”
Finally, I heard Dad’s voice say the magic words, “Okay, now start the ignition”. He might as well have said, “Okay, now start living on your own.”
Eyes wide, I pressed the start button. I heard nothing at first except for my heartbeats. Then I pushed a little harder and ….vvrr…vvroom…vvvrrroooom! The car (and my future) revved to life.
It was not just the engine; it was the drum roll announcing my coming of age. It marked one of the most important days of every teen’s life- the beginning of driving.
From here, I am not sure if I will ever take Robert Frost’s road less traveled and I do not know how many miles to go before I sleep. But I do know that there will always be roads to travel on and milestones to reach.
With great anticipation, I am looking forward to my journeys.
Jonika Wells is currently a high school senior and new driver. While in third grade, she was placed second at the 2008 Reading Rainbow® Young Writers & Illustrators Contest in Fort Wayne