Driving Lesson by Lois Villemaire

When I asked my parents for the car to go to the library with Lisa, I was sixteen years old and had been driving for only a few months. They had no reason to doubt me. I was never in trouble, no skipping school, bad report cards, or rebellious tendencies. But Lisa and I had a secret plan to surprise her boyfriend, Ronny at his home in another part of the city. It was to be a quick visit – a chance for them to see each other. We estimated it would take 20 minutes to get to Ronny’s and calculated that the visit and return trip would fit neatly inside the time frame of completing our homework assignment at the library, the cleverly concocted story. I confidently set off after dinner to pick her up in our 1963 Oldsmobile sedan.

We each assumed the other knew the route but soon realized that we both had no idea how to get there as we navigated beyond our neighborhood roads.  Driving up and down Roosevelt Boulevard in northeast Philadelphia, we knew we were lost. Traffic was picking up on the busy boulevard. I was feeling anxious and my mouth was dry. We tried another direction, looking for landmarks or road signs that we recognized, but the streets all looked alike, lined with endless chains of row houses. Turning off the radio to concentrate, we realized the plan wasn’t going well. 

It was 1964. There were no cell phones or GPS. We didn’t consider stopping at a telephone booth to call for help. Lisa was fifteen-years-old and not driving yet, so I was forced to continue. Discovering a street with a familiar name, we became hopeful and I took a quick right turn. Following closely behind us was a car with its headlights shining like a beacon in my eyes through the rear view mirror. Lisa turned around.

“It’s a police car,” she said.

I steered into the parking lot of a gas station. My heart was pounding in my ears and I imagined that Lisa could hear it. I felt heat rising up my neck into my flaming face. The policeman approached my side of the car as I lowered the window.

“Young lady, you don’t have your headlights on.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.”

The experience had become so nerve-racking that we hadn’t noticed that it was getting dark. I pulled out the knob on the dashboard that controlled the headlights and two beams of brightness flooded the area in front of the car. 

“Driver’s license and vehicle registration.”

With shaking hands I opened my wallet. Luckily, I knew that the registration was kept in the glove compartment. The policeman told us to wait and returned to his vehicle. 

“Lisa, let’s tell him the truth. I’m scared and tired of driving.”

I looked at my watch. It had been over two hours since I left home. My parents would be worried. When the policeman returned, we told him.

“There’s a phone booth on the other side of the gas station. Call your parents. I’ll wait nearby until they come.”

In a booth that smelled like gasoline, we called home. I choked up while confessing the truth to my Mom. Before long our dads pulled up in Lisa’s family car. As she left the car, I moved over and my Dad took the driver’s seat. We proceeded home with little conversation.

At the front door, my Mom was waiting to pounce like a panther. I could see in her narrowing eyes that she was furious. Like the policeman, she asked for my license. I handed it to her and she tore it to pieces. In 1964, a license was made out of paper. I felt relieved and didn’t much care about the loss of that privilege. Driving had lost its appeal. I was happy to be safely at home even though I was in big trouble.

“You lied to us. We’re taking away your telephone and you’re grounded for three weeks. Go to your room.” 

She turned her head toward the stairs and pointed as if to show me the way.  Okay, I could live with that. But the unspoken lesson was worse –  I had lost their trust in me.

Lois Perch Villemaire lives in Annapolis, MD. She enjoys writing flash fiction, nonfiction, and memoir. Her stories have appeared in Potato Soup Journal, 101 Words, FewerThan500, The Drabble, and she blogs for annapolisdiscovered.com. 

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