Every teenager dreams of the day when they get their independence especially when it comes to driving. Most kids don’t want to rely on their parents for absolutely everything such as being transported, including myself. I couldn’t wait to get behind the wheel and have my freedom. I had dreamed of all the adventures I would have once I had my license and car. I consider myself an independent person by all means, so this was the first step to some kind of freedom. I knew the journey wasn’t going to be easy, to obtaining a permit then passing the driving test. The lesson learned here was traumatic but necessary in my pursuit of driving.

My childhood was not the average upbringing. My aunt raised my siblings and I after our mother died and father was out of the picture. We were poor and didn’t always have a car. We may have had three cars in all of my childhood, so sometimes we didn’t go anywhere. I knew I would never want to be left without transportation when I wanted to go somewhere. I couldn’t get lessons from my aunt so my boyfriend, who had a car, let me practice in his. He drove a white Ford Thunderbird, although it felt like a boat when I would make turns due to the length of the car. It was mostly parking lot driving for short periods of time. He showed me the basics and I drove in big circles most of the time. I wasn’t very good at multitasking so I was overwhelmed with all of the things that were required with driving.

I moved out in my senior year and lived with a friend until I finished high school. She knew I wanted to get a license so she suggested I get driving lessons. My boyfriend could only drive with me once in a while so it wouldn’t be enough practice. We looked at several driving schools and decided based off budget and course duration. I wanted to pass my driving test the first time and needed all the help I could get. Most kids get to practice with their parents long before they take the test. I occasionally drove when I could with my friend in her car but not enough to set me up for success. I looked forward to my upcoming lessons with an instructor. It took me 4 attempts to pass the written test so that crushed my hopes for passing the driving portion in one try. I knew I would have to get the most out of these lessons to obtain my goal.

The first day of my lessons I wasn’t sure what to expect. I did feel nervous but excited to be one step closer to my license. The driving school was run by an older gentleman, Joe, in his older white Geo Prism with dusty grey interior. He had one of those ‘student driver’ stickers on the back window as a caution to those driving around me. We drove around my neighborhood for the first lesson as I got familiar with the car. He was soft spoken and I felt comfortable with his instruction. Second lesson we drove around the local area practicing my signaling and turning. Still he remained patient with me through the instructions given. Third lesson was parking practice, something I had never done. Parallel parking was the hardest for me to master when it seemed orders were being barked at me. I noticed the frustration in his voice as he repeated the directions for me to follow. I had a total of eight lessons with this man so I practiced all of what he taught me for seven of those weeks.

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The last lesson was merging and driving on the freeway. I was nervous and I’m sure he dreaded that lesson as well. We drive to the on ramp of the 10 freeway and he proceeds to tell me “speed up, but don’t floor it.” This Geo Prism wasn’t a fast car by any means and as we neared the end of the ramp he realizes we are not yet going fast enough to merge. He begins to yell at me “speed up” as a big rig approached from behind. I panicked and slammed on the gas pedal so I didn’t get pushed off the road. He barks his corrections at me as we drive for several miles in the slow lane and exit the freeway. I was so tense, angry and scared I pulled over to the nearest parking lot to get my thoughts together. We both sat in silence for a minute and caught our breath, you could feel the silence. He then instructs me to drives us back to my house. I do so in silence trying to process the experience of what happened. He gave me some paperwork and we parted with an abrupt closing.

I went inside and sighed with relief that I was done with the lessons and the instructor. My stomach was in knots and I was shaking. He had made my first time on the freeway the worst experience and I dreaded ever getting on the freeway again. I called my boyfriend and voiced my frustration about my disaster and he reminded me why I was doing those lessons. I conceded that I needed the assistance even if the last lesson was traumatizing for me. After my ordeal with driving school I scheduled my driving test appointment for two weeks later. I was nervous but did as instructed by the test administrator and passed on my first attempt. I was proud of myself for keeping my composure and getting my license as planned. I wanted to drive everywhere from that day forward and offered to run errands just to drive. I graduated high school soon after and got my first job. I saved up and bought my first car at 18 years old. I then signed up for college and drove from school to work daily. I drove to school in Riverside on the 91 freeway for a year and got plenty of experience in driving. I unfortunately developed road rage in that daily commute as well.

I consider myself a good driver, haven’t been in any accidents and have only received one speeding ticket up to now. Driving is a big responsibility for a young adult. There is maintenance, repair, insurance and registration for the car. I was definitely up for the task and haven’t been without a car as an adult. My ex-husband was a mechanic and I gained more knowledge about cars. We always had three cars at any given time and all were maintained. I never wanted to be left stranded and unable to go where I wanted or needed to go. I maintain my independence and try to instill the same values in my children. I want them to know the importance of independence and what it means moving forward in life. Knowing how to keep priorities in order to maintain independence for any obstacles life may bring their way. Doing things for myself is deeply satisfying and gratifying. My gateway to freedom, independence and adulthood began with driving and remains vital to me on a daily basis.