11 October 2006

Sweet Sixteen

This morning as I was on my way to work, the radio announcers for a local Christian station were wishing happy birthdays to their long list of call-ins (or email-ins, as the case may be). For some reason, the birthday wishes to Christina on her sixteenth sent me back in time - seven years back - to the time in my life when I anxiously awaited the sixteenth candle on my cake.

I tell you this story with great confidence that you, my cherished reader, will not trample on my already withered pride.

When I was younger, approximately 15 and a half years of age, I distinctly recall a very memorable trip to the DMV one crisp fall morning. According to Oklahoma law (way back then, anyway), any hormonally-controlled adolescent could operate a motor vehicle under the supervision of a licensed driver -- so long as they passed a teensie weensie little written exam. So on said morning, my father drove me across town to the DMV offices where I was to complete such an exam with flying colors. Or so I thought.

In the weeks leading up to this monumentous event, I had calculated the exact day on which I would turn 15 and a half. (It just so happens that this day coincded with a day during which the DMV offices were open and offering the test.) I had picked up a driver's handbook from the high school driver's ed teacher and studied it more religiously than my Bible. I had even paid attention in driver's ed, a feat which, to a teenager with even a moderate attention span, proves difficult. And, most importantly, I had told all of my friends that I was soon to possess a learner's permit. And that I was going to miss first period. (As one of the oldest in my peer group, it was my duty to flaunt my superiority.)

But on that morning, there was just one thing I forgot. Just one thing.

My father and I opened the smudged glass doors and entered the narrow blue hallway. Light streamed from a tiny office to our left, and as we approached the beam, I could see a pudgy police officer seated behind the desk. My dad opened his wallet, pulling out a crisp $20 bill, and laid it on the desk. The officer returned his change and pushed a sign-in sheet in my direction. Without a word, he handed me the one-page test and pointed to a desk in the corner.

I sat there for what seemed like hours, agonizing over those ten questions. Who has the right-of-way at a four-way stop? What do I do when a motorcycle tries to pass me? How many feet will it take me to come to a complete stop if I'm travelling at 55 mph? Stop lights and yield signs, double yellow and dotted white lines, engine functions and timing belts swirled through my mind and I found it difficult to think clearly.

Finally, I circled the answer to the last question, then proudly handed it to the officer. Piece of cake, I thought, trying to psyche myself up. But my optimism quickly crumbled as the officer pulled out his oversized red pen and answer key. He circled each wrong answer with flair, as if he'd never had so much fun in his entire life. I tried to keep track of how many red marks the officer had made on my test, but my head was preoccupied with the shock of this man's gall.

He handed me the test, freshly covered in red ink. "You just missed one too many, "he said with a smirk. "Better luck next time."

I looked to my father for assurance, but he just looked back at me with those disappointed parent eyes.

"Want to take a handbook with you?" the officer suggested, still basking in his victory over yet another ill-informed teenage driver wannabe.

"No, thanks," I replied, fighting back tears as I rushed for the door.

The tears kept flowing as we neared the car. How could this have happened? I'm a good student, voted Most Studious... All my friends know about this; how will I tell them? I know they will ask... Why didn't I study that chapter on semis and their blind spots better?...How could I have been so stupid?

"JB, " my father said, calmly, "I know you're upset about this, but you'll do better next time, especially if you're paying for the test."

What?! I thought. How could you betray me like this?

I continued shooting mean thoughts at the pudgy officer and my father all the way to school.

Two weeks later, I retook - and passed - the learner's permit test.

Five and a half months after that, I successfully passed my driver's test (despite much trepidation).

And now, here I am, seven years later, about to celebrate another birthday. Fortunately for me, there are no tests that 23-year-olds have to take.


Cole said...

Happy birthday, Jessica Brooke.

Anonymous said...

you mean my 23 years old birthday test was a fake!?

David said...

I know exactly how you felt...I failed my driver's test the first time. I still can't park.