I refuse to ‘look up.’ Optimism nauseates me. It is perverse. Since man’s fall, his proper position in the universe has been one of misery.
Want to Go to the Mall?
“Excuse me, ma’am? May I ask where you are going?,” said the uniformed officer peering into Gina’s open car window.
There’s an open ended question, I thought to myself. So many suitable ways to respond…
Where are we going, officer? Oh we’re just going to save a pack of babies from a burning building down the road, you know. They just Facetimed us. It’s not looking good. We really should be going. Hmm… what’s that you say? We’re not? Yeah, you’re right… we’re actually on our way to volunteer at the local retirement home spoon feeding green jello to old men without teeth… it’s a difficult job but somebody has to do it. I’m really more of a red jello girl but the older set are stuck in their ways, I suppose. What are your thoughts on orange jello? Have you ever seen an old person eat a pack of skittles? No? Me neither. I often wonder why. Do you think their kind like Reese’s Pieces?
While I sat formulating a laundry list of possible responses to this police officer’s question, my best friend Gina sat next to me in the driver’s seat, formulating things that didn’t include words.
Hi, uh, we’re, um, we’re, huh, err….
Great. That’s helpful. If the officer thought for any minute he was approaching a vehicle on the way to a Mensa meeting, that was out. It was at this exact moment I realized if I ever decided to commit an armed robbery, Gina would not be on my list of possible accomplices.
At sixteen, I was the youngest of my friends. I started kindergarten a year early, a fact my mother maintains had nothing to do with my childhood affinity for getting my head stuck in the railings of our front porch. I, however, suspect this was a strategic maneuver to save my parents money on both butter and vegetable oil, which were each used to help extract my head from our banister. Why I did this more than once, I couldn’t tell you. Perhaps this was an early indicator of my inherent fondness for doing what I am told not to. If my head would fit through the rails, I’d probably still be attempting it today.
Being a year younger than your friends can be stressful for a teenager for dozens of reasons. When you’re only twelve, most of your friends are thirteen. And having been a twelve year old girl at one time, let me tell you, like, WHY CAN’T I BE THIRTEEN TOO?! TWELVE IS LIKE SO STUPID, WHY DID YOU HAVE TO HAVE ME WHEN YOU DID, GOD, YOU GUYS ARE SO SELFISHHH! I HATE MY WHOLE LIFE. JUST LEAVE ME ALONE UGHHH.
Having successfully survived the ages of thirteen, fourteen and fifteen against all odds, I finally turned sixteen and did what most kids do at sixteen. I bolted to the DMV to get my driver’s license in order to successfully wreck both my parents cars as fast as humanly possible. You try smooth talking your way out of a destroyed transmission on your father’s car.
Hmm… it doesn’t go in reverse, you say? I mean, it was working perfectly fine when I left it there last night so I wouldn’t really know anything about that. Maybe it just fell out.. I’ve heard that happens sometimes.
My teenage car troubles are a story for another time but perhaps the fact that Gina was somehow involved in each incident should have told me something. On the day we sat in her new car nervously staring up at this local hall monitor, there was one thing she hadn’t done just yet. And that thing was to successfully acquire a Connecticut driver’s license. Earlier that day in her driveway, we sat in the car her father had given her as motivation to pass her driving test, deciding what we should do with it. Just a short drive down the road? Around the neighborhood? Shopping at the mall four towns away from us? We settled on option three. Because, if you already have a car, who needs a license, right?
Before beginning our very well thought out and absolutely necessary shopping trip, we picked up our friend Ashley for the ride. Ashley, who is one half a set of identical twins, climbed into the back seat knowing full well that Gina lacked a proper license. The twins lived within walking distance of my parents house and picked me up most mornings to go to school. And before you ask why Ashley didn’t drive us to the mall, let me explain something to you.
Each morning I willfully chose to get into the twins’ vehicle, I placed my life in their hands. There were several occasions when I arrived at school in such a state of sheer terror I had to do breathing exercises in the parking lot to keep from passing out. If Ashley was driving, she was also doing other things that most drivers obviously do… putting on mascara, brushing her teeth, talking on the phone, finishing homework, eating tacos, baking cupcakes. If Lauren was driving, she was smoking a cigarette. I suspect she partially wanted to smoke but had a keener interest in irritating her sister. If Lauren was smoking, Ashley was ranting and raving like a paranoid schizophrenic while simultaneously spraying toxic amounts of perfume and trying to beat Lauren into submission. Now picture this scene unfolding to the tune of ‘It’s Raining Men’ which Ashley would play on repeat simply because I hate it. I do not know why I call these people my friends. I used to pray we would hit a squirrel or a cat simply to drop the statistical odds of hitting a second object like a person or a house. Given the options to ride the bus to school or to place my life on the line in their rolling death trap, I always chose the death trap. I mean, I certainly wasn’t going to be caught getting off a yellow bus with the common folk. Priorities, people.
As Gina began to drive, we decided to take a short cut through the high school parking lot to reach the other side of town. As we rolled down the road connecting the high school to the town’s middle school, Ashley suddenly decided the shirt she was wearing wouldn’t suffice for our trip to the mall. In the ten minutes between her house and the high school, she had become frantic that should it be fated she happen to meet and marry Justin Timberlake during this very trip, her current shirt was not suitable for what would be a life altering moment.
Can we turn around? I just, I just don’t want to wear this. I’ll just run into my house quickly. I promise.
Are you serious? Ashley, who cares, we’re just going in and out.
Please? Please guys? I’ll be really quick.
Gina put the car in reverse and began backing up so she could turn the car around to go back in the other direction. Looking in the rear view mirror, I was the first to note the police car slowly heading towards us. After turning around and driving in the direction from which we came, we passed the police car on the right with no issues. Except one. Gina, being the prodigy that she is, thought it best to grin and wave at the officer as we drove by.
Gina, did you just WAVE at him??
I just thought.. we should be friendly… was that bad?
You’re an idiot. YOU’RE. AN. IDIOT.
Apparently the officer thought he should be friendly too because just at that moment he circled around and turned on his lights. Gina, at this moment, nearly went into cardiac arrest and very well may have attempted to drive the vehicle into a tree had we not been there to talk her off the ledge. Like a mad woman, she then began demanding I switch seats with her immediately. I believe she actually unbuckled her seat belt and attempted to swan dive onto my side of the car.
Get OFF me! He’s getting out of the car. It’s not that bad, just sit there.
OH MY GOD. MY DAD IS GOING TO KILL ME. OH MY GOD. I CAN’T BREATHE. OH GOD. OH GOD. Just get in my seat, hurry up. GO!
Calm down! We can’t do that. Get back on your side!
This leads us back to where we began. The officer now stands at the driver side door staring quizzically at Gina, wondering what language she is attempting to speak. Gina is alternating between spitting and stuttering like she was just caught throwing a baby in a dumpster. While I should have silently watched this scene unfold, my first instinct was to claim the car as my own.
Excuse me, sir? This is my car. I was just letting my friend here drive it around the parking lot. She has her learner’s permit.
Gina relaxed her mouth at this time and stopped drooling a bit. The officer stared at me and then back at her without saying anything. After a brief moment of silence which felt like ages, he said he understood but could not allow her to drive around without a license. He then instructed me to drive and ordered us to switch seats before we left the parking lot.
As he strolled back to his patrol car, Gina let out a loud sigh of relief. We had somehow talked our way out of what would have been an inevitable 30 years to life. She could now relax. We then realized he was going to wait behind us while we switched seats. As we circled around the car and I open the driver’s side door, something popped into my mind.
Gina’s car… was standard. I’d never driven a standard car in my life. This officer behind us was waiting for me to drive my car out of the parking lot that I didn’t know how to operate.
SHIT. SHIT. SHIT.
What do we do??
You have to get it into first gear.
What?? I have to what?! Oh god, I don’t know what I’m doing!
Gina instructed me to push down the clutch, place the car in gear and to ease forward slowly while pushing on the gas and letting off the clutch. Following her German sounding instructions as best I could, I managed to put her car into gear without stalling, a feat I will never be able to explain. My father taught me how to drive a standard car the following year and I learned first gear was my arch enemy. I can easily say I have stalled at least 3,783 times since this incident. All trying to get into first gear. All resulting in my swearing like a truck driver.
I slowly pulled out onto the main road, police car in tow. As we lurched forward Gina began telling me to put the car into second gear. I can’t, I screamed, I CAN’T! Fearing that the car would stall before we were able to get away from this officer was too much. Instead, I did the logical thing and proceeded to drive down this road at 45 miles per hour in first gear. While Gina wailed on about the car, Ashley laughed from the back seat and I prayed the car behind us could not hear the god awful screams coming from the hood. The car sounded like a jet engine revving up before take off.
After a few minutes and the loss of 57% of my hearing, I turned right onto a side street and the officer flew by us. We sat for a moment in silence not knowing whether to laugh or wait for the car to explode. Gina and I then switched seats again and she drove along back roads to her house while we looked around to spot additional police vehicles. I still make fun of her for trying to jump into my seat 10+ years later.
I learned two things that afternoon. First, think before you open your stupid mouth. And second, teenagers do some incredibly idiotic things.