The trip was 30 miles long, but the mother decided to let her daughter drive anyway.
“Did you bring your phone?” asked the mother as the girl drove up the ramp onto the freeway.
“Yeah,” said the girl.
“Make sure to take your wallet everywhere. Even into the bathroom when you take a shower.”
“You don’t believe me? You have to be careful! I’m not going to be there to pick up after you anymore. Don’t let others take advantage of you.”
“Mom, I’m not stupid.”
Several cars behind them changed lanes and zoomed past.
“Why are you driving so slow?” The mother leaned forward slightly.
“You’re driving too slow.”
“You always say I go too fast! Now you’re saying I’m too slow?”
“This is a freeway!”
“The speed limit is 65. I’m at 65. What’s wrong with that?”
“You have to go as fast as everyone around you or else you’ll get into an accident. Do you want to get into an accident?”
“I-” the girl started.
“Driving a car is not a joke! It’s your life on the line! You have to pay close attention to everything. How many times have I told you?”
The girl sighed. The mother crossed her arms over her chest. For ten miles, they sat in silence.
“I hope your roommate is a nice girl.”
The girl answered with an imperceptible nod.
“I said, I hope your roommate is a nice girl.”
“I mean, I’m sure she’s a good person. She’s probably nice. Most kids are.”
“Yeah.” The girl brushed a stray hair out of her eyes.
“I told you to clip up your hair. How can you drive with it hanging like that in your face? It’s dangerous. You can’t see a thing.”
“I can see fine.”
“Why don’t you ever listen to me? I tell you something a hundred times and you never listen.”
“I listen to you all the time!”
“You’re still arguing? You always talk back when I tell you that you’ve made a mistake. When you get into the real world and talk back to your boss, do you know what will happen? You’ll get fired.”
“Thanks for the encouragement.”
“What? What did you say? Speak Chinese! This whole time I’ve been talking to you in Chinese and you’ve only spoken to me in English. If you don’t speak Chinese, I’m not going to answer you, understand?”
The girl silently agreed.
“You think that knowing English is enough. It doesn’t matter where you go. Your face is still Chinese. People are going to laugh at you if you don’t know your own language.”
The girl gripped the steering wheel tighter and didn’t answer.
“Don’t hold the steering wheel like that! Really, how did you ever get your license? Move your hands down more - there, that’s right.”
The girl drove the next 12 miles with her hands in the correct position on the steering wheel. She did not open her mouth.
“Do you know where to exit?” The mother tapped her left foot.
The girl uttered a sound that meant yes. Another five miles passed.
“Are you angry?” The mother shifted her weight.
“No.” The girl looked over her shoulder and changed lanes.
The mother watched the green signs rush past. “You’re going to be okay, right?”
“Yeah, I’ll be fine, Mom.” The girl exited the freeway and soon pulled into the school parking lot.
“Keep your room clean, okay? Do your homework. Don’t say up too late. Call home sometimes. And don’t forget to eat! Eat a lot, okay? Don’t worry about being fat. You’re not fat. You’re perfect.”
The girl pulled into a parking space and turned off the engine. She sat back and looked at her mother.
“Really?” she said.
“Yes,” said her mother. “Eat as much as you want.”
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.
This piece won the November 2005 Teen Ink Fiction Contest.