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Car Talk This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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I’ve been the proud owner of a driving permit, a small plastic card verifying my right to drive with a consenting licensed driver, for the past year. I am also, unfortunately, a very poor driver. Thanks to my abilities, the rear end of our station wagon has seen pine trees, poles, and snow banks, all up-close and personal. It’s an embarrassment, actually. I am a supposedly bright, well-rounded student who should be able to sail through this one teenage rite of passage with no problem. Alas … I cannot.

The problem all started a year ago, when that now-aging permit first found its way into my eager hands. Mom and I took our first trip around an empty parking lot. I was totally unaware that my mother was most definitely not the best teacher for me. It wasn’t that she yelled or told me I was doing poorly. No, my mother told me I was doing quite well, but did so while digging her nails into the seat and trying to brake for me. As you can imagine, my mother’s “helpful instructions” only managed to make me more nervous. A quick night-time run to the drugstore, where I nearly plowed over a small, parked car, brought an end to any hopes of learning from Mom.

Since it was obvious that I would not be practicing any longer with her, the job was placed in the hands of my father. The idea of learning from Dad was not one that thrilled me. I loved him dearly, but I just did not see Dad as someone I could be comfortable learning from. He almost never yelled, which was an advantage. Dad also almost never talked. We shared a typical father-daughter relationship. He’d ask how school was, and I’d say it was fine. Unfortunately, that was the extent of most of our conversations. The prospect of spending hours alone with someone who might as well have been a stranger really scared me.

As we got into the car that first time, I was not surprised by what happened. Dad and I drove around, saying almost nothing, aside from a few turning instructions. As my lessons wore on, however, things began to change. Dad would turn the radio up so I could fully experience, and thus appreciate, his favorite Stones music. He actually began talking. It was a bit scarier than silence, at first. I was soon hearing about past failed dates, “basic bod” gym class, and other stories of his past, including some of his first encounters with my mom.

Dad’s sudden chattiness was shocking until I thought of why he was telling me so much. In the car, I was a captive audience. In order to learn to drive, it was a requirement that I sit and listen to his every word. In all the years that I had wondered why my father never spoke that much, I had never stopped to consider the possibility that it was because I had never bothered to listen. Homework, friends, and even TV had all called me from him, and I never thought my quiet father had anything to say.

Since I began driving with Dad, my dexterity on the road has greatly increased. More importantly, though, is my knowledge of who my father is has also increased. Just living with him wasn’t enough – it took driving with him for me to get to know someone who was only a mystery.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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