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A Late November Night

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The family was all sitting at Aunt Kathy’s dining room table for Easter dinner. Mara was home from college, the newlyweds Erin and Jeroen are sitting next to Aunt Amy and Uncle Bob. Aunt Kathy and Uncle Ron are across the table next to my parents. My sister and I are shoved onto a piano bench because we ran out of chairs. “Scoot over! I’m falling off here” My sister McKenna complained. I was balancing the salad bowl while passing the ham to Mara when I heard Dad talking across the table, “At this rate McKenna will have her license before Katie” my Mom gave my Dad a warning glance. Drop it. She had a way of getting her point across with only her eyes. McKenna, who was oblivious to the tension now in the room, started rattling off all the candy she got to the group at large. If you’ve ever been embarrassed or upset about something you know no matter how quickly the subject is changed, or how relaxed everyone else is, you are not likely to forget about it. Even though everyone else was now enjoying their dinner and laughing at jokes I was someplace far away, back to the first time I ever drove at night.


It was a late November night; we pulled into a gas station. We were on our way to meet Aunt Amy and Uncle Bob in Wisconsin. The house was five and a half hours away from Park Ridge, I had already driven three hours straight after school, I was only 12 more hours away from getting my license, a few trips up to Wisconsin and I would be done.

The normal silence that filled the car was gone, everyone was yelling, especially dad, the rain had begun to pour. The glow from the stoplight was the only source of light besides the gas station down the block. “Pull over!” dad shouted, along with a few other curse words, as his face slowly turned red from all the yelling. “Turn the headlights on! We are going to drive into a ditch! Sharon turn them on!” Mom reached over to turn the headlights on but couldn’t find the switch. I pulled over, my hands clenching the steering wheel. I take a deep breath but it doesn’t calm me at all. My eyes begin to adjust to the darkness, but they are oddly blurry. Tears.

“How could you make a mistake like that? That’s one of the first things you should learn as a driver!” When someone yells at you they are normally trying to really get a point across. They feel like they need to explain something to you, no matter how angry or loud their voice gets. Unfortunately for dad I wasn’t the best listener, my inner voice was yelling much louder than his. I hate driving. I hate driving. Over and over all I was able to think was I hate driving. Hands clenched, tears beginning to flow, I park the car. A second after the car was stopped I had already unbuckled my seatbelt and leaped out of the car.


“Hello are you with us Katie? Can you pass the butter?” I had still been glaring at dad so I hadn’t noticed Mara asking for the butter the past minute. McKenna was snickering next to me shaking the piano bench. I smiled pretending to be in on the joke but really I was already thinking back to that late November night. It was my first time driving in the dark. “Mom I haven’t driven in this car, are the headlights are on?” We had pulled over to a small gas station, one of the few buildings in sights. “Yeah honey the lights on,” We pulled out from the gas station, but when we turned on to the road the lights did not follow us. The normal silence that filled the car was gone. The rain had begun to pour. The only source of light was from the stoplight and the gas station down the block. Dad’s yelling commenced, but all I heard was I hate driving, I hate driving. I was in the back of the car, Dad was driving now, and the car was silent again. McKenna had already fallen back asleep, Mom was trying to get negotiate peace. “I’m sorry for yelling, but Jesus,” Dad started mumbling about the stupid mistake I made. I had been blushing for a solid half hour. It seems when you want people to leave you alone that’s when they pay the most attention to you. I was sick at dad glancing back at me, or mom reassuring me that everyone makes mistakes as she told countless stories about all her driving mishaps. They were only being this nice because they were nervous about what I said when I leaped into the backseat.


“So how is driving going?” Jeroen asked across the table. He had moved to America last summer from the Netherlands. He had to take a test to get his American driving license around the same time I was getting my permit. We bonded studying together so whenever conversation was slow he normally brought that up. I usually wouldn’t have minded but now was not the time. Dad butted in, “she said she is never driving again,” in probably the most sarcastic tone I have ever heard, along with the biggest eye roll. I wanted to say that he wouldn’t want to drive either if he had the lousy teachers I had. I wanted to say yeah I’m not driving do you remember why? But have you ever said exactly what you wanted to your parents? Instead I settled for looking back determinedly trying to communicate with mom to change the subject, but I never was as good at explaining things with my eyes as she is. “Really Katie when are you going to start driving again it’s almost been six months. Most of your friends have their license don’t they?”


He had struck a nerve, yes most of my friends did have their licenses. I looked across the table, both Mara and Erin had gotten their licenses the day they turned sixteen. I would be seventeen in a few months. It wasn’t April, it was a late November night, the first time I drove at night. I had already unbuckled my seatbelt and leaped into the back of the car. “I’m never driving again!” I had meant it. I was taking a stand, no matter how much dad teased me I would never drive. It would be a moral victory. I said I wouldn’t drive, so I wouldn’t. It was much more than still being upset over that late November night, it was showing dad and everyone else that you can’t push me around and treat me however you want.


I looked out the window to show I was done with the conversation, I saw a sophomore I recognized from school walk out the door into her car. Great even some of them have their licenses now. I look back to the table McKenna is talking to Mara about all the places she wants me to take her when I have my license. Dads talking to Uncle Ron about a babysitting job I turned down because I would have had to drive the kid to his camp. Remember moral cause, showing everyone they can’t push me around. Dessert just finished, everyone is packing up the leftovers and heading home. My family walks outside to the car, I look at the empty space where the sophomore’s car used to be. I sigh and take a deep breath. I remember Mara and Erin getting their license, turning down the Andersons when they asked if I could take David to camp, all my friends offering me rides after they got their license. McKenna’s hopping into the backseat, Mom’s opening the driver’s door. I sigh again, “I’ll drive.”





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