I am fifteen.
You aren’t smoking that day, but
when I get home my parents think that I have been,
as I wander into the kitchen
with the remains of your car clinging to my shirt.
The green lawns stretch forward to our right and left,
a sea of suburb as we leave the high school in the dust.
The chain link fence divides us from the band,
but we can still hear them play.
You tell me I can do it.
I don’t believe you
but I want you to keep
believing in me.
So I walk that mile around your 1969 cherry red Nova,
the journey from passenger to driver
a tumultuous affair for a girl like me –
torn between desire and rules.
I hover by the bumper,
knowing I can still turn back.
But through the rear window I can see:
you have slid over and are
ready to be impressed.
My legs stick to the seat, my tongue sticks in my throat.
Your arm rests behind me,
and my lips stop shaking
as I focus on the blacktop ahead.
I know you’ve got my back.
Now I am thinking less about
and more about
I don’t want to let you down.
I step slowly, cautiously,
but the jolt scares me and I can’t find the brakes.
My hands react without my brain and
when I notice the dad mowing his lawn,
I don’t look to see how far away he was
before I stopped.
I don’t look for children.
I don’t look for pets.
Instead, I bury my head in my hands
and wait for your laughter.
Even then, I’d rather
live a good story
than be a good girl.
Over casserole, I tell my parents about my close call.
I know they will bite the corners of their lips and try
to look disapproving.
But I also know that my
telling is a choice.
Later, when I hear my mother recounting the story
to some family member or other,
I feel that the risk paid off.
She knows, as I do, that I will be okay.
She knows, as I do, that I will learn to drive.