19 January 2015


My seventeen-year-old is close to getting his driver's license. He is late to the party though as I understand it, many teens these days don't get their license until much later, some into their 20's. But he is nearly ready now. Class taken. Written tests passed. Fees paid. Only the driving test remains.

And...and...I realize I've been dragging my feet. He even called me on it a few weeks ago: "Mom, why are you so opposed to me getting my license?"

Is it that obvious?

What I wish I could tell him, what I wish I could really say has so much more to do about me and my own emotional state than his. It is my fears that rise up in me as I see him slipping away.

It is not that I am opposed to his driving; in fact, on many levels it would be helpful. A run to the grocery store? Sure. Can you drive yourself to the gym tonight? Okay. Can you take your little brother to soccer practice? Well...maybe not.

But here's the real truth of my own fear. It is the memory of my own license that clouds my joy for him:

On the day I got my license, I drove across town, staring down at the map my mother always left in the car. You know the kind: the Thomas Guides, large books that had page after page after page of streets on them. I carefully had it laid out on the passenger seat, trying to navigate across town to the cemetery I'd called earlier in the day.

I was on a mission. I was looking for my father's grave.

Ever since I remember, I counted the days to getting my license so that I could visit my father's grave. I hadn't remembered ever going before as a child; I don't remember if I ever went back after we lowered him into the ground when I was five years old. We rarely talked about him. My mother always believed that going to his grave was not going to visit him. She didn't believe he was there. For me, his grave was the only physicality I had, the proof that he ever existed.

I knew to never speak about him at the dinner table or in our house because it might make my mother sad. Was I told to not mention his name or was that just the obvious state of things in our house? I don't know. Though my oldest brother has told me that if we brought it up, we'd make her sad and so maybe what all of us were doing was trying to project one another from sadness. Though now, I realize how ridiculous that is.

So on my sixteenth birthday, I drove and drove up and down hills, through the cemetery, stopping at the information kiosk trying to keep it together as I was handed a map of the cemetery and my father's grave was circled in pencil. I drove up the winding road to the bluff overlooking the ocean and walked over to where my father had been for the last eleven years. Buried in the ground. On a hill. Overlooking the ocean.

It was my sixteenth birthday.
I had gotten my license that day.
I drove to my father's grave, laid on top of it and wept for nearly an hour. Those hard core sobs that rise up inside of you from places unknown and make your ribs hurt for days afterwards.

That is my memory of getting my license.

That is why, I realize, on an ordinary Sunday in the middle of winter that I have been dragging my feet about my oldest son's driver's license acquisition. I have been avoiding that memory of the day I got my license until he brought up his own. My own throat tightened, my memories of that darkness rose up, and now it's time to let it go.

This is not his story.
This is not what he will do on his first day.
This is not my license.

This is his license. And it will become his story to remember.

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