A Lament About That One Time I Failed My Driver's Test


Guys, I know we don't really talk pain around here very often. I'd much rather ramble on about space tortillas and Ke$ha's hidden talents than spill my guts to you, because let's face it, that's more fun for everyone.

But today I'm going to go out on a limb and share a painful memory from my adolescence. I have silently lived in the shadow of its shame for far too long--even managed to conceal it from most people I know.

I will share it in the hopes that one day--maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow--but one day, it might bring some teenager hope that they are not the only one.

Because let me tell you, in my situation, I WAS THE ONLY ONE. I'm pretty sure.

This is the story of the time I failed my driver's test.

It was the day of my 16th birthday--June 25th, 2004.* My mom, ever the prepared one, had of course done her research and found that you MUST get to the DMV BEFORE they open to beat the crowd.

So, my mom and I drove to Opelika at like 8am (in the summertime, I might add) to stand outside the DMV. Of course, we were not the only ones who had come upon this same research, and we still ended up having to wait behind a few people.

The next hour or two is kind of a shameful blur in my memory, but I'll try to relate it the best I can.

I remember being extra anxious and a surly black woman being my examiner...tester...supervisor...what do they call those people?? She may not have been surly. Or black, for that matter. I was really nervous. Again, it's all a blur.

A kid in my class had come back from his driver's test earlier in the school year (passed, of course) and said that he'd almost failed the test for waiting too long to pull out onto the road. In retrospect this makes little sense (wouldn't you rather be safe than sorry?), but driver's tests are tricky business and you have to do everything JUST SO. And maybe his surly proctor had somewhere to be and took it out on him. I don't know.

Of course the moment I get behind the wheel and edge out to the end of the driveway to turn right onto the road, I see a car coming from my left and this instance immediately pops into my mind.

If you want to know anything about me, you should know that I second-guess everything and I am super indecisive. I don't do well under pressure, especially if it is a 50/50 type situation. I tend to just get flustered and convince myself it makes sense to do this one thing when in reality most normal, thinking human beings would have done the opposite. This was one of those situations.

The car was approaching at a reasonable pace but was still far enough away that I could make the turn without endangering my life, I figured. I remembered my poor classmate and how he had nearly failed his test for waiting too long.

I can't FAIL my driver's test, I thought. It's social suicide.

The car was still chugging along and I had mere seconds to make the call. It's now or never. I wait too long or I go now.

I cracked under the pressure and went for it.

Now you may be picturing some kind of Fast-and-Furious-27 style peel out, but I was driving a Montero Sport armed with nothing but a learner's permit and a growing anxiety attack. So you can do the math, there.

I creeped along, well under the speed limit of course, but not TOO slow, hands at ten and two, sitting up straight (posture totally counts), and the woman asked me to take a right at the next intersection. I switched on the turn signal at just the right time and rounded the corner, breathing a sigh of relief. Maybe this wouldn't be so bad.

The woman asked me to take another right at the next intersection. Sure, I could handle that. Again, nailed it.

The woman then asked me to pull into the parking lot we had just left. Thinking perhaps she just wanted to see my superb parking skills or that I had done everything so well that she needn't test me any longer, I pulled in.

After parking the car (beautifully, I'm sure), the woman proceeded to tell me that I had pulled out into the street too close to the approaching car (i.e. cut them off), which is considered a "dangerous action" and an immediate fail of the test.

She needn't test me any longer because I did something unforgivable, not because of how awesome I was. She might as well have put me in Azkaban.

As a 24-year-old who has been driving for an entire EIGHT years now, I probably wouldn't think twice about pulling out when I did. No one was going to die that day. Again, this is not Fast and the Furious 86.

But on a driver's test, it was apparently too risky, and I had to do the walk of shame back to my mom's car and wallow in the passenger side while she drove me home because I was too depressed to drive back home with my measley learner's permit.

Let it be known that I am fully aware of the irony of failing a driver's test because of my direct attempt to avoid the one thing I thought would make me fail my driver's test.

The worst part is they make you wait two weeks before you can re-take the test---which I did and passed with flying colors, by the way.

So you just have to explain to everyone when they run up to you going "SOO???" (or even if they just know you are now 16 years of age) that you did in fact fail your driver's test--something, at least in my mind, about .0001% of 16-year-olds do. The ultimate in humiliation. Those people then proceed to go "AWWWWWW I'm SO sorry" like you've lost a loved one or maybe just any semblance of pride, which makes it 8000% worse.

To pour salt in my already festering wound of failure at this adolescent rite of passage, that evening I went with my family to pick up my brother from summer camp, and went over to say hi to my counselor I'd had a few weeks prior. I must have mentioned it was my birthday and of course then had to explain that I'd failed my test that morning.

He promptly made fun of me and I died inside a little more. (Weren't college guys supposed to be MATURE?)

You guys, don't make fun of people who fail their driver's test. But don't make it the end of the world, either.

Just say something like "Aw, bummer. Let's go to Sonic and get milkshakes." Because who doesn't like milkshakes? Especially when they have recently suffered a catastrophic blow to their self-worth.

Have you ever failed a driver's test? If not, what was your experience like? (Oh and congratulations or whatever.)

*If anyone's keeping track at home, yes, that means my golden birthday is this year. I like chocolate and coffee and Tim Riggins.