As Bad As I Can Breathe

Jose Vilson Jose

Diving Into the Ocean

“Well, there was a news report that said some lady took her driving test almost 800 times and never passed it! Yeah, but the great thing about her is that she never quit.”

“Shut up! My thing is … you’re going to take your test THAT many times? I mean, she can’t just take the bus or something?”

We all laughed.

But John got a little serious with us and said, “Yeah, but it’s that determination I admire. She never quit and didn’t let any of that deter her from achieving her goals.”

It was the 1st time I failed my driving test, a dreary July day when the tester got testy with my instructor John. Prior to this day, we’d spent 9 hours together, with literal twists and turns throughout SoHo, East Village, and the Lower East Side, driving around the area with the intent of getting me to pass the New York State driving test. Before that, I hadn’t officially driven in a decade or so, where, unlike John, I felt like I had a gun to my head while my father took me around the same block for 30 minutes. I felt like I was starting anew, my right foot newly unfamiliar with the pedal and the brake.

The guy right before me on the testing line already had an argument with her before she failed him. The three of us shook our head. The other guy with me, Francisco, was a Dominican family man who’d been working on getting a license for years, and at age 35, didn’t feel like going through this crazy lady. I couldn’t blame him. In my first driving lesson, I didn’t do a lot of driving. Because the lady didn’t really let me. I drove around two blocks instead of one, taking a left turn, another left turn, a right turn, and before I knew it, I was back where I started.

While she enumerated the issues with my driving: speeding at 35 mph, wide turns, poor judgment (I agree with this one for getting in the car with her), I already thought about the next test. John told us the story of the lady who failed the test 771 times to be exact, and I felt even more determined to do what I needed to. I signed up for another practice, and it was middling at best. This time, John had me drive all the way to the test from Lower Manhattan to the upper reaches of Queens. I might have been a hazard to the road then, but I was determined to pass the 2nd test.

I didn’t. I failed, this time by lesser points. My parallel parking and broken (3-point) turn were complete failures and a test to the lack of cojones I had since only two days prior, I aced those parts. Francisco, who convinced me to take it on the same day again, blew the test out of the water.  For a second, I let doubt seep in. After dropping me off near my bus station, John said, “I’ll be seeing you real soon” in his stern, baritone voice. I nodded, but I didn’t really know when.

I’d gone three weeks without thinking too much about it. Orlando, Punta Cana, and San Diego can do that to you. Then I settled down and remembered the promise I made to myself in December. Success’ bright lights were within only a few blocks away, and there I was, just staring at them. After a little apartment hunting, I made my regular appointments for my driving lesson and test, discreetly so my own expectations weren’t too high. Outwardly anyways.

I had another crappy practice, but this time, I felt different. This time, I made myself practice the “aware” look. This time, I kept telling the universe how badly I wanted it. This time, I would pantomime the motions of a 3-point turn and the left turn. This time, I breathed in between repetitions of these memes. This morning, I watched this video and ran out the door to pump up my adrenaline.

I told John that today would be different, too. He asked me how so. I said, “I just feel it.” Sure enough, when I went through the test, I hit every point pretty well. My parallel parking was still in need of work, but everything else felt so natural. By the time I turned the corner back to the first block, I knew I clinched it. I jumped out of the driver’s, gave John a huge hug, and couldn’t stop jumping from Queens all the way back to Manhattan.

Tormented by this little issue for over a decade, I now have one of the things I set out to do. Another one is about 14 days away, and the other about 6 months away. I’ve put my foot to the pedal, and I don’t want to get off the next exit just yet …

Jose, who sung “Not Afraid” by Eminem really loudly in his apartment …