As Bad As I Can Breathe

Jose VilsonJose7 Comments

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 …

Comments 7

  1. It is this kind of experience- whether we’re still in the thick of it and drawing up every last reserve of focus and perseverance and quieting the mind that tries to tell us “no,” or when we’ve finally made it and we realize that the size of accomplishment is not the size of the task but the size of the struggle, that makes it possible to teach. Even if we aren’t teachers with 30 pairs of tiny eyes on us, but teaching a coworker, reaching out to a stranger trying to bargain with an unfamiliar machine. This is how we cultivate patience and empathy and compassion, when we are in a situation where we know it’s important and we are able to give it to ourselves.

    I have been known, when something MUST be done and I seem unable to do it, to use the mantra… “but I can do long-division. I can do long-division, I can do this.” Nothing has ever been as hard since, even if right in front of me it seems like a rocky purple mountain.

  2. Congratulations are in order i suppose. I am not sure you really need a car where you live unless you have moved or plan on moving. I am just going to make sure i don’t park my car in your vicinity any time soon.. LOL.. piece and blessings.

  3. Congrats. Just be careful of all the people out there with licenses who can’t really drive.

    Me? New York State let me convert an out of state license. From a state where you don’t have to parallel park to pass. Actually, I think there’s 49 out there like that. I generally determine my distance to the curb by starting from 0 and slowly increasing…

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    Thanks everyone for your encouragement. It’s been a crazy weekend.

    Pam, you totally made me day when I read that comment. It does apply in a big way to education. I’ll have to tell the students I teach about this when I’m MUCH older.

    Kel, the minute you come to NYC without a car is the minute I’ll clip you with my rented-out-just-for-the-occasion Volkswagen. Please believe. Nonetheless, thanks for the congrats.

    Parallel parking is a wonderful and mathematical skill that not enough of us teach in the classroom, Jon. I wish they would, even in spaces where they don’t have to squeeze in between two cars just to get a chance to leave it there at a few quarters an hour. With that said, thanks.

  5. Wow that was awesome, 800 times? O c’mon. But of course it’s true. I am inspired. I love people like that and I wish that I could also be one of them. Thanks for your post. :)

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