The DMV feels halfway across the country. I take deep breaths and stare out the window, mentally going through the meaning of every street sign we pass, analyzing the actions of every car around us.
“Ty…,” my mom starts. She takes a deep breath, her eyes fixed on the road. “Ty. I just want to know you’re ready to accept this responsibility. You’re only fifteen. I didn’t get my permit until I was...oh, I don’t know...sixteen or seventeen.”
“Mom.” I grit my teeth. “I’m doing this. Just drive, okay?”
My stomach twists as the car turns into the parking lot of the DMV. We pull into a parking spot and I shove the door open and stumble out onto the pavement. It’s an unseasonably warm day, and gusts of wind blow my hair about my face. I tuck it behind my ears and begin walking briskly across the lot, my mom close behind me.
I reach the front door and reach out to push it open, when my eye catches a paper scrawled in black marker, taped to the glass.
CLOSED DUE TO POWER OUTAGE
My mom comes up behind me. “Hon, it looks like they’re closed.”
I blink. “No. There are people inside. They’re not closed.”
Her hand closes around my shoulder, but I shrug her off and push open the door, maybe a bit too forcefully. It swings out and I step inside. There are a few people milling around; a man is slouched into a hard seat, arms cross, brow furrowed. A woman scribbles something onto a paper, hunched over a table, her shoulder blades protruding sharply. The air in the building smells stale, almost, and it's dim, green lights flickering on the ceiling. Lia calls the DMV the “bowels of hell.” I can see why.
“Excuse me, ma’am!” barks a sharp voice. The gaunt woman behind the front desk is flailing an arm at me. She jabs a bony finger towards the door. “Did you not see the sign? We’re closed!”
My eyebrows rise in surprise. “But….”
She sucks in a shivering breath, and her frail chest expands. “We’re. Closed.”
My mom lays a hand on the small of by back and guides me slowly out the door. I stare out across the parking lot, my eyes blurrily focused on the row of trees lining the greenbelt, their branches stark and devoid of leaves. My mom unlocks the car and I sit down in the passenger seat. I shouldn’t be here. I should be behind the wheel.
As soon as I hear the rumble of the engine starting up, I feel heat behind my eyes, and tears begin to distort my vision. I look away quickly, turning my gaze out the window and trying to loosen the knot in my throat.
“I’m sorry, Ty,” my mom says. “We’ll reschedule the appointment, okay?”
I nod once, and pull my right knee up to my chin, resting my head on the acid-washed denim.
“Are you all right?”
“I’m fine.” My voice breaks on the last word, and a tear slips down my cheek. I wipe it away angrily with the back of my hand. I was supposed to be driving this car home. I was supposed to have my shiny new permit in my hand.
It’s not like getting my permit is really a big deal. It’s not like I can’t just schedule another appointment. But achieving this milestone, to me, signifies freedom. Freedom from my parents and their hippie mindsets, freedom from my neighborhood, freedom from this constricting town, freedom from this whole state. It signifies something I can’t explain.
“It’s a good thing we live in such a small city,” my mom attempts to console me. “You’re lucky you can bike just about anywhere.”
I know she’s just trying to make me feel better, but it only makes it worse. We turn into traffic, and I see a clog of cars stretching out before us. The web of traffic lights are no longer blinking. A police officer, clad in a reflective yellow vest, stands at the intersection, directing vehicles through.
“Huh. There must be an outage in all of South Hardwood.”
Good, I can’t help thinking. If I have to suffer, then so should everyone else.
The rest of the ride home is in silence. At one point Lia texts me--How did the test go?!?! I need the deets ASAP!!!--but I’m not in the mood to respond. The moment the car pulls up in front of the shop, I heave the door open and sprint between the row of trees and the building, gravel crunching beneath my feet. Upstairs, I storm through the kitchen, angrily huffing out each suffocatingly-pungent candle and shoving the incense sticks into the trash. I wrench open all the windows and let the fresh air pour in.
Just once, I want to know what our apartment smells like without scented smog clinging to every thread of clothing, ingrained in every piece of wood, seeped deep into the walls.
In my room, I collapse onto my bed, the mattress sagging beneath me. I bite my lip hard to try and keep from crying, but it only makes the tears well faster. I hate crying. Tears are a sign of weakness, a sign that you’re too dependent on something, that you’ve let it have enough power over you to affect your deepest emotions.
And still, I cry. I cry because I don’t have a plastic card that will let me command a hunk of steel down a slab of pavement.
Of all the days there could have been a freaking city-wide power outage, it had to be this one. Of course it did.
I smother my face in my pillow case. When I pull away, black streaks of mascara and eyeliner remain on the fabric. I wrestle the case from its pillow, ball it up, and chuck it across the room, directly into the hamper. Finally, something done right.