The loud slam hitting the pavement. My mother’s screams still ringing in my ear. 2 years ago today my parents were killed in a car crash. We were just going to the grocery store. Why couldn’t we have waited until tomorrow? Why did that man have to run through the stop light? Why did I survive?
My breath races as my hands grip the steering wheel. I glance next to me to see my driving instructor give me an assuring look. “You can do this,” her gentle voice almost calming me. I nod and hesitantly push my foot against the gas pedal.
The brake squeaks suddenly from beneath me. I look down to realize that I had subconsciously stopped the car. This was nothing new to me anymore. Every week I get in a car and my head immediately starts spinning. Did you know that about 1.25 million people die in car accidents every year? That number feels like a weight, constantly crushing me every time I try to drive.
Today I took a shift at the local elderly home. My aunt makes me do it, and I need the community service hours anyways. The overwhelmingly-familiar smell of cookies and old perfume hit me as I walked through the door. I checked in with the front desk lady and she told me to help set up dinner. I glanced at my watch that said 4 o’clock in bright flashing numbers and sighed.
I went to my usual spot in the dining room and started passing out plates. “My beautiful granddaughter, have you grown taller?” asked an old lady sitting on a rocking chair. The front desk lady had warned me about this when I first started working here. The elderly have trouble remembering who everyone is and sometimes mistake you as one of their relatives. You’re supposed to go along with it so I always do.
“Hi grandma! Yes, I think I have,” I replied happily.
“Come here for a moment, I want to tell you a story,” the lady replied. I obliged and sat down beside her. “When I was younger, I was an elite gymnast. Oh, you should’ve seen me up on the beam, I was a goddess! At the age of 15, I was offered scholarships from schools across the country. But then the inevitable happened. I slipped off the beam and broke my ankle. I was devastated, I thought I could never compete again. Gymnastics was my life, I didn’t know what I could do without it. After months of intense physical therapy, my doctor finally cleared me. But I was too scared to go back to gymnastics. I thought that if I went back I would either hurt myself again or not be good enough. To this day, I still regret my decision,” she finished with tears in her eyes.
“Okay, your shift is over Amanda,” the front desk lady called. Wow, I should really learn her name by now. Anyways, I thanked the woman and promised I would be back soon. As I left, my heart dropped. Why do bad things happen to good people?
I was done feeling sorry for myself. That woman’s story showed me that you have to take advantage of life’s opportunities because one decision can affect your entire life. I marched over to the driving school that I was enrolled in. “I’m ready,” I confidently said as I walked through the door.
“Okay, sweetie we’ll get you set up with someone,” a nice lady said, disappearing around the corner. A couple minutes later, the lady walked in. Standing beside her was an old man that looked half-asleep. “Here is your driving instructor for today,” she said and motioned to the man.
The man grunted and told me to follow him outside. I still remember the cool breeze that quite literally sent a shiver down my spine. I took a deep breath and got into a small Mini Cooper. I immediately regretted my decision when I got inside. The air was dense and I had already began to hyperventilate.
“Woah,” said the man, snapping me out of my nervous state.
“I’m sorry, I’m a little nervous,” I said truthfully.
“You’ll do fine, just relax,” he said patiently. I nodded and pushed my foot down on the gas pedal. As the car moved forward, so did I. The puffy white clouds seemed to be moving as fast as the car. The sun was just beginning to set, so there was a beautiful glow to the world around me. Petals from a cherry blossom tree blew across my windshield like confetti. I swear I could hear birds singing as the sun gently warmed the car’s metal exterior. Just then a song came on the radio. It was my favorite song from when I was little and it brought back an overwhelming feeling of joy. My mom used to sing it to me every night before I went to bed. It made me feel safe and as if she was watching me from up above right now.
Sooner than I knew it, I had finished the driving course. When I realized this, I was ecstatic! I stopped the car, this time consciously, feeling empowered and proud of what I have achieved. My driving instructor congratulated me and told me that I had a natural skill. I thanked him and exited the car.
When I got home, I told my aunt about my eventful day. She had tears in her eyes when I finished telling her the story. She reached into a nearby drawer and pulled out a small chest.
“I’ve been waiting so long to show you this,” she said as she opened the chest. Inside was a set of keys. It turns out that my parents had left me a car! My aunt explained to me that they had bought it when my mom got pregnant and were saving it for me. All I could think about was how I couldn’t wait to tell the old lady at the senior home.