I hardly slept the night before my driver’s test. I lay awake, going over parallel parking in my mind: cut hard to the right, reverse, gradually straighten it out to back in at a diagonal, cut hard to the left, ease it in, straighten it out… all night long. In my mind’s ear, I heard my hard-ass driving instructor (Brendan) saying, “What are you DOING!?” and “You have to pay attention!” and “NOOOO!!”
We got up the next morning at 6:00, which for us is pre-crack of dawn. I showered, then fed and walked a sleepy and perplexed Dingo; Brendan made coffee. There was a sepulchral silence in the kitchen as we ate our toast. Shaky from insomnia and nerves, I drove us the hour and a half from Portland to the DMV in Tamworth, New Hampshire. I made so many uncharacteristically nerve-wracked mistakes on the way that if it had been my driving test, I would have failed several times over.
“I’m going to flunk,” I wailed. Dingo, his head in the rear view mirror, ears at half-mast, seemed to concur, if his consternated expression was anything to go by. “I’ll probably hit a tree on my test.”
“You’ll be fine,” said my instructor. “You know what you’re doing. Just relax. I promise, you will pass.”
He later told me that he knew exactly what the test would entail: this was the same DMV where he got his driver’s license, sixteen years ago.
My examiner was a sweet, taciturn, portly man with a short white Afro who had me drive for fifteen minutes on gently rolling country roads. Remembering to signal, stop, check my mirrors, and obey the speed limits, I took a right, another right, a left, then a right, and another right. Then came the hard part: he asked me to back the car into a spot in an empty church parking lot. I couldn’t see the white lines I was supposed to park between and had no other cars to guide me, so I fucked it up not once, but twice; I’d asked for a do-over. After all that anxiety, I hadn’t had to parallel park at all; unfortunately, I’d practiced reverse parking exactly twice.
I drove out of the parking lot in disgrace, took a left turn onto the sleepy road, a right turn onto the two-lane route I’d started on, and suddenly, there we were, back at the DMV. It was over.
“I took some points off for your parking,” said the examiner. “Because that was…” He paused as if searching for the correct word. “Terrible.”
With a dour expression, he handed me the score sheet. And then I saw that he had checked the box next to “Pass.”
I leapt from the car, giddy with joy, threw my arms around my strict, demanding, handsome driving instructor, who was waiting there with Dingo, and waltzed inside. As she took my beaming photo, the DMV lady told me, “Oh, honey, no one can park, we all park like crap. I practically hit my own garage every night.”
After that ordeal, the rest of the day was ours. Brendan drove us to the farmhouse. His parents made us a beautiful lunch: fresh pesto, cantaloupe with proscuitto, and a Caprese salad with ripe farm stand tomatoes. Sitting outside at the table in the grass, looking at the mountains, we drank the bottle of Taittinger I’d brought to celebrate.
Then, for an hour or so, I fell into a near-coma on the couch in the summer barn. Dingo, as worn out as I was, burrowed into a spot behind the couch and conked out, too.
Later, Brendan and his mother and I went blueberry picking up Foss Mountain. We settled into a patch on the flank of the ridge, hot in the sun, and picked handful after handful of the low-bush, perfectly ripe little berries, which fell off the stems into our hands. Dingo wallowed happily in a shady leftover rain puddle.
“FUCKER!” Brendan suddenly yelled at the wasp who’d stung his hand, dropping his box of berries and leaping about. As his hand swelled into a monstrous lobster claw, we decided the fun was over. We quickly consolidated all the remaining berries in the basket we’d brought and hiked back to the car, which lurched down the steep, mud-rutted dirt road. Back at home, we put on bathing suits and gathered towels.
We joined Brendan’s father down at the dock by Snake Cove, which thank God has no snakes in it anymore, that we know of. As the sun set, back at home, we sat outside and drank cold Frascati, watching hundreds of dragonflies trolling through the air for little gnats and midges and, we hoped, some of the wasps who’ve taken up residence this summer in every available crevice of the house’s exterior.
At the long table with candles lit in the summer barn, we feasted on steamed lobsters and lemon butter, corn on the cob, and asparagus. Dessert was maple-walnut ice cream from a local creamery with, of course, blueberries.
After dinner, Brendan drove us back to Portland: it was very relaxing to be a passenger again. But now, I’m a licensed driver, not just passive deadweight. Now, I am legally allowed to get into a car and drive it anywhere I want, alone! Look out, world.
Berries a la Susan
Tonight, a couple of friends, both excellent cooks themselves, are coming over for dinner. In hopes of impressing and pleasing them, I’m making a recipe my friend Rosie sent me: lobster paella with chicken thighs and chorizo. And dessert will be the blueberries I picked the other day.
When I asked my friend Susan, who lives in London but is vacationing right now in Jamestown, Rhode Island and living on local farm stand produce, for advice about what to do with them, she wrote back the following sort-of-recipe: “Last night I made strawberries and blackberries with whipped cream topped with almonds crushed a bit and toasted under the broiler. The nuts made it astonishing.” So that is what I’ll do.