By Nell Klugman I learned to parallel park onPond LaneinSouthampton. “Learned” might be an incorrect term; I drove to Pond Lane with a learner’s permit that I longed to transform into a driver’s license, but I don’t think I ever actually got better at parallel parking there. I cannot do it to this day, to the point that, in bumper-to-bumper traffic in unfamiliar cities, I scamper out of the driver’s seat, switch seats and make whatever friend I’ve duped into riding shotgun park my car. When I do this, the righteous honking of people who know how to parallel park rings in my ears.
I didn’t try not to learn how to park, it just seemed like an unnecessary skill, like anywhere I would want to go had a lot—the movie theater, the library, the beach, water parks and coffee shops and restaurants. All of them had parking lots just dying to cater to the unskilled. And I definitely knew how to park in a lot. If necessary, I would even be perfectly willing to park in a lot, and walk to my intended destination, however far that was; I was mature, competent, and physically capable even for a 16-year-old girl, a subset of the population noted for their maturity and competence. I could definitely handle it. But the DMV does not agree with this stunning piece of self-serving logic, and so on Saturday afternoons, I drove toPond Lane(with an adult supervisor, I’m no criminal) and practiced parking.
At first I treated these outings casually, jauntily attempting a few failed reversals into a spot and then heading home, resolving to try again later. I eagerly anticipated my acceptance into the driving community; I assumed that one day I would simply know how to park, and then I would get my driver’s license, and then we’d really be talking.
But with my test date looming, I had to actually learn how to park, which somehow hadn’t magically occurred. I returned toPond Lane, driving the familiar route: North Sea RoadtoMain Street, right onJobs Lane, which I’d internally pronounced so it rhymed with “Bob’s” until an embarrassingly advanced age. I had been so young and naïve then, not like this cool teen girl who was going to learn how to park! There were always a convenient number of cars parked onPond Lane, scattered densely enough to provide a challenge for the discerning learner, the gaps in them like blacked-out teeth. I pulled up next to one of them, turned my left signal on, and put the car in reverse, turning the wheel all the way to the left, and ignoring the humming in my brain that told me, You don’t actually know how to do this. But the humming continued, and swelled to a roar as I attempted to continue reversing and even out but realized I had absolutely no idea how to do that in a way that wouldn’t hit the car in front of me. I also had no idea how to get out of the space and try again. Suddenly I could barely remember how to drive at all. I put the car in park—that I remembered—and calmly remained jutting out of the space, the car sticking out with the crooked wrongness of a broken bone. Then I calmly burst into responsible adult tears. The engine was still on, and so was my left turn signal, a sad reminder of a time when I’d blithely assumed I could back into the parking spot to my left. I slumped over the steering wheel.
I felt unreasonable bursts of jealousy for everyone and everything around me, simply because they did not have to be 16-year-old girls who couldn’t drive. The couples sitting on benches inAgawamPark, the geese honking their taunting honks on the grass, ducks placid on the green and glassy surface of the pond, kids whooping on the playground: they were all so happy, and so carefree, and none of them were me, and none of them had to learn how to parallel park. Sitting smugly on their benches, running around the war memorial I’d taken a decade to realize was a war memorial, fumbling through the jungle gym: all of them were taunting me with their normal lives, enjoying the beautiful day, complacent in either their ability to drive or the age-based irrelevance of their inability to drive. The turn signal continued its syncopated rhythm, and my jealousy extended: I envied all the owners of the cars parked onPond Lanewho had managed to park correctly, and who would probably have been incredibly nervous if they had seen me fumblingly pull up too close to their property. I envied the residents of the lovely houses along Pond Lane, who got to leave their houses whenever they wanted because they had driver’s licenses, and who I hoped were not home because then they would have seen me turning into their driveways so I could turn around and flee home in shame. I especially envied, with an impassioned fervor, everyone on theEast Endwho had gotten to enjoyAgawamParkwithout having to park next to it repeatedly. I had been one of them: I had licked fried chicken off my fingers at outdoor concerts and once been knocked off of a stone wall by a bully in that park. I wanted to be knocked off a stone wall by a bully again! Please! Before my happy memories of the park, the lake, beautiful spring days, andSouthamptonitself were forever tainted.