to make mistakes
To my father, who is learning.
My dad hadn’t driven a car in over a decade. And here he was, about to drive us to our hotel room from the airport.
It should’ve only been a few minutes on the road—a straight line down the highway and a U-turn on the local road.
A newer, electronic car stood in the parking lot of rentals. We settled inside—my dad and sister in the front, and my mother and I in the back.
I watched as my dad’s legs tensed up, knuckles white against the steering wheel as we jolted forward, like one of those dreaded roller coaster rides he used to force me on, nearly scratching the other cars around us. I watched as he cautiously drove down the aisles, turning around and around the parking lot trying to find the exit. It’s right there my mother urged, and I watched as he closed his eyes, letting out a strained breath and nod.
Make a U-turn here, my sister translated from the GPS, and the hotel is right there.
And I watched as he drove right past the turn, face scrunched into a scowl as he cut off a car turning into the lane. You missed the turn, so it’s asking you to redo the path, she explained. Make a left turn here just as he sped past the intersection.
I watched as my dad shook his head, face in a seemingly permanent snarl as he stepped on the accelerator. Aiya—you should’ve told me earlier! Why didn’t you tell me?
I squeezed my eyes shut.
Because suddenly I’m six again, trembling underneath my desk as my dad stands over me. I tense up as he grabs my arm just like that wheel, a grip so tight that it leaves red marks later as he drags me to the narrow hallway of the front door, tears streaming down my face. Because this is what you wanted, right? he asks me, pushing me against the door, its rough edges jabbing into my skin. I hide my face behind my arm. If you’re going to be such a disrespectful child, you should just leave, he says as freezing winds hit my skin.
It took a week of silence to pretend things were normal again.
Why do the miles keep going up? My dad shouted as I winced at the rough right turn he made.
“Please,” I said. “Can we be a little quieter?”
Shut up, he screamed at me.
Because I’m seven now, shuffling into his room with a sheet of paper covered in dried up tears and pencil marks. What’s 6×7? He asks me, and I answer wrong. I watch as his fists ball up as he screams at me Don’t enter my room again until you get that right and I cry, I cry and I sob and all he does is push me out of the room and tell me the same Shut up, what are you crying about? I’ll give you something to cry about.
What are you crying about? My mom asked. She scoffed—This is nothing. Useless, crying over this? As I lurched forward from the sudden stop he made, the thought of I’m going to die today, he’s going to crash the car and I’m going to die today running through my head.
Because he has never changed. I thought he had; why was he like this again? God, what happened to all the promises that he wouldn’t hurt me again—
The hit never came.
I watched my father succeed in the U-turn. I watch as he stares at me, tears and snot running down my cheeks outside his bedroom. Something is on the tip of his tongue but he quickly turns away instead, slamming the door shut behind him.
I lifted two duffel bags out of the trunk, almost tiptoeing inside the hotel, waiting for my father and sister to deal with the receptionist as my mother stood off to the side.
The silence in the elevator ride up was deafening.
And before I entered my hotel room, my dad called out to me.
Ay. I’m sorry.
He shut the door to his room with a quiet click.
Originally, this piece had been written for a personal speech school assignment. There were some requirements: a physical and personal journey must be conveyed in around 3 to 3.5 minutes. I had an idea when the assignment had first been announced, and performing this speech was both nerve-wrecking but exhilarating. I loved writing and performing this piece, and wanted to share it with the rest of the world.
Demarie Hao is a high school student located in New York City. She has been recognized by Scholastic Arts and Writing in Personal Essays, and hopes to continue representing herself in writing competitions and scientific research and writing. She is currently an editor at Polyphony Lit and her school's newspaper. Her favorite types of writing are Journalism, Scientific, and Poetry.