Taking Steps on Sunset

This piece, written by Maya Doyle, was one of two tales that tied for first place in the Authors category in this year’s Friends of the Palisades Library Summer Writing Contest. Each piece featured the theme “Palisades Tales: From the Mountains to the Sea.”

The car has to roll out of the driveway, and I need to twist the steering wheel to make sure I do a smooth curve out into our street.

When I have my first driver’s lesson, I exit the car in front of the houses edging the green of the park. Switch seats with the teacher. She tells me to drive. Grey lays the sky heavy and damp — windshield wipers needed. I lower my foot on the pedal, white knuckles tight on the wheel, and the car jerks forward like an unsteady baby.

I’m seven or six barreling down Pampas Ricas on a pink bike, handles lined with plastic white streamers. Those streets seem like they stretch into infinity, then back again; the trees probably reach Heaven. I learned how to ride my bike, split between here and the empty car lot behind the old church.

For practice, my dad has me drive loops through the streets, back and back through, passing the triangle island intersection of Ocampa and Alma Real like threading a needle again and again. Repetition is the key. He tells me I need to work on stopping the car before the stop sign mark.

Summer of the 8th grade I bike cursive through the streets and spend birthday dollars at Robek’s. I read 13 Reasons Why two times without ever checking it out from the library and learn the second fountain in the back hall of the library is always the coldest. That’s when I start carrying a bike lock — twist it in the middle, then twist it again to make a loop, the key is 0000 and independence.

Every Sunday, for half a year, my friend and I grab lunch with each other, then stroll to the park. We go on the swingset, eight years too old. Back and forth, up and down, there’s rhythm — we discuss all the things troubling our young minds. Boys for her, friends for me, school for both of us. One day, she brags she’s found a new route from my house to her house: right through the area we’d never dare go trick-or-treating through.

Sunset’s the first hurdle. I turn onto it right at the corner the Jones set up their Fourth of July seating. Drive up and then turn into Carey right at Corpus Christi. Repeat. Needle swings up to 40 as the driving teacher urges me to put in more gas, Maya. Her hand never leaves the steering wheel — she guides me up the curve of Sunset past Temescal, making sure I don’t stray off into the side of the peach shellacked hill.

Last summer, I run a mile through until I arc above the ocean, limbs heavy and heads pounding. When I spring the last .25 km of the July Fourth 5K without stopping, I feel invincible.

There’s joy in the small victories.

Today, I drive my mom home. She’s clutching the handle to the door the entire time, and as we zip past the Village, I swear I see a drop of sweat drip down her forehead. She’s shaking a bit when I pull outside of the garage (still don’t know how to park in the garage, still don’t know how to park in the garage).

But she smiles at me. Says, “Good job, Maya.”