Lipstick and Filing Cabinets:
What I Think about When I Think About Driving

by Jennifer Finstrom

The driving instructor who failed me when I took my first test was in the Milwaukee paper two weeks later for accepting bribes. I remember him as more annoyed than corrupt, particularly at the start of the test when I forgot where we had parked the car and led him up and down the DMV parking lot. That might have been when he decided my fate, or it might have been later, when I allegedly made a turn with no hands on the wheel. Regardless, I didn’t pass, and when my father took me home, we stopped first at the hardware store to buy filing cabinets for my poetry, which I had been wanting more than the driver’s license.

The second test I don’t remember at all. I passed. And all that summer, I drove my friends to Denny’s, to the mall, to Milwaukee’s East Side. But it’s possible that the first instructor had the right of it: I hit a parked car in Burger King’s parking lot, nudged the ticket booth at the Milwaukee County Zoo, and, most memorably, gently rear-ended a car while driving my friend Michelle and her sister to Southridge Mall—that time, I was putting on lipstick in the rearview mirror and telling stories about the boys I’d met in college, the radio set to whatever station we listened to then.

And while I recount this here with the same measure of shame I felt when I failed that first test, I see that if there had been no accident, that day would be long forgotten. Now I can safely file it, part of me always frozen at the point before impact, lipstick out, singing with the radio, still learning that there is no better metaphor for life than this.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: Photo taken a couple of years after I learned to drive. Here I am leaving home to go to college at UW-Green Bay. The car that I learned to drive on would be parked outside in the driveway.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I am so very lucky to live in Chicago, where I don’t have to drive. I don’t have a car, and the bus and the train are both very close to my apartment. I can easily get anywhere I want to go.


Jennifer Finstrom
 teaches in the First-Year Writing Program, tutors in writing, and facilitates writing groups at DePaul University. She is the poetry editor of Eclectica Magazine, and recent publications include Autumn Sky Poetry Daily, Escape Into Life, Gingerbread House Literary Magazine, and NEAT. For Silver Birch Press, she has work appearing in The Great Gatsby Anthology, the Alice in Wonderland Anthology, and in Ides: A Collection of Poetry Chapbooks.