a) I had no desire to get a North Carolina license. Not only am I not emotionally ready to be a resident of this state, but I don't even feel like I live here for real. Why would I give up my cute little REAL license from my REAL state of residency?
b) Why? Because I am a nerd and that is what you're supposed to do. In fact, the second day I was in the state, I switched my State Farm insurance to NC. (Yes, I had called State Farm back in May to find out what I needed to do to transfer insurance, and, yes, I had mapquested and printed out directions to the nearest State Farm insurance back in Chicago.) Is Willie worried about any of this stuff? No. And will it matter? Mostly like not. Another example of the fact that all of the worry and headache devoted to doing what you're supposed to do in life really puts you at no advantage.
c) Since I live in permanent nerd-dom, I remember all of the times in life when I didn't get that A+ (still pissed about that science test in 4th grade). In fact, I still remember how I did on the drivers test that I took at age 16. I only got one wrong and it was about whether or not you should treat motorcycles as cars. I interpreted it to be more of an opinion question.
d) I have always had a sneaking suspicion that there's a chance that I'm actually kind of dumb. This statement is in no way, shape or form meant to illicit sympathy or to cue the world's smallest violins. But, it's true and I know it comes in part from having the most ridiculously smart family and from being a terrible terrible test taker. I'm serious -- those SAT, ACT, GRE scores? Embarrassing. I would never tell you.
So, this is the context in which I start the process of getting a North Carolina drivers license. First of all, I start worrying about it weeks ago. And then I start complaining about it (especially because completing the process involves three steps of drivers license, license plate agency and inspection test). "License stuff" turns up on all of my to-do lists. I start printing out all of the information I need. Pages upon pages of the driving handbook and the rules and what I need to bring and where I need to go. And then, of course, I start studying. I have my highlighter out and three different colored pens and I'm marking things up and practicing the hand signals and testing myself on the signs. I stop just short of making flashcards.
I finally set the date: Tuesday, Sept. 29. That will be the day I get my North Carolina license. I pack my bag (two books, two snacks, water, tissues, gum, pen and paper, all of my required documents paper-clipped and organized -- including multiple forms of proof of residency and proof of insurance), mapquest the directions to the DMV, and wear my Wonder Woman t-shirt and Superman socks. I'm so damn organized that it borders on cockiness.
The DMV is an easy seven minute drive from my house, but I'm nervous about the line and the wait and about mean people, and so my heart is already pounding when I show up at the small building that looks like it hasn't been updated since the 1950's. Luckily, there is hardly a line and within minutes I'm sitting in front of a -- get this -- really nice woman! She's all "honey this" and "sweetheart that," and even though I'm still nervous, she is really helping me out here. They don't require your weight on your license in NC (I was all set to lie), and I thankfully pass the vision test. Now all I need to do is to pass the written test on the computer.
It's a 25 question test. You need to correctly answer 20 questions. The computer tells you right away if you got a question right or wrong. If you miss 6, you fail, and you go home and come back another day to retest.
Some of the questions are easy -- yes, you should rest every 100 miles when you travel a long distance, some questions I recognize from the booklet, and some I just have to guess on. I get one wrong -- something about how to not wear out brakes or how to dry out wet brakes or something like that, and then I start to panic. I get another one wrong about how long your license is suspended for if you refuse to take a breathalyzer test. And then, when I get my third one wrong about what percentage of deaths in NC are caused by drunk driving, I really start to freak out. I screw up a couple more questions, and before I know it, I have missed five and can't miss anymore. I start to feel sick to my stomach and like I'm having an out-of-body experience. It's my last question. I have to get it right. It's another question about the DWI laws and I'm not sure. My heart is pounding. I guess. I get it wrong. I have gotten six wrong. I fail. I have just failed the test. I look at the computer with anguish -- this can't be right. Even though I'm a poor test taker, I do not get F's, especially when it's a stupid driving test. I stare at it hoping it will give me another chance. How could I be so stupid? How could I have actually studied for this test and still failed? I don't know what to do and slowly stand up. A different DMV woman looks at me and asks if I passed. I shake my head and she tells me, with some sympathy, I might add, "Aw, just come back another day. Do you need a book?" Another shake of my head.
I feel like complete and utter shit as I walk to my car. And when I get home and show up sans license, I lose it. I cry and bawl and sob and through my tears tell Willie things like, "Now we know it's true that I'm really stupid! How can I be so stupid?" I believe I even verbalize, "I'm a worthless piece of shit." Yes, that's how bad I feel. He tells me that it's funny -- or will be --and that it took him four times to get his boating license. I still don't feel better. All I want to do is go back to the DMV and pass the stupid test. And hopefully reclaim a smidgeon of my self-worth.
That afternoon I reopen the booklet and, with very low self-esteem, mark it up in a different color. I try to remember the questions I got wrong. As much as I want to blame the test, I know that it's all me. But what exactly went wrong? Was I over-confident wearing my Wonder Woman shirt? Did I go too fast on the test? Do I just have no none negative testing capability whatsoever? Or, deep gulp, am I really truly (shhhh)...dumb?
This morning, I drive back to the DMV. This time, I wear the same shirt I wore when I got my most recent IL license, hoping to give the situation some good midwestern karma. I beat the line again and it's a matter of minutes before I'm back in front of a computer. However nervous I was yesterday, I'm ten times as nervous today. If I fail again, I worry that I might no longer have a reason to live.
I start the test. I get one wrong about whether or not to use high beams in fog. Shit! I get another one wrong about stopping vs. honking and slowing down when you think other cars can't see you (that one, truly, seems to be a matter of opinion). I start to panic. And then I wise up. I remember that you can skip questions and come back to them later. So I slow down and just answer the ones I know for sure. And then, it happens. I get the 20th one right and the test ends. I have passed. And I could not be happier. Not only do I not have to come back tomorrow, but I don't have to kill myself.
Five minutes later, I'm staring at my North Carolina license. The picture is terrible, no part of the karma shirt shows up, and it still makes absolute no sense why I would not have an IL license. But this tiny piece of plastic is a gem -- something I worked for and cried over, and even though I hate it, I can't stop staring at it and smiling as I drive myself home.