She drove the Mustang with weathered yellow paint, windows gummy with yellow nicotine residue, into the Sav-On parking lot near LAX. She was probably there to pick up a prescription; she rarely left the house for any other reason. Her little daughter sat in the passenger seat. She was all of about seven years old, maybe eight.

The spaces in the parking lot were painted with yellow diagonal lines, and the woman drove down the narrow aisle in the wrong direction, unable to park. Realizing that she was going the wrong way, she waved her hand and with conviction in her voice she said, “They repainted the lines in this parking lot. Last week this row went the other direction.”

Her little girl looked out of the window, down at the asphalt, and peered at the lines as the car moved along the aisle. The yellow paint was cracked and faded. The child knew right away that row of parking spaces was angled in the same direction that it had been the week before. She looked over to the next aisle to see whether it was freshly painted, knowing that it was not, but perhaps still hopeful.

The little girl saw an entire parking lot with row after row of cracked and faded yellow lines. She knew right then and there that the thing that would matter would be the direction that she would drive, when she could drive. Meanwhile, she remained silent as the car moved along, against the direction of the lines.

23 comments on “Yellow Lines”

  1. Reminds me of Free to Go from the soundtrack to American Beauty (there’s a hint) :

    catching butterflies, line drives, watching TV
    had 7 good years until I noticed they were looking at me

    trapped in the back seat
    stay on your side
    my hand out the window feeling the wind rush by
    while my parents fight

    where did you go? did I make you leave?

    I didn’t leave my room until I learned how to drive
    … until the wheel was all mine

    free to go; still too young to leave

  2. You are one of the biggest success stories I have ever heard of. I’m so proud to know you, and so proud to be your friend.

    (And so proud to be one of your spouses. That goes without saying.)

  3. we all want to be wiser than our mothers at some point in our lives.
    and too we notice little bits of our mothers in ourselves. the bad and the good.

    i never wanted to be measured by lines and boxes, maybe because i saw them as being limiting.

    but having a direction is definitely important, even if it means walking in circles.
    not moving at all scares me the most.

    i like the girl in your story, cherie. she is observant, and she knows what she doesn’t want.

    knowing what you don’t want is halfway to being what you want to be.

  4. Beautiful, Cheri. You say so much in your concise and precise descriptions. Children want so much for their parents to be… okay. Powerful piece. xxoo

  5. Isn’t it interesting how little by little we discover that our parents make mistakes? Are not super-human?

    I’m glad you can and do drive your wheels in the right direction.

  6. Is it more important to maintain the image of infallibility in our child’s eyes or to teach our child the way to recover gracefully from inevitable mistakes?

    Loved your story, as usual. It was well-written and it made me ponder.

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