Monday, September 21, 2009

We Have to Talk

Should I give you my car keys now?

There are things no one expects besides the Spanish Inquisition. Being served with divorce papers right after your spouse kissed you good-bye to go to work. Unfriendly rottweilers running amok in your backyard, snarling and snapping at the windows,on what was supposed to be a quiet Sunday morning.
And you don't even own a dog. (Let's not go into what brought these particular illustrations to mind.)

Then there are the things you expect like taxes and laundry. Hardly ever disappointed there.

Oh and by the way you may have already picked up the theme that this is about UNPLEASANT things. No surprise parties, sticky kisses from doe-eyed toddlers, not a rainbow in sight and the unicorns have left the building.

But then there are the events and conversations that you know are coming someday--but you always hope someday is tomorrow and not today. Car repairs. The overflowing toilet five minutes before the guests arrive. Having to put your old and sick dog to sleep.

And then there's We have to talk, I've been meaning to talk to you about that conversations.
They're never you're getting promoted, I'm taking you to Paris, your kid just got a full ride scholarship to Very Impressive Ivy School, the tests came back negative.

No. The only question is which shoe, where, and how hard.

I'm 63 years old. Lord knows, I've had my share of all those events and the conversations. Whether your role on the conversation is as the verb or the object.your stomach is pretty well guaranteed to hurt.

So when my oldest son (the one who ALWAYS gets deputized to do the face-to-face on the subjects everyone is worrying about and no one wants to talk about) brought up a been meaning to talk to you subject while we were sitting in a hospital waiting room--I gave him props.

You gotta shoot the ducks when they're flying (although actually we never shoot anything) and the subject of driving came up.

"You know, I'm getting more uncomfortable with driving at night," I remarked. An apropos comment since the surgery we were waiting on had been pushed back and pushed back until it was now after 9:00. At night.

Carpe noctem and he did.

"I've been meaning to bring that up. Your driving. People are worried...." He hesitated, looking to me for my reaction.

Two things you need to know about me before this cliche conversation goes any farther. !). I have macular degeneration, primarily in my left eye. It was identified before I was fifty and--see "degenerative"--it has been doing so at a slow and steady pace over the years. 2). I try to be a decent person. I also quite frequently pitch my tent on the moral high ground.

I've always said that when my kids came to me about my driving, I would hand over my keys without question. Risk lives just because I wanted to maintain my "independence"? Never. No, I would hand over the keys and give the car to someone who needed it.

I lied like a rug

Not now. This conversation was supposed to happen when I was like eighty.

I had a LOT of questions.

And I didn't really ask if he wanted my car keys although I don't think I would have actually fought him for them. The questions tumbled out--after all, if "people" were mainly his dad, my ex-husband, I was prepared to discount them by 50%. The ex worries. He gets anxious. He thinks my vision is worse than it is.

The look was kind, sympathetic, but he was very direct. "Practically everybody."


"Mostly about the night driving? And that time with Elizabeth?" (Elizabeth is my niece. I drove her to the airport a few weeks ago. " "But that was meds--I didn't know they would make me sleepy. And I pulled off and let her drive."

"No." A head shake. "Night's a bigger worry, yeah. But even the day time...."


Before I could ask, he told me. ( I really think he was afraid I would start crying. Not good in the surgery waiting room.) "Drifting in the lane. Getting too close to other cars on the side. Missing turns. Things like that. It's a little...scary sometimes."

Double shit.

"How am I going to get to work?" I'm sure Iwas wailing. Maybe that's when I asked, "Do you mean--do you think I should quit now?" My mind was scrambling for Plan B and I realized I didn't have one.

"Probably not yet. But you knew this day was coming."

"I know. I know." But not yet. And I was going to be the first to notice. That's how I'd planned it.

I was
embarrassed. Ashamed. Humiliated. . People had been coming to Scott worrying over me? I'd scared people when I was driving?

In my head I apologized to every person I had judged for clinging to their keys and that trip to the grocery store. Children and the elderly get driven places. At least here in California, the land of No Real Public Transportation, adults drive. I. Am. An. Adult.

Being a grown-up sucks. Mortality sucks even more. A grown-up knows that however you may feel, you can't risk other people's lives if you're a danger on the road. Even risking your own life is thoughtless. And takes you back to that whole mortality thing.

I'm not sure if I'm afraid to die. Of course I want to live, to live long and prosper, if possible. Watch the grandchildren grow up, maybe even know a great-grandchild. See how (or if) the world keeps turning.

I also know I don't want to be the brain-damaged body lying in a bed, incontinent and without thought or volition. Knowing no one. Just...there. Sort of like that ugly silver vase Aunt Sally gave you and you feel obligated to keep dusting and polishing.

A car wreck is a helluva good way to get there.

We agreed that I would curtail my driving NOW--at night and in unfamiliar places. I'm looking at "Refresher Classes" for seniors.
Oh, god, I'm a senior. Not near as cool as being a senior in high school. I promised to be extra careful and very, very mindful when I drive.

Mindfulness again.

Originally there was a Plan B. I live with my vision. I knew the give up the car keys day was coming even if I didn't really believe it. My mantra was that I didn't want to be either a danger to everyone on the road OR a burden to my kids and friends. So, before that day arrived, I had planned to be living in a New Urban/Old Brooklyn type environment. A place I could walk to everything I needed, maybe even to public transportation. (Hey, it could happen--even in Southern California.)

Instead, I fell in love with a man whose house is near the top of a hill and within walking distance of nothing. I suppose, if I knew the neighbors and they were amenable, I could borrow the occasional egg or cup of milk. Maybe even coffee.

But I don't know the neighbors and they really can't be my convenience store anyway.

Hitchhiking is probably not the best option either.

I practice saying, "Could you take me to the grocery store? I need to pick up a few things. My prescriptions are ready--would you mind stopping by...?"

Mortality sucks. Big time.


  1. Oh, Gwen. That well and truly is a bummer of a conversation. Kudos on your honesty and grace with which you shared it with us. I'd give you rides anytime you wanted simply for your company.


  2. Yeah--it's funny though. Life never stops being interesting. There's always a part of me that is observing, saying oh--this is what it's like. Hmmm...take notes.

    And I would ride with you most anywhere. Can we pick up Hunter along the way?

  3. When I was in High School my father was concerned with his Fathers driving. Since my Dad always dropped by his parents house after work..every day.. he would remove the distributor from the Chevy. Then the next day Grandpa would call the local shop and they would fix it. This went on several times, until Dad had "the talk" with the shop, and they never fixed the car again. I then became the designated driver, which is one memory of my grandparents that I treasure.

    You need to move to Portland and live in the Pearl or Hawthorne and walk everywhere.

    Always remember, getting old ain't for sissys. And you should also know that you are loved and treasured, and no one wants you or anyone else to get hurt. Bimbi

  4. Hope Rachel will treasure her memories of being a designated driver!!!

    I love you

  5. I will always remember the drive we took from Monteray back to Oxnard. You were a wonderful tour guide, your lovely, quiet voice offering up all sorts of tidbits as you drove us along. We never got lost, which is a minor miracle, and no evil befell us. You did a masterful job and I felt very spoiled. Put that in your pocket for safe keeping, okay?

  6. Thank you! I treasure it too, just because it was wonderful. Remember the almost (almost?) overly adorable hotel in San Luis Obispo and you tried to picture Marty there?

  7. Well first off your son...good at the "we need to talk" yeah....but I am here for you if you ever need a ride, heck I go that way to work and would love to have you in my car any day!!

  8. Hey thanks. Of course you'd end up having to get up a little earlier, but hey, don't we all enjoy that?