A week after the move, Mom receives her handicap tag for the car. Her limited mobility is a valid reason, nevertheless, she acts like she’s put one over on the registry. What she doesn’t know is that the state has flagged her license. When I visit on the weekend, Dad tells me a letter arrived the previous day. “The registry wants to know if she can still drive. Her license will be revoked unless she passes a driving test.” He hands me the letter, adding, “That’s the end of that.”
I can’t remember the last time Mom drove the car, but I’m relieved. I remind Dad he must be more sympathetic when talking to Mom. After all, he’s at the age when his own driving could be called into question. Leslie and I are concerned by the dents and scratches on the bumper and side doors of his fire-engine red Buick. One day soon, Leslie and I will have to intervene to save his life and that of hapless pedestrians at a crosswalk.
Unlike Rachel’s mother who never learned to drive, Mom had always been a free spirit, driving everywhere to shop, visit friends, or take Leslie and me to doctor and dentist appointments. But when she turned seventy-five, she had difficulty walking and relied on Dad to help her cross the shopping mall parking lot. Her eyesight began failing and the shaking in her hands limited what little manual dexterity she had left.
Mom is outraged at the Registry of Motor Vehicles. “I’ve been a customer for over sixty years. They can’t do this. It’s my license.”
Dad is argumentative having heard this over and over in the last twenty-four hours. “You sent a letter from your doctor saying you’re handicapped. The registry wants to make sure you can still drive…” He pauses. “…safely.”
“What if you aren’t here and I have to drive someplace?”
“If I’m not here, I’ll be in the car and it won’t be here for you to drive.”
“Maybe when I go with you to your doctor’s appointment, I’ll take the car and drive somewhere on my own.” Mom smiles triumphantly.
“And where do you plan to go?”
“I haven’t decided yet.” The conversation is over as far as she’s concerned.
Dad goes to the kitchen to make lunch while Mom remains on the couch, pursing her lips and glowering in his direction. She won’t let this go without a fight. “Your father…” she whispers, angrily. I wait for the rest of the sentence, but she feels these two words say everything.
“Mom, Dad’s worried about your safety driving on crowded streets or the highway.”
She checks to make sure Dad’s not listening. “He doesn’t want me going off by myself.”
I squash a shout of laughter building in my chest. “Yeah,” I want to say, “Dad’s afraid you’ll be running around with your twenty-year-old boyfriend.”
Dad calls us in for lunch. I take Mom’s arm and help her to the kitchen. She looks at her plate and then at Dad who’s rooting around in the fridge. He’s forgotten to cut her sandwich into four triangles. Since her shaking has become worse, he cuts her sandwich to make it easier to hold. I shake my head to warn her to say nothing. I cut the bread.
Dad sits down with the mayonnaise and spreads some on the inside of his sandwich.
“How could I get you to the hospital if I can’t drive? Have you thought of that?”
He pretends not to hear her and hands me the mayonnaise.
“Have you?” Mom insists.
“You can’t get down the elevator and into the car alone. How can you do that and help me?”
“So, what will you do? Stay here and die?”
“I’d call an ambulance.” Dad is at the end of his patience.
Mom is silent. She realizes that she’s gone down the wrong path and tries another. “How would I visit you in the hospital?”
Dad puts his glass down with a thud. I attempt to short circuit what’s becoming a ludicrous argument. “Mom, if Dad goes into the hospital, Leslie and I will drive you to see him.”
“I want to take the test. Just in case. I might need my license and I want to keep it.”
“Fine.” Dad’s voice is as hard as a rock. “I’ll drive you to the registry. But once we arrive, you’re on your own. They’ll test your eyesight first. If you pass, good on you. Then you’ll take the road test if the state trooper dares to get into the car with you. If you pass, I’ll be the first to congratulate you.” He stands and takes his plate to the sink. “I’m taking a nap.”
When Mom finishes eating. I clear the table and start the dishwasher.
I return to my seat, surprised to see a tear running down her cheek. She rarely cries. She’ll get angry and defend her point of view. If she loses an argument, she’ll retreat into a smoldering silence which can last for the rest of the day. But she’s always been too proud to resort to tears.
I move my chair closer and put my arms around her. “Dad doesn’t mean to get angry—”
“Yes, he does. He’s stubborn. It drives me crazy.”
“I don’t want you to go crazy,” I say, gently. “Do you think you can pass the test? Or are you angry because you can’t go where you want to?”
She’s crying more now, sniffing the snot up her nose. What can I say? I’ve thought about the day when my kids tell me, “Pops, it’s time to give up your license.” Part of my life will be over. Another signal that my life is coming to an end. Is driving more important than sex? At least with ED, you can fight back with pills and porn.
But driving represents becoming free of your parents. Giving up a license is regressing into a mirror of your childhood. Once again, you’re dependent on other people. Except now you aren’t cute or handsome, you aren’t a darling child with promise. With their own lives, your children have their own lives. They don’t think about you every minute of every day the way you thought about them. No wonder some old people give up the ghost and lay down and die.
I rub my mother’s back. She calms down and sags against me. “Do you want to take a nap?”
Her voice is muffled against my shirt. “I need to pee first.” She giggles.
“Let me get your walker and we’ll scoot down to the bathroom.”
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