(Night Jasmine photo by Michael Levin - Taken in Portland, OR one beautiful night
I’ve been sick the past year, but still get around on my own, taking walks around the block a few times a week and have two caregivers that come in a few times a week to put some meals in the fridge for me and clean up my messes. I’ve never been much of a housekeeper. Now I’m almost 90, so who cares? I still like to drive my car occasionally and this is where my problem begins and it may end right there.
It’s my two daughters and maybe their husbands — they don’t want me to drive anymore. They have mentioned it a few times, but I’ve ignored them. I’m not sure who’s to blame. I know they are good people, my daughters, I know for sure. Their husbands, who knows about them? This is what happened to me when my truck keys weren’t on the hook where I kept them for 50 years.
“Where are the keys to my truck?”
No one says anything. I get a bit louder, gruff: “well, where in hell are the keys?
Then, in a small, uncertain voice from my youngest daughter, who is a 50 year-old child. I like her the best. She hesitated, sounding afraid to say: “dad, we took them.”
I couldn’t believe I heard this. I mean, I did, but….“What do you mean, “we took them? Who took them?” It was in a rough voice — not pleasant or even close to being fatherly friendly. I sounded like my Navy voice 70 years back.
Then her sister, Jennifer, my older daughter, it may be all her fault. Her voice is a soft and caring tone, “we don’t want you driving dad.”
Again, I can’t believe I heard right. Nobody’s is going to tell me when I can drive and when I can’t drive. You hear me?”
“Yes, we hear you dad,” Jennifer again, taking the lead as she does, “but we thought we had to do something. We’re afraid that something happening.”
“Damn it, nothing is going to happen to me, but something is going to happen around here if my keys don’t show up. Where the hell are they?”
“John got them.”
“At our house,” Jennifer says. I can tell she feels the blame for these troubles. “He took your truck over there too so you couldn’t drive it.”
“We’re in my house, my living room. This is where I raised you girls.” I’m stunned, angry, not believing what is happening. “What the hell is going on around here? Nobody takes my truck. That’s my damn truck. He took it. Damn him. Damn all of you. Get my truck back here or I’m going to call the police.” I didn’t want to get angry, but how was I to feel. No, damn it, I needed to be angry.
“Dad,” Sarah, is trying to ease the pain. I see tears on her cheeks. She was always so sincere, gentle, kind. I see hurt and concern on her face. “We love you. We’re just worried something is going to happen to you and we don’t want that. We want you around here for a long time.”
“Nothings going to happen to me. I’ve been driving for 80 years. (Well, I’m only 80, or close to 90, but I keep saying I was driving for 80 years. Some confusion. I admit.) I’m a good driver. No tickets, no accidents. You all know that. Get my truck back here. Damn it. Damn him. And you too.” I look over at my oldest daughter, Jennifer, wondering what got into her to do all this. Is it the truck? He always liked that truck.
Jennifer is tired, frustrated due to all the emotions darting in and out of her, from the all the time she put into helping her father manage his life and illness the past year. Now, soon she hopes, for some of it to be over. At least this part, the part both sisters knew would be the most difficult.
“We didn’t know what else to do dad. You drove two times last week and we’re afraid you’ll have an accident.
“I’m not having any accident anymore than you are. Get my truck back here.”
“We’re afraid you’re going to drive it.”
“You’re damn right I’m going to drive it. I’ve been driving for 80 years and I’m going to keep driving. Nobody’s going to tell me when I can drive and when I can’t.”
“It isn’t us dad,” Sarah is looking for a place to put the blame, “the doctor and the nurses told you, you shouldn’t be driving.”
“They’ve never seen me drive. They don’t know anything about my driving. Just because of my age they say I shouldn’t be driving.”
Sarah now has more tears, her voice cracking, “it’s the statistics dad, people over 80, the high amount of accidents they have.”
“I’m no statistic. I’m me, and I’ve been a good driver all my life, 80 years and no one can stop me from driving.”
“Dad we want you to take a state driving test and if you pass, than you can keep driving.”
“Do what? A driving test? I’ve been driving for 80 years. That’s my test! What is this, another tactic both of you and the damn nurses are planning against me. God, I can’t take any more of this. I’m through with all this. I don’t care what all of you are saying. I’m going to drive, test, or no test. Get my damn truck back here and all of you get out of my house. I don’t want any of you around.”
“Dad, we love you and we just want to figure out what is best for you.” Sarah comes over to me and gives me a hug. I pull away slightly and my body tightens. I can barely hug back, my arms are loose, they feel week. In seconds, I lean back, further into my reclining chair.
I don’t know what to say anymore. My anger is all there is. “All of you get out.” My voice isn’t loud, but I hear me. I hear my own hurt. I feel my heart pounding.
“Dad we have to work this out,” Jennifer follows her sister over to me and gives me a hug with kisses on my cheek. I sit motionless. I’m passive on my recliner; I can’t reject of accept my older daughter’s hugs. I have tears now, mixed with their tears. It sweeps through my mind, quickly, briefly, ‘am I being foolish, like something I created by my obstinacy.’ I don’t want to hear my thoughts.
“Okay, enough of that,” I pull away, “get away from me now and have John bring back my truck. That’s all, than we’ll talk.
“We can’t dad not until you agree to take a test with the DMV.”
“All of you sitting around this room. All against me. I can’t believe this is going on. In my house. Where I raised you girls. Just bring my truck back.” I hear my voice again, it’s a hurt and anger filled, but it sounds weaker. I wonder if they can hear me. I think: ‘never before in this house was there so much anger.’
“Okay, we will dad, but we’ll hold the keys till you take the test.”
Then it was quiet. I blanked out for a bit. When I came back everyone was standing around my recliner. I kept my eyes closed as I heard them discussing if I had a heart attack.
“He didn’t complain about any physical symptoms, but we could see he was feeling so strained by the ordeal.”
I heard the other son-in-law, Sarah’s husband, who sat mostly passively as his wife and sister are in a battle of wills with me. In truth, it isn’t the son-in-laws battle. The son-in-law with the key is here now. Jennifer must have called him. Maybe she needed his support or they were considering whether the truck should be returned. For notwit wasn’t, he drove here in his own vehicle.
I felt weak and tired from it all. I had no choice. Everyone is emotionally spent. We had a non-verbal truce. I nodded, with a “maybe we’ll see.” It was all I could give regarding the DMV test. I know it buys my daughters time. I’m left with no options, no allies.
Jennifer and John left, but Sarah and Marty stayed. I feel more comfortable with Sarah. We watched the super bowl. I fell asleep in my recliner before halftime.
Many thanks to Shmal Ellenberg for this thoughtful story