A while back I realized I needed to sort some things out and started seeing a therapist about once a month. Last week I was early for my appointment so I sat in my car and enjoyed a blueberry scone with a cup of coffee. As I was listening to the radio a loud scraping sound suddenly overwhelmed the news announcer and my jar rocked with a sickening jolt. My scone flew out of my hand and hot coffee spilled on my pants
“GODDAMMIT!” I yelled.
Leaping out of my car, I saw a beat up old Honda driving away at about six miles per hour. “Sonavabitch!” I muttered. My vehicular assailant wasn’t even going to stop.
It must have been funny to watch, but I jogged after the car and caught up with it at the traffic circle. Peering through the scratched and dirty windows I saw an elderly couple sitting inside. About what I figured. I rapped on the passenger side window and it rolled down.
“You hit my car back there, sir,” I said to the driver.
“Oh?” the man said.
“Did you know you hit me?”
“I knew I hit something,” he replied weakly.
“Sir,” I said, feeling the anger inside me ebbing, “You’re supposed to stop when you hit someone’s car.”
“We’re sorry!” the man’s wife yelped. “We’re sorry!”
Judging from the car, I knew this couple didn’t have any money. I figured this car was their only lifeline to the outside world – doctors’ appointments, food shopping – that sort of thing. I have elderly parents and I understand how important it is that my father can still drive.
“We’re sorry,” the woman said again. Then couple looked at me plaintively. They wanted me to forget about it.. They knew the jig was up. They wanted me to let them go.
“Do you have insurance sir?” I asked.
“Then let’s go back to my car and let the police sort this out.”
The man seemed very confused and started to drive away. Figuring he was going to rabbit, I took a picture of his license plate with my phone. Then I called the police. After a few minutes the old man pulled up in his heap. “There’s no damage,” he said. “It’s not bad.” Sure, there was a nasty scrape on my bumper and a small crack, but not enough to get mad about. No one was hurt. But that wasn’t what I was worried about.
A cop came and I told them him what happened as I handed him my paperwork. “He hit you while you were parked there?” the officer said, shaking his head.
“I don’t care about the car,” I said. “The guy didn’t realize he hit me until I ran after him.”
While the cop was doing his thing I called my therapist. “Look out your window,” I said.
I watched the curtains pull back and the therapist’s face appear in the window. “What happened?” he said.
“Some old guy hit me while I was parked. I’ll be late.”
“Take your time. Don’t worry about it.” Considering what my therapist charges, I wondered if he’d prorate my session.
Whenever there’s flashing lights and sirens people gather. I noticed one bystander glaring at me. Maybe he saw me chase the car and thought I acted like an asshole. Who knows? Maybe he had an old father too. Then the old man got out of his car. He could barely stand. I felt like a shit.
“I hate doing this,” the cop said, handing me back my paperwork, “But that guy can’t drive anymore.”
“What’ll happen?” I asked.
“I’ll send in a report and the state will make him take the driver’s test again. If he fails they’ll take his license away.”
Accident report number in hand, I walked up to my therapist’s office and sat down in my customary chair. Grey haired and slim with a healthy Florida vacation tan, the shrink was around my father’s age. I picked him partly because of that. Talking about my problems with someone younger than me would feel weird. When I went to the podiatrist for a tendonitis flare up last week I was chagrined that the doctor looked like she had just got out of high school. Reverse ageism I guess.
“Steve” the shrink said. “I saw that guy from up here. He was a mess. He shouldn’t be driving.”
“I know,’ I said. “I just hate to be the reason he loses his license.”
“Next time it could be a person. A kid.”
“He wanted me to let him skate,” I said. “But I couldn’t for just that reason.”
Staring out the office window, I knew that old man’s life was going to be diminished. But if he ended up seriously hurting or killing someone then a whole lot of peoples’ lives would be diminished too. It was really a no brainer – but that didn’t make me feel any better.
Sitting in my chair, I began to talk about what’s bothering me. People say age brings wisdom but that’s often a load of horseshit. Some people, smug in their grey hairs, use old age as an excuse to not change. They’re in for a rude shock. Growing old means you’re going to encounter things you’ve never experienced before. If you’re not able to roll with those changes then growing old is going to be a shipwreck. I’m far from old but I’ve caught a glimpse the rocky shoals ahead. I don’t want to sink.
I don’t want to run over someone and not even notice.
Reminds me of when my sister and I had to take the keys away from our father, but it has to be done.
And for some more melancholy thoughts, someday your daughter will put her hand out for your keys.
The fact that the old couple still had to drive themselves makes me sad. Couldn’t any family member make someone(or pay someone) to do their shopping for them and take them to the doctor at least once a week?
My sister and I were confronted a while ago with having to take the keys away from our Mom. It was stressful for all of us, given that Mom spent most of her career traveling and editing two major RV publications, and continued to drive fairly safely until she was well into her late 70s. Of course, when the problems started, it was never HER fault; it was everyone else on the road (can you spell DENIAL?). When we finally put our collective foot down we gave her a list of options (Uber, Lyft, Dial a Ride, etc.). No, none of these would work. She had to be driven in HER car, on HER schedule, even if there was no one available to take her where she wanted to go.
You may feel bad, but you did that couple and everyone on the road with them a huge favor. There are actually plenty of options out there (most at a very reasonable cost) for seniors to get around. I know how hard it is to give up the independence of being able to go where you want, when you want, without having to depend on someone else, but families need to step in and help their senior members make this transition.
Steve, you’re right. Change is inevitable. We need to be willing to adapt, no matter our age. The stubborn refusal of the elderly to accept change is the first slippery step on the final downward slope of life.
This hits home. I took my mom’s keys away, too. She was forgetting where she was, and actually parked on someone’s lawn. She complained bitterly, and told me, “I don’t care if I get killed. It’s my choice.”
I told her, “I’m not worried about that. I can live with that. What I can’t live with is the family of four that you’re likely to take with you when you’re killed.” She gave up the keys, but still complained.
A week later an old lady in a nearby suburb plowed her giant Buick into a family sitting at at stop light in their little Toyota. The family was killed instantly. Yeah, it’s hard to take away the keys. But at least I don’t have to live with that.