Wednesday, November 30, 2011

White Knuckles

For years, I scoffed at my sister Carolyn's reluctance to drive on expressways, or in bad weather, or at night (or, God forbid, all three). What in the world was her problem? While I was not what you'd call an enthusiastic motorist, I could always get from Point A (home) to Point B (pretty much anywhere but New York City and Boston, because the drivers there are maniacs), no matter the time or clime.

Well, now I understand C’s feelings completely. Now I am 55 (or will be next month). And, at 55, I'm finding that traveling at speeds OVER 55 is causing me to break out in a sweat and hyperventilate and grip the steering wheel for dear life. Rain, even a gentle sprinkling, causes me to seriously rethink my planned outing on the road. Snow, ice--forget about it! It's really depressing.

And the hardest part, for me, is my new fear of driving at night. My eyesight has been on the decline for years. And then I went on a medication that "may cause blurred vision"--and, lo and behold, it does! Nevertheless, I could basically cope, could stay in the correct lane, could still see the traffic lights. But suddenly, now, I was Mr. Magoo. One memorable evening, en route to a meeting, I literally had to stop and get out of the car and go over to the street signs to read them, twice! I was, of course, late to the meeting. Worse, once there I could not concentrate on the doings of the Naval Academy Parents Club. I was far too busy dreading my return trip, with its attendant pauses to stop, stretch my legs and squint, wondering if the sign read "Moreland Road" or "Meadow Lane"--or something else entirely.

So I finally got glasses. End of problem, right? Well, not exactly. Nowadays, after dark, the oncoming headlights explode like starbursts before my eyes. The yellow lines still frequently disappear, making it a distinct challenge to keep to my side of the street . The road signs may now be tack-sharp, but what good does that do if I am drifting and distracted by the lightshow?

My world, it feels, is shrinking rapidly. No longer confident behind the wheel, I am losing confidence in general. I was never Danica Patrick but darn it, I was a pretty decent driver! Now, I envision a future of more and more limits—limits of speed and of distance, of venturing out, of independence.  And it makes me sad.

Sad enough to fight it. I will not go gentle into that dark and rainy night. I will find glasses that actually work, and practice heading out onto the highways and byways once more. In downpours and snowstorms, at dusk and 11 PM. I will fight growing old, old in spirit. There are 80 year olds of my acquaintance who run rings around me in the courage dept. Let me take a page from their book. Let me keep trying.

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