My wife, as I nearly crashed our Mazda into a cluster of orange traffic barrels.
I was lost. I had taken a wrong exit onto an unfamiliar bit of highway, one I couldn’t drive from memory, careening barely controlled through that favorite of Minnesota seasons – road construction. At night. In the rain. With four people’s lives in my hands. I was behind the wheel of our car long past the time my blind ass had any business still driving.
Angry with myself, the world, the Minnesota Department of Transportation, and the unfairness of my deteriorating condition, I pulled off at the next exit and turned the wheel over to my wife. That time.
My wife again, as I almost plowed into a half-dozen fashionable young women who had no idea they had nearly all perished at the hands of a sensible car driven by a blind idiot. Her warning allowed me to hit the brakes, averting what would have a tragedy with mere seconds to spare.
This time I wasn’t lost: though I was at 50th and France, which for us was pretty close. This time, I kept driving, trying to hide my shaking hands and pounding heart – I kept driving… all the way to the retina center.
At the clinic, things did not go well. I could tell it wasn’t going well by the way the nice optician was reacting. “You’re doing great! Doing great!” she kept repeating over and over. I was not doing great. In fact, it became painfully obvious during the exam that things were worse than I had thought. I suppose you learn little tricks to compensate for vision loss, but it’s more difficult to fool sophisticated diagnostic techniques.
But I would not accept my disability. I kept talking to my wife about how we needed to buy a second car. When the doctor inquired if I had any question, I didn’t want to ask, but the look on my beloved’s face—and the fact that she was making steering wheel motions—was too much to ignore. I asked the doctor how much longer I would be able to drive.
He looked horrified. “I think that it is very important that you do not.”
And that was the end. My wife drove us home. On the way, she made me read a street sign. A large street sign. The kind that hangs over the highway. I stuck my head out of the window of the car and as it passed directly over my head, I managed to read out Duluth Street. The state sent a polite letter, revoking my license. I had lost the ability and the privilege to operate a motor vehicle. Public transportation and my butt in the passenger seat was my new reality.
It sucked, but I had to make the transition. I refused to become one of the many disabled people who shut themselves away, hide from the world. And any time I started to get frustrated on long bus rides, I would remember a terrifying encounter at my local grocery store.
I was walking to the store and found myself following this sweet looking little old lady, who had just climbed out of her HUGE Buick. I’m talking a small boat. So I follow her into the store and she stops, peers at another woman just inside the door, gets right up in this woman’s face, peers, squints and finally says, “Lois, is that you?”
The loss of mobility and independence was frightening and difficult, but handing in the keys was best thing that could have happened to me. I was no longer lost on roads I was attempting to drive by memory or by following the taillights in front of me. I was no long a danger to myself, to my passengers, and to the general public at large. I was no longer afraid that someone was going to die because I was too scared and too proud to do what was smart and safe.
In the end, the only thing I really lost was my fear of the darkness stalking me and the changes it would bring. And all that fear, well, that’s not too much to have lost, now is it?