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Poet reflects on loss of drivers license, independence

By Staff | Dec 11, 2009

A few feet higher would have put my Volvo sedan and me (and a lifeguard stand and lifeguard) into the Sanibel Recreation’s new swimming pool.

Fortunately, my car slammed into the wall below. Fortunately, no one was walking past on the sidewalk as my foot locked on the accelerator and my car went airborne. Uncontrolled. Over the low concrete barrier. Over the sidewalk. A crash that brought City Rec workers running to me. A crash that in a surprisingly short time brought a handful of Sanibel police to the scene of the accident.

I was not hurt. The wall (I discovered the next day) was not damaged. The car later towed off to a garage was eventually totaled.

Within a week of the accident I decided I should no longer be driving. Once the realization set in that I could hurt someone it was time to go to a DMV office in Fort Myers. After waiting among teenagers there to get their first license. I handed in the driver’s license I had had for 63 years and watched as it was cut it in half. That was a moment of great loss. I had to accept that my independence to go and do on my own was being cut in half with my card.

As the gentleman behind the desk handed me my new Florida identification card that I would need in place of the license, he thanked me. I wanted to tell him that I had peripheral neuropathy in the legs below the knees and the feet and until the accident was sure I was not a danger to others or myself. I didn’t. Because I really didn’t believe it.

I was a driver with a totally clean record: no accidents, no speeding tickets, nothing. In recent months I had sensed sometimes at the long wait for the light to change at Cypress Lake and Route 41 that the nerves in my right leg and my right foot were unnaturally active.

Yet I thought I would still be driving, that in my trusty Volvo I could control the problem, that I would not be a danger to others. Wishful thinking. In a moment of doing something done a thousand times before, turning slowly into a parking space, my right foot answered to commands I could not control. It happened so fast.

The Sanibel police were kindly concerned. It was almost as if they understood what had happened better than I did. I wanted to say to them that I should be charged with being blind to my incapacity to control the car, for refusing to accept that I had a problem that could affect others. I recalled having to take the license away from mother, now deceased, in her mid-80s. She was a menace on the roads. Until I hit that wall, I was too. I just didn’t want to face that fact.

Before and after giving up a license to drive is tough. Adjustments in living patterns are necessary. Accepting loss burdens the mind even when you know it was the right thing to do. It’s helpful to balance the loss of independence with practical realities: no deaths, no injuries, no broken store windows, no smashed cars, no law suits.

Being a writer has its advantages. After several days of reflection, I believe I was able to capture the essence of a bad experience, an awakening, and an acceptance in the poem that follows below.

The Garden Remains

by Raymond Buck

I return to my garden chores

soon after the near calamity

to digging out weeds transplanting

grateful for the feel of the earth

the awful recall of an auto in flight

toward a wall toward destruction

hours of living might have sifted

like soil trickling through fingers

I am grateful for dirt on my hands

to be on my knees among plants

so grateful no one was walking by

when my feet did the undirected

or perhaps directed by a brain askew

a brain now sending tingles to a foot

that mistook gas pedal for brake

now in old sneakers in garden dirt

in my garden I trust these addled feet

but I no longer will use them to drive

my license cut in two like the weeds

independence gone the garden remains.

This poem is, of course, not in my new book of poetry “South of Providence”, now available at all Sanibel bookstores.