One of the most significant rites of passage in an RPer’s life is surrendering the driving license. I was a terrible driver who never liked being behind the wheel much anyway, but living in Los Angeles, I have definitely felt the loss of the freedom a car can bring. In LA, it is assumed that you drive and when it is revealed that you don’t, the information is often met with horror, disbelief and lots of, “how can you can possibly survive in this city without a car?” It is hard, but when something like RP comes into your life, you learn that you are capable of so much more than you ever imagined.
Because one of the first things that alerted me and the doctors to my RP was decreased night vision, the consequential difficulty of night driving led me to stop driving after dark almost immediately following my diagnosis. The combination of the darkness and the glaring lights of oncoming cars made it so I simply couldn’t see well enough to drive safely. I had also, over the years, had several run-ins with walls, poles and curbs that seemed to literally jump out at me from the side. This started my serious contemplation of whether I should continue driving at all. Walls and curbs only hurt my car, but what if it was a child or an animal that I didn’t see? I couldn’t bear the consequence of hurting someone just because I didn’t want to give up my car. So, about seven months after my diagnosis, I gave up driving altogether.
When I decided to give up driving, I made the choice to surrender my driving license and make the rite of passage an official one. I had no reason to hold onto my license when I knew I would never drive again, and I needed to make it real. I suppose it was my way of dealing with the loss head on, not allowing myself to live in any denial about my disease and how it was going to continue to change my life. I felt empowered because I took charge of the decision and I knew I was doing the right and responsible thing. I felt the loss, but it was intermingled with a sense of relief.
It the first couple of months without my car, I joked about how lucky I was that I never had to be the designated driver and how I was never a good driver anyway, so no big deal that I would never drive again. True statements, but I also began to see how my disease was going to burden the lives of those around me and how I was going to become less and less useful as the years and the RP progressed. I hated listening to my family agonize over who would drive me home after a family dinner, knowing how tired they all were. I hated knowing that once I arrived somewhere, I was stuck until someone else was ready to leave; I had lost the freedom to come and go as I liked and because of this I became more and more reclusive. I didn’t want anyone to have to take care of me, because I knew I could take care of myself.
Of course my family never complained and I knew that they were just trying to make things easier for me, but I needed to find a way to assert my independence. I had always had a fiercely independent nature and I wasn’t going to let the RP rob me of that. So I learned the ins and outs of the LA transport system, which is no small feat given that it is the worst in the country, and the bus became my car. I can remember the first months of riding the bus, looking out the window and seeing the enraged faces of the drivers in their cars, feeling lucky that I got to spend my ride home reading or listening to music, far away from the stresses of road rage and blaring horns. The surrender, I suppose, had ended up saving an important part of who I am and showed me that I have real strength.
I have become a good consumer of public transport and I also walk a lot (another unheard of activity in Los Angeles), but I still get plenty of rides in real cars and I will always be grateful for all the help I get from friends and loved ones. And let’s be honest, the bus in LA…….oh the stories I can tell.