Another entry from the beautiful, brave Jen about doing the right thing to take care of her parents…
I was driving illegally. I had failed my driver’s exam in high school and it traumatized me enough to keep me from ever going back. But now, here I was, in my late twenties, in Eastern Washington State, driving around like I owned the place. I figured, if I looked the part, no one would know that I was being dishonest. Well, no one would know until I sideswiped a grocery cart at the local Albertson’s, anyway. This town used to be my own, many years ago, but now I was back from NYC: one of the few places where not having a driver’s license wasn’t a big deal at all. ‘Twas true, I was a freak in my own hometown without the legal right to operate a vehicle.
I took the risk because both of my parents were hospitalized. They needed me for the first time in their lives. My mother had a stroke and my father had intestinal blockage that required surgery. Taxis weren’t going to cut it; especially those driven by bandana wearing, Camel cigarette smoking ex-members of the Doobie Brothers. I had tried the bus as well, but that was hardly efficient when the schedules were irregular and the routes not exactly convenient to our home or the hospital. And although the buses were somewhat new, they still managed to smell like a fine aromatic blend of Bengay, Jean Nate and french fries.
So I decided to go for it in a 1981 light blue Peugeot sedan that was my mother’s pride and joy back in the day. Under normal circumstances, I would have overanalyzed the crap out of the situation, but in this case something took over and all I could think about was what I needed to do. Sure, I thought about getting caught and what I’d say, but I knew I had a damn good excuse and that any decent police officer would understand and let me go. And if they didn’t? I’d figure it out. Maybe I was being delusional, but I had faith that my hometown was made of good, solid people who could understand my desperation and duty to my folks.
That’s the thing. When people you love get sick, you kind of go crazy. But crazy in a good way. You lose all sense of reason and rationale and you justify your every move because the end game is all about bringing them joy at any cost. Those dark days were full of anxiety and fear, but I trusted my gut and allowed myself no time to second-guess it. As my father recovered from his surgery he started asking me questions about how I was getting to the hospital. I dodged the bullet every time. Hell, I even snuck him a beer once as a way to keep him from asking me again for a couple of hours (he saw the shiny can and it was as though every thought in his head vanished). Oh Schlitz, you were quite the unexpected hero, now weren’t you?
My mother’s recovery took much longer than my father’s, but once he gained his strength back he was able to dedicate more of his time to her and as a result my duties were lessened. I’ll admit I regretted that a bit because I did enjoy being the rebel with a cause for once in my life. Yep, a Peugeot-driving, beer-smuggling, Ex-Doobie-brother-avoiding badass. My clandestine driving days were over but in the end I learned something very important about myself: I can take big risks when it counts the most.
When illness strikes, you find out who you are at the core and you’re astonished at who that person is. My finest moment wasn’t when I was white knuckling it all the way to the hospital with a racing heart and sweaty upper lip while singing completely off tune to the Little River Band on the AM radio to distract myself. My finest moment was delivering whatever they needed, whenever they needed it, several times a day. The smiles that greeted me each time I walked into the room was proof I was doing the right thing.
My point is, let your heart lead you in times like these. Don’t overthink anything because your core–the one you may not know just yet–will drive you (in a 1981 Peugeot, no less) in the right direction every time.