Yesterday, my father lost his one true love, and I was there when the judge, his doctor, passed down the decree. He attempted an appeal, but it was no good – his beloved had deserted him. He won’t even get to keep the certificate that had bound him and his partner together for decades. You see, that partner was his wanderlust, and he’s been ordered to return that certificate – his driver’s license – to the state. In return, he’ll receive a Massachusetts I.D. card, which is an irony because, in this turn of events, he’s losing so much of his I.D., his identity. He’s someone who’s always been thinking about the next trip, the next appointment, the next opportunity to get on the road. That guy pictured on the new state-issued piece of laminated plastic? To Dad, it will be just another old guy no longer able to go wandering with his baby.
Dad’s been married three times, and the last partnership endured for 38 years. But none of these pairings were really happy, at least not for terribly long, because Dad was, essentially, a bigamist. Sure, at different times he loved his wives, but his one true passion was the road. Not travelling, per se, but the road. It’s not that he didn’t enjoy flying or even a good train ride, but it was only when he was behind the wheel that he felt truly at ease. He structured his life to indulge this passion by becoming a traveling salesman, spending at least two weeks of every month driving – from St. Louis to Omaha, Des Moines, Dallas, Ft. Smith, Memphis, Paducah, Cincinnati, Toledo and Flint. His territory for the many companies he represented occupied pretty much the middle third of the United States, and he drove it all – 50,000 miles of it every year.
Many wedded couples at this time of life might look back at the many homes they’d created for themselves over the years – the newlywed apartment with the leaking kitchen faucet and ventilation-shaft view, the picket-fenced dreamhouse where they raised all the kids. Dad, however, remembers the automobiles he shared with his true love. Those Pontiacs, Chevys and Fords were all the shelter they needed, and all that American-made rolling stock kept them dry and moving – always moving – for more than 70 years.
Now, we have to figure out what to do with the last of those traveling temples of love, the 2004 Mercury Marquis sitting empty in the driveway. We could hold onto it, for me to use in chauffeuring him to doctors appointments and out to dinner, but I’m pretty sure he’ll have to transfer ownership to me for that to happen. I’m only insured to drive it through his policy, and that policy is dependent on him being a licensed driver. We’ll have to figure this out fairly soon, but I’m loathe to force the issue while Dad’s still so deep in anger and grieving.
It doesn’t help that I was an instigator – the private dick, if you will, documenting the need for the breakup with my phoned-in tips to the doctor and whispered concerns to the occupational therapists evaluating Dad’s driving risks. “Thanks all to hell, Chuck, that’s all I’ve got to say,” is what I heard as I pulled the Marquis out of the doctor’s parking lot yesterday afternoon. You might not see all the eggshells we’ve been walking on since, but my house’s floor is littered with them.
The question for Dad to answer in making his should-she-stay-or-should-she-go decision has been posed by poets for centuries: Will it be harder to lose, completely, the last vestige of his life-long love through some mundane Craigslist sale, or be regularly reminded of what he loved and has now lost from the passenger seat, every time I shuttle him over to the blood lab or senior center. I don’t know what his answer will be, but I think (to borrow yet another poetic metaphor) I’ll hear a bell tolling in the background whichever option he chooses.