After two fender benders, author and editor Myrna Blyth is forced to confront the reality of aging
I think I lost it after being sideswiped by an 18-wheeler, going 65. I was stopped when it happened, waiting to merge onto a highway. He clipped the mirror off the rental car I was driving and never even slowed down.
But that was my second accident in two weeks. Earlier I had managed to total my car going five miles an hour through an EZ Pass lane. The lane, I only realized after the fact, was extremely narrow and I must have been too close to the left side. A piece of metal sliced the driver’s side front tire and turned the car into a low barricade. No one was hurt and the cops who surrounded me were very solicitous. They assured me, “It happens all the time, lady.” Oh, great. A week later at the same crossings, there were suddenly signs pointing to the wider lanes.
My car was 12 years old and, although, it had only gone 67,000 miles, I really needed a new one with four-wheel drive to help me cope with my high, often icy, country driveway. But looking for a car in New York City, where I live during the week, sucks, and even though I made a Talmudic study of the car issue of Consumer Reports, I really hated shopping, comparing and test driving.
In truth, I have never liked to drive and I learned late. I grew up in a suburb but graduated high school at 16. All my friends were 17 and had already learned to drive, and so senior year they drove me around. After college I moved to New York City. Who needed a car? Who needed to drive? And when I married, my husband did the driving while I listened to the kids recite multiplication tables in the backseat, or read the maps, or found the radio station we both liked.
But in the last few years, my husband has stopped driving and so I have become the designated driver. I was even getting somewhat comfortable, at least on the roads I knew, before the EZ Pass incident. That upset me quite a bit. But after the mirror clipping, you can imagine, right? I became almost phobic.
I had to drive the car without a mirror on that very busy 18-wheeler-laden highway and take it back to the rental-car place. Then I had to get yet another different car to drive. All they had was a large, bulky, sluggish hatchback. I managed to get it to my Connecticut house and then spent the weekend inside, refusing to get the papers or go shopping. We made do with what was already in the refrigerator. I spent the whole sleepless weekend worrying about getting the second rental car and my husband and I back to New York safely.
By the way, I am a cautious driver, one who has never gotten a ticket, never speeded, had not even a sip of wine when I knew I would have to drive. No matter. I suddenly felt anxious, frightened, vulnerable and drained of confidence – not only about driving but about absolutely everything. I spent the weekend wanting someone, please, to take care of me. I don’t think I ever felt that way before.
I also felt, for the first time ever, really old. Or rather I realized that the way I was feeling is the way one must feel when one is really old and afraid.
How am I now? Better. I got a new car, or should I say a “pre-owned” new car, and have driven it a bit. I am studying its manual and am taking an online defensive driving course. And when I told my daughter-in-law how old I felt that weekend, she laughed. “You needed two accidents to begin to feel old. Most people feel old the first time they see a wrinkle.”
Yes, the accidents taught me to be extra alert every second behind the wheel and I know that’s very important. But that terrified weekend also gave me a far greater understanding of the vulnerability hidden within myself – hidden, I suspect, within us all.
Myrna Blyth is the founding editor of More magazine, was the longtime editor-in-chief of Ladies’ Home Journal and was senior editor for Family Circle magazine. She was also the chairman of the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships. Currently she writes for The National Review Online.