We can all remember our first car. Not the family station wagon. Not the hand-me-down from big brother that smelled like musky gym clothes. I’m talking about the first car that was entirely yours, even if it was used or “pre-owned” as car dealerships like to say.
A mid-1980s Honda Civic via WikiCommons
I was 26 when I purchased my very own brand new car. It was a 1986 Honda Civic wagon and I loved it. No air conditioner, no frills, vinyl seats and 48 mpg. Those were the days. I would drive from Salt Lake to Jackson Hole and back on one tank of gas. I would drive to San Diego, stopping every 40 miles to douse myself at the rest-stop water fountains during those 102-degree desert stretches, then drive soaked from head to foot with the windows down. Now that was air conditioning.
Imagine my excitement when I bought a new Ford Escape Limited in 2004. It was the second time in my life I’d bought a brand new car rather than used pre-owned. I knew the saying that once you drive it off the showroom floor, the car’s value drops 99%. I didn’t care. I was in fact overly proud of the purchase. As the old saying goes, pride goeth before a fall.
The Ford Escape AKA Mouse Mobile
The Escape was only two days old when I drove my two toddlers to the grocery store. Somehow, an entire jug of milk was spilled between the seats during a backseat conspiracy to search the grocery bags for cookies. I spent 2 hours scrubbing, spraying, rubbing and generally assaulting the area with cleansers. The smell of sour milk never left the vehicle. It was an omen.
One after another, horrible things happened in the Escape. A completely potty-trained child thoroughly wet his pants. Dogs threw up. A cat leaped onto my lap and peed while I was driving. Moldering carrots were found under the passenger seat. A slice of pizza worked its way into the spare tire well and grew fabulous green feathers.
Just before the Plague of Rodents commenced, I had what I thought was the capper to all of this evil. While driving my son’s friend home from a playdate, the cherub told me from the backseat that he needed to go number two. I asked him if I should pull over or if he could hold it until the upcoming gas station. He felt that he could wait. Two seconds later, he said “oh no” and then the fun began. My son caught a whiff and immediately vomited. Twice. I rolled down the windows. I opened the sunroof. I looked back to assess the damage and was struck by a force stronger than a tidal wave. We drove the rest of the way with our heads out the windows, tears streaming down our cheeks. I was triple charged for the car detailing.
Then came the Plague. It started with a few tiny droppings here and there on the car mats. I’d set a trap inside my car, catch a mouse and go on about my business. Then I noticed more droppings. I worked up to 4 traps placed at night and 4 mice in traps in the morning. I detailed. I vacuumed. I squirted VO5 hairspray. I tried sonic sound waves. I put bars of Irish Spring under the seats. The mice ate them.
Finally, I removed all of the interior side panels, trying to find the rodent welcome mat. Caches of seeds, dog kibble and fluffy mouse nests poured from every possible crevice. Entire generations of field mice had wandered about, given birth, raised families and died in my car. I admitted defeat and felt grateful that no one in our family had been struck with Hantavirus. Accursed vehicle. Stephen King could write a book about it.
The Mousemobile found a new home with a family that apparently does not have a battalion of mice seeking a motel on wheels. I gave full disclosure prior to handing over the keys. Buh bye.
Guess what I’m driving now? A used Honda Civic wagon. With air conditioning.
I celebrated my 55th birthday with a ride on my mountain bike, logging around 8 miles of bumpy dirt road and feeling downright proud of myself. It was another sparkling Teton Valley day with hawks perched along the fence lines watching for voles, sandhill cranes yodeling overhead and the crick, crick, crick of my deteriorating left hip with every pedal push.
This cheerful snap of worn-out cartilage reminded of my morning phone call from a well-known seer and aging expert. As usual, my sister got right to the point.
“Happy birthday. Getting old sucks.”
Over the years, she’s offered valuable advice and recommendations about this age-old battle. Now, I’ll share those pearls of wisdom with all of you.
Just last week, she was trying on skirts in a retail dressing room. The sales clerk knocked on the door as she was forcing the zipper. The clerk asked if she needed any assistance. My sister responded that there was an odd bulge preventing her from closing the zipper.
“Do you have any control?” asked the clerk.
“If I had any control, I wouldn’t be trying on a size 18 skirt, now would I?” she snarled before it occurred to her that the clerk was referring to control-top Spanx.
Moral of the story: When you’re old, you snarl at people uncontrollably and that’s okay.
I once made the mistake of asking for advice on how to lose weight. Her initial response was less than optimistic.
“Losing weight at our age is like pickaxing cement out of a car trunk.” Then she told me how she managed to lose 20 pounds rather quickly by going on the Clapton Diet. First, she read Eric Clapton’s autobiography “Clapton.” This brought back memories of his youthful beauty and magnetism.
After reading his book, it was clear that Eric had surprisingly low expectations when seeking female companionship. So she put his 70s rock star picture on her refrigerator, inside cupboards and above her scale reasoning that if she lost a few pounds and ran into Eric on the street or at the mall, her chances were as good as anyone’s that she could catch his eye. Just the thought of him on his knees singing ‘Layla’ to her provided sufficient motivation. She lost the weight and then saw him on a television show and realized that he had aged right along with the rest of us. The honeymoon was over.
Moral of the story: Let go of fantasies and just eat whatever you want.
And finally, there’s the never-ending conversation of how, when and where to wear yoga pants without completely alienating the children. When I told her that in my neck of the woods, women wear yoga pants everywhere; grocery shopping, mall browsing, wedding receptions, horseback riding, job interviews, you name it. This kind of behavior doesn’t fly in SoCal. In the Newport Beach area, yoga pants are carried in special exercise bags to the yoga studio where they are put on prior to yoga and then removed immediately after yoga. So when my sister tried to travel by air with her children and they realized she was planning on wearing yoga pants ON THE PLANE, the sky fell.
“I even put on my best cowboy boots and they still wouldn’t let me leave the house,” she said sadly.
Moral of the story: Don’t grow old in Southern California if you like to wear baggy yoga pants.
Our phone conversation devolved into a discussion about the ignominy of being hailed by every miracle face cream and weight-loss kiosk operator in the mall.
“Excuse me miss. Not you. No, not you. YOU over there in the pink yoga pants, I have some extra potent samples just for YOU.”
Then she had to hang up because she was running late to the eyebrow salon where a true artist would try to make brows appear where there weren’t any since half of each arc had fallen out at the age of 50.
Moral of the story (and this can’t be stressed strongly enough): Growing old isn’t for sissies.
I’ll take the good days with the bad and continue to ride my bike in my loose yoga pants. I’ll keep coloring my hair until I decide not to. I’ll paint in a brow line and rub anti-ageing cream pretty much everywhere from the forehead down. And that’s okay.
Moral of the story: Keep pushing the pedals. There’s a lot more fun to be had.
My friend, who I’ll call Empress in this story because she really is an Empress, is marking her two-month anniversary of Diagnosis Day.
In my friend’s case, the diagnosis is rheumatoid arthritis. R.A. is incurable, painful, debilitating and potentially fatal. Treatment plans vary according to the individual and healthcare provider. The disease, like many autoimmune illnesses, flares and then quiets like the hesitation between Fourth of July fireworks, making you wonder if each display is another burst of sparks or the blazing finale.
Anyone who has had a medical diagnosis of a nasty disease knows that this particular day will stand out among other days. For many, D-Day can offer a strange relief. Finally, there’s a name for all of the unexplained pain, dizziness or whatever bewildering symptoms. On my D-Day, my first thought was “Hey, maybe I’m not crazy after all.”
On my D-Day, my first thought was
“Hey, maybe I’m not crazy after all.”
I’d had two years of odd rashes on my face, legs and arms. My fingernails warped and rippled. I was always tired. My joints felt like balls of fire. My ribs and heart were sore. I was depressed yet caring for a 7-month-old son while pregnant with my daughter. When my physician called me at home one evening with the results of my most recent round of blood tests and told me that I definitely had systemic lupus erythematosus, I was almost delighted. Finally, a name! Finally, a reason! Finally, a treatment plan!
Photo credit: Albumarium/Chiara Cremaschi
The odd euphoria of D-Day ebbed quite a bit when I realized that remission was not around the corner and that the coming years would require that I change my expectations about certain facets of my life that I thought were part and parcel of who I am. Or was. Or will be.
Still, if I were to place SLE in one hand and my old self in the other, I would hold on to the Me with SLE. I used to let little things get to me but having this disease has forced me to see life from a different perspective. I don’t get ruffled easily. I avoid drama. I appreciate more. Sure, I miss out on some things due to pain, fatigue or my sensitivity to sunlight, but what I do have I hold more closely to my heart than I think I would have pre-SLE.
Empress is moving from the shock of D-Day through the grief of losing a part of yourself without really knowing what the part will be. Yes, there’s a reason for today’s blinding pain and the mental fogginess. The question really is all about tomorrow and the days after that.
Of course, no one knows from one day to the next what will be gained or lost. I would argue that for the most part, most people can live with the belief that tomorrow will be much like today in terms of physical and mental capacity.
For the person with a “Diagnosis” it’s virtually a certainty that each day will be uncertain. Sometimes, I see myself as an adventurer going into each day and night with hope and curiosity. Other times I’m grumpy and tired. We all build our own way of adjusting. I don’t know what the Empress will build for herself as an outcome of D-Day, but I’m hoping it will be a crystalline outgrowth: reflective, illuminating and precious.
Do you have a story about your D-Day that you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments below.