Driving Miss Iris

My dog Sweetie, sister Libby, & Dad, Warren O'Brien, Jan 1968, CMU
My quest for independence and higher education coincided with my parents’ divorce fifty years ago. The second of their five daughters, I kissed my mother good-bye and carried my clothes and toiletries to Dad’s 1965 Chrysler.
           My younger sister Libby and dog Sweetie tagged along to CMU. They followed me to my suite occupied with two roommates who hadn’t yet returned from semester break.
Dad nodded to three large photos taped to the wall above a record player. “Looks like you have women of color for roommates,” he said.
“I don’t think so, Dad. That’s a poster of Diana Ross and the Supremes,” I explained.
Before Dad and Libby left me standing alone in newfound freedom, Nellie, my first roommate other than my sisters or Aunt Goldie, arrived. We introduced ourselves and returned outside Woldt Hall where Libby snapped our photo with Dad and Sweetie. 
Wanting them to linger, I snapped a picture I hoped to remember forever. Dad dressed in a suit holding his car keys. Libby in her camel coat. They look down to Sweetie who looks up to me with her sad Cocker Spaniel eyes.
When Dad drove away, I didn't anticipate the sinking feeling that crashed like a wrecking ball upon my confidence. What was I thinking? What would I do without Sweetie, my confidant?
That separation imposed my first lesson in independence and higher education. Both come with a price.
A homebody without a home, I found a housecleaning job for a professor’s wife. Dr. Kipfmueller arrived at 8 a.m. sharp Saturday mornings before my dorm. Sometimes he brought their little guy John along. We rode in silence to their large house in downtown Mt. Pleasant.

Sweetie, Nellie my room mate, me, & Dad

I worked for Mrs. Kipfmueller during and after her pregnancy with Maggie, one of their six children. My $10 paycheck covered Sunday meals and other necessities.
After we married in 1970, Mel and I carpooled to work in his 1966 Mustang. Three years later, I inherited the Mustang when Mel’s new job with Proctor & Gamble included a company car.
I’ve since lived the typical American upward mobility stay-at-home Mom lifestyle, working part time around our children’s school and work schedules. After the youngest graduated from high school, I drove to Oakland Community College and Oakland University and earned my bachelor’s degree before my fiftieth birthday.

I’ve driven Ireland’s roads solo. I know the beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains and the hairpin turns of Italy’s Dolomites.
These experiences meant nothing last June 26 after a three-second syncope episode claimed I shouldn't drive for six months. In other words, I lost consciousness while sitting in my writing chair and Mel became my chauffer—his first unofficial, unpaid job—driving Ms Iris.                   
Six months into his retirement from forty-seven years as an outside salesman, Mel fit the role like a pro. We adapted to my dependency upon him for transport to my plethora of doctor’s appointments and tests, writing groups, and volunteer commitments. 
In the process, we discovered A Taste of Europe Crepes on Auburn Road. And grocery shopping is much more fun with Mel. I’ve grown fond of his valet service.
Dear Reader, the doctors have no explanation for my fainting spell, so I’m on the road again. From my perspective, independence and higher education seem overrated.
I see the need for companionship bound within dependence, an enduring benefit often sacrificed in my pursuit of individuality.
After fifty years, I'm learning the price I’ve paid.