Over the last 10 years motorcycles took on an increasing role in my life. Five years into this adventure, my dog of 13 years had died, my daughter had grown away, my fiancee and I blew apart. I tasted increasing doubt in the moral proposition of my work world.
With little else in their way, bikes came more to the fore. Walked up like a malign horse, nuzzled me on the neck. Them big teeth.
“First one’s free” NESBA said. Come for a half-day, free. Sure. What could possibly go wrong? I took that half-day free at the 2006 season’s-end. I’d brought Bessie with me. She was my Beemer.
So. My M.O. is to put much, much, too much, energy into fancies. I study, do pushups, read read read. So I did. I started for real, April of the 2007 season.
J.J. Pearce High School, Dallas, Texas, 1980s. I really did try to be a good drummer. I took lessons. Players shook their heads. Now, I’m okay. Kicked The Doors’ “Soul Kitchen” with my New York hipster in-laws on Memorial Day. Glad I’d ordered the right Bono glasses for the occasion. Talent continues to play hookey.
United States Army, 1990s. I really did try to be a good officer. I read the manuals, got the haircuts, wore the glasses. I took lessons. I got okay at it. Sometimes I was ok plus-plus. Other times, soldiers shook their heads.
The last 17.8 years have been all about the unexpected daughter. For 3 of the aunts and abuelitas in my family, well, their fathers lit out on them. I took lessons. I read the books. I was never late, never absent, never mysterious. I used to be more fun, but there you have it.
Military-Industrial Complex, Washington DC, 2000s. For my day job I’m an engineer. I read the books. I survive in a lowest-appraised-house-on-the-block way. On any given day, I get to trade bathroom stalls with the smart kids. Except for a persistent sense of inadequacy — and the stupid polygraph tests, I consider that okay. It’s a body-shop operation. As long as I’m billing hours by the quarter-hour, I’m a highly-valued employee. Better to hang out with the scary-smarties instead of the low-rider cedar-choppers south of north Dallas.
Mine is a Spanish-Texan family history of bipolarity. Manic-depression, anxiety attacks, self-defeating behaviors, traditionally just shy of self-destructives. Great, grandmother, mother, son, niece. Always the gift to the generation’s first-born. I am true to that history. Although treated, it persists like mosquitos and ticks. It has a goat’s appetite. There are of course the pound-packing meds from The Pez Dispenser, the weekly jaw-jack with The Talkin’ Doc, the occasional stagger, the melts, the shakes.
The manic first hit in the Mojave Desert. Those were the non-stop, never-sleep desert war games. For 2 weeks there were the nights’ interminable light-line missions, the eye-burn of the Night Observation Device AN/PVS-4s, the days’ sandstorms and the kevlar brain bake-sales.
Back in garrison, there was the shower, some sleep, a pot, a pan. Then the midnight. That’s when the markers came out. My cinderblock walls had the world maps hundred-mile-an-hour-taped to them. At 3 am there was the drawing of lines across timezones, the linking of latitudes, the tying of the temperate zones. Come the sun, there was the no-radio, the no-tv, the ever empty answering machine, the bicycle repairs, the tanning of leathers.
The depression daisy blossomed after my second sabbatical in ShockTrauma, September last year. Three years apart, the first and second, of those sleepy periods. The first one, track, broke the upper part. Eleven days later with 11 broken bones but still ambulatory mostly. The second one 7 months ago, road and it broke my helmet. That was a Monday, on the way to see My Talkin’ Doc, you know to get my mind right. Back to Shock Trauma. Two days and 3 pins in my left hand later I was back on the block. Tuesday came and went — so i hear. Wednesday, too, they claim. Thursday I sort of remember.
Ask anyone who’s known me. Fully 4 out of 5 dentists surveyed would say that:
- “He is volatile, he’s inconsistent.”
- “We don’t know why he always takes the hard way.”
- “He was an okay officer but it didn’t do him any good, never the same after.”
- “He’s very giving.”
- “That dog brought him back.”
- “He did his best.”
- “Of anyone I know, Justin should not be on a bike.”
- “Why the infantry?”
- “He doesn’t give up much … kind of a self-absorbed motherfucker.”
- “When I heard you were having a daughter, I never figured you’d stick around.”
- “I don’t know him anymore.”
- “Hasn’t been the same since the first accident … irritable.”
So, I, too, want to pass as cats. I want to be a ballerina on a bike. I want to be Bob Dylan.
I sought beauty in different places. Writing, brother-ing, father-ing, soldier-ing, leading, mountaineering, coding, and oh yeah, the go-fast.
I watch Formula One auto racing with my rally-driver stepfather. Raikkonen is super-human. Weber is a sucky starter. Schumacher’s a bastard. I fail to see the must-be-there beauty. Not my type of girl I suppose.
Ain’t none of it the knee out there in the unforgiving air.
So is this the end? Am I still in the first phase of grief? Do I not see past the head-injured horizon? My dogs are gone. My daughter is gone. My work is gone. What the fuck?
Any management consultant would suggest one
Sell the leathers, the back protectors, the rib guards, the never-worn brand-new boots. Of course that cracked-up helmet probably won’t fetch much at the yard sale.
What next for the boy?