Monday, October 6, 2008

If only everything were so clearcut

When I was about sixteen or seventeen years old, I was in the SCA.  I started when I was thirteen, so by that point, I had already established a social place for myself: I had some friends, people knew who I was, there was some potentially creepy interest by way older guys.  Your standard "you're young, a girl, and not fat" roll-call for the SCA.

I hung out a lot with the crowd in Hamilton, Ontario, because they were raucous and fun-loving, and swore and shouted, and were generally different from my more prim, proper group in London.  My friend Reb took me to a fighter practice in the park one summer evening, and we watched the guys, and giggled, and chatted, and then somebody mentioned he'd ridden his motorcycle.

"I've never been on a motorcycle," I said.

"Do you want a ride?"

Hell yes.  So he asked his girlfriend if I could borrow her helmet and jacket and loaded me, nervous sixteen year old, onto the back of his bike and we took off.  He took me on long winding roads, around curves; he pointed out beautiful trees and stopped at an overlook so we could see across the city.  He moved like a dancer on that bike, and I felt a weirdly symbiotic relationship; we were a unit, the three of us, him, me, and the bike.

He delivered me back to fighter practice probably less than an hour later and slid the helmet off my head and I threw my arms around him, breathless.  My face hurt from smiling.  A year or so later, he took me out again; this time, after swerving me around corners into the starry night, he stopped, pulled over, and told me to get in front of him on the bike.  He put my hands on the controls and showed me where to press, then climbed on the back and let me drive for as long as I wanted (which was, as it turns out, about five minutes).

I've lost touch with him, although I was good friends with him for years, long past my awkward blossoming, my cynical refusal to call anyone by their persona names, my departure from the SCA.  

Driving the bike wasn't what I loved.  I understand the pull of it: the mighty control of this wild beast-like thing, directing yourself between cars and through traffic, master of your fate, captain of your soul.  But the riding...that's what I like.  I can look around me without joggling the bike, not concentrate on the road.  I can press up against someone's back and feel that symbiotic relationship again, like we're all three connected.  I have someone in front of me to cut the wind.

Today, I crossed the Bay Bridge at sunset on the back of a motorcycle.  There was a low fog over the city across the Bay, hiding Alcatraz and Golden Gate from view, and the pale jutting triangles of sailboats drifted near the Embarcadero.  The city lights started to sparkle behind us as we wound up Skyline Drive to look out over the city.  The sky painted itself tangerine and mango and peach and finally, dark silky blue.  The stars came out.  And still we slipped through the night, shifting weight in unison to bank the turns, silent in our separate bubbles.

When we stopped, I had a headache from too much smiling.

Thank you, Reed.  I haven't been on a bike in at least four years, and it was a wonderful, beautiful, unforgettable evening.  And thank you, Todd, wherever you are, for putting me on the path that led here, to my love of riding, my heart full of joy and this experience and the world.  

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