When you’re a passenger on a motorcycle, the main view you have is the back of the helmet of the driver, the nape of his neck, the edge of his haircut; in my case today, the haircut I last gave him, the evidence of the need for the next one. He took us out to the edge of our suburbs, and we entered a portal into Hill Country, the road winding and climbing and dipping through limestone overgrown with thriving ash junipers and discouraged oaks, with side views of the fingers of the lake, hundreds of rocky feet down. In the way that time and events can circle and overlap in Emersonian spirals, I was reminded of first meeting R. 34 years ago about this time of year, of our rides on his motorcycle then from the school where I taught in Delaware out to Winterthur Garden and to the countryside of Pennsylvania and its Longwood Gardens. His hair then was much longer in the back, its darkness untouched by gray, all the contours of his neck and shoulders uncharted territory to me. I was reminded, too, of late summer a few years later, of another motorcycle, the one I bought for him so that we could each commute to our separate work and schools on different schedules and still be able to afford the vehicle purchase price, its insurance, its gas. I remembered one trip on that bike from Atlanta to Chattanooga and back again in the fall, the air crisp, the sky gray—as opposed to today’s bright sun and high humidity—and the leaves aflame.
R. sold that motorcycle 28 years ago to pay a midwife to shepherd me through my first pregnancy and deliver our oldest son at home. (As events turned out, she used the funds to leave the country, and we had to find other care in the last trimester, but that is another story, one involving a doctor wearing cowboy boots with his scrubs at a birthing center.) Two more sons and a move to Texas brought a protective SUV built in 2001 that we still drive, our trusty white steed with 297,583 miles on its round rubber hooves. It’s been our home away from home, our shelter and safety against weather and traffic, the site of transformative conversations. It drove our two youngest to kindergarten; a couple of times, it has moved them and all their things to college and grad school.
About ten days ago, R. purchased via Craigslist that same make of motorcycle he once sold to pay for our first son’s birth—an old school café bike, stripped down and essential, a sort of refined ruggedness—but a 1983 model instead of a 1980 one. At the tax office, he was issued classic plates for it, evidence of vehicles moving into impressive agedness so much more quickly than humans do. Today was my first ride on it. To prepare for the occasion, I changed into jeans (which I rarely wear); I braided my hair. Our full-face helmets are Bluetooth connected, saving us from the shouting and head turning that discouraged conversations while riding back in the day. As I climbed on, I thought about threat to life and limb; I thought about the fraught passages from then to now, from South Jersey to Central Texas, all the geographical and metaphorical miles we’ve traveled together. I settled onto my seat, allowed myself to soften into the lean and sway of his lead, and wanted it never to end.