I wrapped my arms around him and held on tightly as we motored down the gravel lane from our house to the highway. As he pulled out onto the highway and gunned the bike up to 60 mph, I felt fragile, precarious. Without a windshield or a backrest on the bike, it felt as though the wind could knock me off the back of my seat in an instant. In the rush of the wind, I could not hear Eli speak to me, though I saw the corner of his mouth move. I saw him smile in the rearview mirror.It’s not as though I’m a total stranger to the motorcycle. My first rides took place when I was small, a child on my father’s bike, riding up front while my sister rode on the back, Dad in between us. I don’t recall ever being afraid. After all, Dad was God, infallible. I had known him to dump the bike, skinning his arms hideously, but with us aboard I knew that it would never happen. Calamity couldn’t touch us; he wouldn’t let it. He hugged me to his chest with one bear arm as he steered with the other, and I relished the feel of the breeze through my hair and on my skin. I loved the drivers of cars and pedestrians turning to watch us as we motored through town and the rush of green fields passing in a blur as we left them behind.
In my earliest cycling sojourns with Dad, I remember the helmet as incidental. In the days before car seats, when we rode all the way to Florida lying in the back of the nine passenger station wagon, thrusting our bare toes up to push round patterns into the padded roof of the car, we weren’t required to wear such a thing as a motorcycle helmet. We might wear it because it was utterly cool—my Dad’s sparkling turquoise helmet, but we wore it more often as a costume piece during our circus performances, playing the human cannonball, and not so much during motorcycle rides.
After those frequent childhood rides, motorcycles faded from my radar. I wasn’t all that interested, probably because I had entered an angry and standoffish period in my relationship with my dad, and didn’t know anyone else who rode. There was one clandestine ride during high school, on the back of the bike of a boy much older than me, but that was only to impress and scandalize the group of girls I was with at the time. And then I was a teenager, and thus invincible. ;)So when recently I rode with my dad again, this time on a Harley-Davidson, a gorgeous machine the likes of which was never in our reach during my childhood, it was after at least a twelve year hiatus from riding. And still, I was not afraid. I still trust my dad implicitly, respect him, and know in my bones that my well-being is at the heart of much of what he does. I do not worry that he will showboat, or hesitate, or falter. With me as his passenger, he is cautious and strong. I trust his balance, his timing, and coordination. With him in control, I am comfortable as a rider.
With Eli, it’s another story entirely.
With Eli I know that I am getting on the back of a bike driven by someone whose motorcycle experience is severely limited. He didn’t tool around on them as a boy, or as a teenager. Only as an adult has he taken up the pastime of motorcycle riding, purchasing his first bike mere months ago, logging mere hours of riding time in stark contrast to the lifetime my dad has spent manipulating these machines. He is inexperienced and lacks confidence. His body is lanky and tall, and I worry about his balance. I worry that I weigh nearly as much as he does, that the addition of my weight to the bike will be too much for him to handle.
I am 30. I am no longer the unquestioningly trusting child, riding with her father. I am no longer the brazen teenager, driven by hormones. I am a woman with responsibilities, with a young son to care for. And yet, yesterday, I found myself swinging my leg up and over that bike, planting my butt firmly on the seat, and throwing caution to the winds that rushed past us as we flew down the highway.
I do not yet trust him with my heart, but yesterday I found that trusting Eli with my body felt like a step in the right direction.
Of course, I wore a helmet.