Friday, October 1, 2010

Riders in the Storm: Chapter One.

The Story of a Chance Meeting.  

      “I never got into the social part of motorcycling,” said the man with the black helmet.  “I never went to meetups or went on group rides. Hell, I don’t even wave back when I get the rider’s salute on the road. The bike to me was always a way to be alone, like taking a boat out to sea or going on a long walk through the woods.
      One night I had been riding for hours. Things were going really wrong in my life and I didn’t want to go home. I feel that way a lot. So on this night, I was in the mountains. It is stupid to ride up there at night, much less when you are upset about something. But I didn’t care. I rode past deer and against strong gusts of wind, until I came to a lookout point with a view of the valley. I had been there many times before, but this was the first time I wasn’t there alone. A man stood by the brick railing, looking out and smoking a cigarette. He didn’t look back when he was lit up by my headlights. Didn’t look back when I walked up beside him. Gave me the impression that he wanted to be alone and that suited me just fine. I walked to the other end of the lookout and pulled out a cigarette. But my lighter was gone.
      A good while passed before I asked him for a light. By that time he was sitting on the ground, with his back to the railing. He said nothing but tossed me his lighter. I caught it despite the darkness, lit up and brought it back to him. He was really… I don’t know, serene or tranquil or something. His face was in a kind of half smirk and he seemed to be looking off into some place that wasn’t the road or the mountain face. I handed him the lighter and turned to walk away. Then he spoke to me. 
      “Where you headed?” 
The thing about strangers is that you can be honest with them. You won’t ever see them again so there is no need to keep up your fronts or to hide anything. At that time, a moment of honesty for me would have been a moment of rest. So I spoke back.
      “Nowhere,” I said. “And the quicker I get there the better.” 
      “Huh. I think I might be headed nowhere as well.” 
      “It’s a good place to be sometimes. Why are you going?”
      “Why does anybody go?” he asked me. “It’s where life takes you.”
He sounded resigned when he said that. Defeated. It was like his face and his voice didn’t match up. I sat down next to him and took a drag. I told him about my family and my job. I told him about my anxiety. Basically, I put all the bad stuff in my life on the shoulders of a guy I didn’t know. That’s what therapy is, right? Anyway, he seized on something I said and responded:
      “You know, the two greatest lies I was ever told are that it can’t get any worse than it already has and that I can ‘make it through this.’ I used to depend on affirmations like that. Now they just sound like jokes.”
      “Is that why you come out here? So you don’t have to hear any of the bullshit that people tell you when they don’t really know what to say?”
      “Yeah. I suppose it is. I also have trouble sleeping.”
      “Ha. And yet eventually we have to go back and face things. There’s no escape.”
He finished his cigarette and ground the butt under his heel. “Can I give  you some advice? It’s something that people shouldn’t do too much of, but I don’t know you so it doesn’t really matter. 
      “Yeah,” I said. Shoot.”
      He paused for a long while before he spoke. Eventually, he said: “Life is terrifying. Anybody who doesn’t think so either isn’t paying attention or is sucking on some religion or who the hell knows. Whatever way that you think about  yourself, or what others think of you—you can betray it. You can fail and you have your whole life to do it. And failure is heavy. Self help books talk about turning it into gold or some shit, but at night when you’re alone it eats at you. A thousand medals might not be enough to cover just one scar. So fuck it. If you don’t like your situation, leave it. I know that it’s harder than it sounds, but it can’t be any harder than life already is and you haven’t jumped over this railing yet, so fuck it. And if something in your life is worth staying for, then clear away everything except for that. Cause all those voices that beat you down every day will eventually fade away. Something will happen to make you change what you care about, or something you thought was a serious part of you will be lost. But the terror will always be there. The terror and the failure. Whatever you have that’s worth enduring the terror of life and the weight of your failure is what you should hold on to. Tattoo that shit on your chest and push away anybody who thinks otherwise.”
      We sat in silence for a long time after that. I mean, how do you respond when somebody unloads on you like that? I just sat there and thought about what he said and wondered why he was so calm and peaceful when he seemed to be going through the same things I was going through. 
      Then there were blue lights in the distance. I thought the police would round the corner and disappear but they pulled up right next to my bike. Two officers jumped out and called out a name to us. It was this dude’s name.  He didn’t want to identify himself but I guess they had a description or something. One of the cops walked up to him and said that his wife thought he would be here, and that he was coming with them even if they had to cuff him.
      It was at that point that the guy’s calm just turned to sadness. He stood up to face the cops, but faltered. I grabbed him and so did the cop. The other one ran up and took my place and together they walked him to the squad car. It was weird. I mean, they were completely ignoring me and they weren’t really acting like he was hostile. When they got him in the car, I asked one of the officers what was going on. She said that he had taken a whole bottle of sleeping pills and they had to get him to a hospital as soon as possible. Then they pulled out and sped back down the mountain, sirens blazing.”
      The man with the black helmet took a brief break from his story to sip a bit of beer. His companions at the table sighed but did not speak. Outside the tavern, the storm raged on and bolts of lightning lit up the sky. When he put down his beer, he said, “So, finally, I knew why he was so calm; the pills were setting in. But I realized some other things too. I had thought we were similar, that we were going through the same thing. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I was right about that. He was like me, but maybe further down the line. That was a really cold night. It took everything I had to get back on my bike and keep moving. And I guess I have been moving ever since. All because if some advice I got from a dead man.”
      The men at the table considered this as they drank. The man with the white helmet asked:
      “So what is it that’s the reason that you endure? What do you have that’s worth the terror of life and the weight of failure?”
      “I wish I could tell you, “ he responded. “But we’re strangers and I save that level of honesty for my friends.”
      The man with the white helmet laughed and held up his beer in a small toast. The bar had fallen into a lull, quiet enough to hear the television. There was more news of the weather and it wasn't good.
    "It seems that we will be here a while yet," said the man with the black helmet. "Maybe we should hear another story."


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