In Progress

I mostly just do it to feel the wind in my hair.

When people ask me about why I do it, I come up with some other bullshit reason—something that sounds more meaningful: adrenaline is my drug, it makes me feel unstoppable, it makes me feel like I’m doing something during the many hours of the night I spend not being able to sleep.

But really, there’s just nothing quite like the sensation of my long hair—set free from the tight bun I have to keep it in at work—whipping behind me as I climb speed. The rumble of the motorcycle under me starts to numb my legs, my hands, my arms until I feel like it’s just my hair flying in the wind.

See? Nobody would understand if I tried to explain it. That’s why I have to come up with lies whenever people ask me why I spend so many of my nights racing motorcycles at high speeds.

I wish I could say it didn’t start because of a guy, but that’s how it always seems to go for me: Some new crush pushes me to try whatever he’s into and then I realize I like the activity more than the guy. This one happened pretty unexpectedly. I was bored at a family wedding, looking for a way to distract myself when everyone around me was at least ten years older or younger, so I started chatting with the only person my age: the bartender. The longer we talked, the more I drank, and the quicker the chatting turned into flirting. Before I knew it, the rest of the wedding guests had cleared out and the bartender grabbed my hand and was leading me to his motorcycle. “This will be fun,” he said. “I swear.”

The rest of the night was a blur, and when I woke up with a splitting headache the next morning, two things stuck out in my booze-addled mind: (1) I had just had one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life, and (2) I wanted to do it again as soon as I could.

But even he and his friends never got why I loved it so much. Everyone has a different reason for riding, I guess. He says he does it because “it makes him feel alive.” I’m convinced he just likes sounding badass when he tries to pick up chicks.

So that’s how I found myself here, leaving work at 12:45 am after finally closing my last table—ripping my apron off and pulling my hair down—and hitting the pavement on my bike instead of heading home to get some rest in preparation for my early morning.

Thought I guess the story doesn’t really start there. The story starts the day I got kicked out of high school after I stopped showing up when it didn’t matter anymore. It starts the day my mama said she didn’t think college was such a good idea for me, because she really needed me to stay home and help her; She wouldn’t be able to do it without me. It starts the day my dad high tailed it out of here—saw a better life somewhere else and snagged it—leaving me and mama and my three younger siblings to figure it out. It starts the day my parents thought this shit-hole of a town was a great place to raise a family.

That’s really how I found myself living this life. Waking up early to get my siblings off to school. I almost cry every time I put them on the bus, their faces so eager to spend the day learning everything they can about the world. They still have hope for a future. I’m stuck walking back home to clean up and get ready to head in to my day job at the bookstore. And then late night shifts at the diner. It makes enough money to supplement mama’s nursing job and keep the family running.

And then the wind in my hair happened. The riding habit cut the amount of sleep I get on a given night from a healthy seven hours to something closer to five, but I don’t care. Riding is more rejuvenating than sleep. Riding is the first time I’ve cared about something since I pulled the college poster off my wall. It was a huge photo of Vanderbilt’s campus. I’m not sure why Vanderbilt—I think we visited when I was a kid on a family trip to Nashville and I just new something felt right. In reality I probably would have gone to some cheap state school, but I would have gone. Vanderbilt just meant away to me.

Now riding is the closest thing I have to that. It takes me somewhere else. Even if I know at the end of this stretch of highway, I’ll turn around and head back; Even if I’m looping around the same back roads over and over—my stomach lurching with every turn; Even if I’ve ridden to the top of the little mountain I’ve climbed since I was a kid, looking over my even smaller town—I feel transported.

The more time I’ve spent riding, the more I’ve spend wondering, What if I kept going? I’ve spent hours on my bike imagining the places I could end up if I just kept going straight through the night. The lives I could lead. And of this life that I wouldn’t have to live any longer.

And that’s how I found myself here tonight, driving past the usual exit where I turn around on the highway, my backpack extra tight with a couple extra changes of clothes and the wads of dollar bills—the tips I’d been carefully keeping for myself over the past few months. I didn’t know where I was going. But I knew I couldn’t stay away…

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I Love You More

In my first memory I am awake during the early hours of the morning. I am sick with some affliction I can’t recall and sitting up in my crib. I am completely quiet and peering through the bars at my father, sprawled out on a cot across the room, barely awake.

His arm hangs off the bed and his mouth is gaping in a sleepy stupor. I imagine him snoring and drooling in and out of consciousness, though I suppose I only added those effects in an effort to dramatize the memory. I imagine how tired he was when he arrived home from work late the previous night, and yet he was ready to take me from my exhausted mother’s arms and care for me through the night. I imagine the relief he felt when I finally fell asleep, the start it would give him should I break my silence with a cry.

There, with the sky growing lighter as the sunlight crept up, was my protector. Over two decades later, I imagine that I stopped myself from crying to allow him to sleep. I imagine that I felt how loved I was, and that I wanted to show it in return.

Of course, I’ve doctored this memory significantly since that night. After all, I was one.

I hold this memory close to me as a symbol of my parents’ love for me (and for my siblings). My mom and dad, like every parent, were infamously sentenced to a few sleepless years with every new baby. Nightly, they mustered the strength to give such tiny, helpless beings their hearts and their rest, well before we could reciprocate or show any gratitude at all. From endless inexplicable cries that last through the night they harvested the strength to hold us anyway, to love us anyway.

Looking back on this most uncomfortable night, I marvel at the feat of surviving hundreds of consecutive graveyard shifts with an infant. It is the ultimate parental responsibility. Staying up all night with an infant is physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting. And a parent has no choice but to push through it and hold their screaming child closer.

The love a parent feels for his or her child is mighty and unshakeable; it is also mandatory. And as a young and unattached millennial, that terrifies me. How awe-inspiring that love is, how permanent its bond; it’s a feeling I don’t believe I have the strength to feel. I grew up saying “I love you” and hearing the response “I love you more.” For all the times I rolled my eyes in playful disagreement and hugged them tighter… I actually believe them now.

For the first time, I am admitting that I don’t love my mom and dad as much as they love me. Knowing that at twenty-two I am not strong enough to do what they did for me, bleary eyed and delusional at four in the morning, fumbling for the bottle warmer and ear drops in the dark, ears ringing, heads pounding, I can say that I’m not strong enough to love someone so fiercely.

How dare I? The people who fed me, clothed me, helped me with my homework, baked me birthday cakes, drove me to track practice, bought me my first pieces of furniture for my first apartment… do they not deserve all the love they gave in return?

Of course they do, but that’s not how it works.

The love I have for them in my heart is no match for theirs. I don’t know what it’s like and won’t know for a long time. In the meantime, my tremendous gratitude for their many sleepless nights will have to suffice.

Falling Awake

Dawn

            the crickets whisper descants like

dynamite

            my head beats, meets

            the pillow with a

punch

            into yesterday, where I’m still

smiling

            at the sunset, now

hiding

          from daybreak with a shield that buries

trembles

            under a blanket, but the dawn

chases

            my tallied thoughts, I can’t

breathe

            my heart penetrates my dreams with

adrenaline

            hunting me with a sunlit

flashlight

             crashing into my eyelids

beep

            Monday is here.