I heard the snap and looked back to see my new license plate holder and light carousel across the two-lane highway while my bike rolled to a stop. There I was, on the edge of town with the sun going down, and no cell phone (which I broke working on said bike the day before). As I lay on my back finessing the thick chain back onto the first sprocket, “why” floated through my head along with “how did I get here, I didn’t even like chopper motorcycles?”
But there I was, with a set of Allen wrenches and knowing what to do. When my son died on his Harley, I sold mine. My wife told me don’t do it for her, but I shed a few tears when the Marine with PTSD told me this is going to help him get back in the world and drove off. I figured I’d never get on a bike again.
The chopper frame sat rusting in my barn. It was bought from Squidge who was suffering from cancer after getting new lungs. I thought it would be something we could build together but death had other ideas. Later Aaron and I were going to build it, but again, death won. So there it sat until I pulled it from the shadows, rinsed it off, and got up on top. I can do this. I took a few classes, made another friend, Jeremy, and read a book.
“But your son died on a bike.” No one says it, but I’m sure they think it. Just like they wonder how I could leave my wife for the wilderness the year after Aaron was struck down. My book When Sunday Smiled answers that question.
There I was, broke down. I got further than ever, the last two times my bike died on the bridge and hemorrhaged gas like an Exon tanker.
Two other bikers in pickup trucks stopped by. One guy told me he drove across the entire country on his 1930 something Harley and never broke down. I drove across town.
I know that my day of reckoning has already been appointed. David who faced death many times wrote, “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139:16). Bikers say it better, “when your time is up, it’s up.” I don’t want to tempt fate, I don’t want to worry my family, and I sure don’t want anyone to get the officer at their door with a downcast look and well-rehearsed speech.
I know about my son, remember, I’m the guy who taught him how to ride his first bike? The thing is to build this bike I used my son’s tools, I even used one of his parts, and carry his spark plug gapper. The emblem I airbrushed was inspired by his tattoo that stretched across his back. My bike is homebuilt, sturdy and American. It stands for something good, something right, even when everyone looks at me like I’m all wrong. They see a little old man broken down at dusk and shake their heads. Maybe they laugh, I’m sure they ask why as they adjust their air conditioning and drive on. All I see is my son.
The world will make you crazy, like John Prine sings in Crazy as a Loon. So, I drive away, now with hands blackened from grease, and jeans covered with dirt and stone from the road’s shoulder. My taillight and license plate holder are tucked in my P.O.W. t-shirt. I hustle home hoping the cars see me and the cops don’t.
After pulling up my drive, I turn off Aretha, named for the song R-E-S-P-E-C-T, and hold the tiny key that controls so much. Aaron’s spark plug gapper hangs from the key and I can see him rushing to see if the bike is okay. Then he makes fun of me, and I shake my head.
Maybe you get it by now, maybe not. For me, it is worth it, every trial, every failure, even the seven stitches when my grinder wheel broke and dug into my hand.
“We did it,” I think as I start to climb the steps, now in the dark. I remember what my father-in-law told me one time. When he was much younger, he went to great lengths to shoot a racoon out of a tree in the middle of the night with his father-in-law. “Boy,” he told me, “now you really did something.”
I’m a Clinical Psychologist who lost a child and turned to the wilderness for answers. What I experienced was miraculous! What I found is recorded in When Sunday Smiled at: Amazon.com
Now it’s a finalist for Christian Memoir of the Year and has it’s own song. check out both at AndyMDavidson.com. Don’t forget to say Hi!