There is nothing quite like the rush of the wind through your hair. The rumbling of a bike between your legs. The way the whole world streaks at your side as you pass by. Lean into the turns, hug your body into the tank, or on a night like that, hug into the driver. I had been on motorcycles as early as I can remember. At just four years old my dad would put my sister on the back seat and toss my legs on the handlebars with my back resting on him. We wouldn’t go far, but sometimes a trip around your childhood development can fill your heart with a sense of adventure like you’d traveled miles around the country.
Harley’s were as common to me as any other vehicle. My dad bought my sisters and I a little Honda Rebel to learn on, and I spent countless afternoons riding that Rebel up and down that county road outside of his shop.
I was going to be the woman with her own bike, not the passenger. Then life happened, and getting my own bike fell down the list on my priorities. The summer I returned home from my first trip studying abroad changed a lot of things for me. I came home and broke up with my long term relationship from high school. I came home knowing that I was going to return to Switzerland that fall. Most importantly, I came home with a new sense for adventure. Each morning adventure greeted me at my bed side like an alarm clock, jarring me awake.
Which is why when an old friend texted me out of the blue asking if I wanted to go out riding later that night I never hesitated in replying yes. It didn’t matter in my mind that it had been a couple years now since my last ride, or that I’d never ridden with this friend; hell I hadn’t even seen this friend in a couple years.
I pulled on a pair of jeans, zipped up my jacket and wiggled my toes in my boots, I couldn’t wait. The sound of the bike filled my kitchen announcing his arrival. I said goodbye to my sister and brother-in-law and headed out the garage door. After a quick hello he handed me his helmet and we were off. That old saying “it’s like riding a bike”, applies to bikes with engines too.
I melted right into his back, and fell in love all over again with the feeling of that engine rumbling below us.
We talked about meeting up with some friends from high school at the library in our hometown. I knew exactly what turns he would take to get there, and with each passing minute I relaxed my grip on his sides a little more. We stopped to make a left turn into the library waiting for a break in the opposing traffic. We were on a main road in North Royalton and there was a bit of traffic that night. He lowered his feet onto the ground to hold up the bike, and I sat up in my seat, letting go of his side. I looked over to my left and saw the group of bikes we’d be joining soon.
The sky that night was so clear. My helmet had twisted on my face after the impact, but I could still see how blue the sky was. I know people were yelling, and crying, I heard him screaming in pain; but I kept focusing on that blue sky. I tried to sit up, but fuck that hurt… don’t do that again. I turned my head but I couldn’t see anything in this helmet… nothing but blue.
Despite what everyone suggested, I took the helmet off. I laid in the middle of the road, spread evenly across the double yellow. The car that hit us had been abandoned in front of me, it’s passengers were now sobbing on the side of the road to my right. I focused my eyes on him, his hand stuck under the front wheel of his bike that he flipped over on impact. The car smashed into our back wheel so forcefully that the wheel and the grill of the car had now become one. The bike stood up right with my friends hand trapped under the wheel. I watched as two men freed him from the wheel, and he ran directly to my side. I still hadn’t moved. Laying there didn’t hurt, so that’s what I did. Our bodies are amazing things when we go into shock. I looked at him and looked around at what had happened. I questioned how long we’d have to stay there before I could just go home. I reached into my pocket and called my sister on my cell phone. Her and I have a connection, similar to twins; and she knew right away something was wrong- even more so then I did.
So I looked at the sky, and held his hand, while he tried to hide his other hand against his chest. His only concern was me. Everyone was worried about me, and I just wanted to go home. The ambulance and fire truck pulled up and now my new concern was being naked in front of all of those people. They cut off my pants and my shirt. They took off my boots and shoved everything into a bag. Panic started to set in when they questioned how I felt, and what hurt. I didn’t know how to answer the questions and couldn’t focus. They loaded me up at took me to the hospital. I guess I’m not going home.
I fractured my L1 and 2; well the driver did. Shock wore off, and there was pain. I hate any and all pain medication, something I surely inherited from my grandpa. I’ll never forget his stories of crazy “dreams” when he was prescribed Oxy after a procedure. “I’ll never take that shit again!”
I hear ya gramps- I won’t either. Before the nurse finished hanging the bag with Dilaudid I was in tears, sobbing for the first time that night. My dad, sister and brother-in-law had just arrived and laughed in response to my tears caused by the medicine. That warm rush of medication taking over my body is something I’ll never forget, and why I still don’t like pain meds. I’ll take the pain, and full feeling of my body every time. I asked about him, and felt comfort knowing he was in a room down the hall and ok. I fell asleep.
I wore a brace for a couple months, but healed quickly. I spent too much money on jackets to cover up the brace. I slept on the floor so that I could take off the brace but still keep my back flat. I stopped taking any medication a few days later choosing the pain over the numbness. I returned to work, dated (even in that brace- talk about a confidence boost if you can get a guy even in a full metal brace), and left for Europe in the fall as planned. It wasn’t the summer I had imagined, and my light of adventure was dimmed. For the first time in my life I was filled with fear of the world around me. Fear for what I can’t control. Fear of how quickly it can all be taken from you.
He says he was changing the radio station, looked up and hit us. We never found out for certain, but he was most likely texting… that 16 year old boy who hit us. His life changed that day too. I flew off the back of the bike, landed on the windshield of his car and slid off onto the road. I’m sure our nightmares are the same, just from a different perspective. He might still text and drive, but maybe he doesn’t.
My friend and I spent that summer together, but eventually grew apart again. He was there for anything I needed, and I think still feels awful for what happened. I do not blame him, or anyone really. It was an accident, an awful accident.
I received very sad news last night that a friend of mine from middle school and high school was killed on his motorcycle Sunday morning just ten minutes down the road from my current house. I hadn’t talked to this friend since high school graduation, and had no clue he lived so close to me now. He was apart of a different life, and dated one of my best friends growing up. His accident wasn’t much different from mine, except he didn’t survive his. An SUV failed to yield and turned right in front of him to pull into a gas station.
This life, this fast paced, rush from one thing to the next life distracts us from everything that life is worth living for. He was 26 years old, the same age I am today. He was a really good person. He was kind, and funny, and too young. My heart is broken for the life he would have had. The family he would have created, the wife he would have made so happy; and the children who would have had a wonderful father. I’m heartbroken for the woman so distracted by needing to fill her gas tank that she didn’t check twice to make sure the road was clear. Her life continues, knowing she’s ended another. That feeling, that knowledge… I can only imagine the weight that puts on your heart.
Life is fragile. It’s fragility is partly what make it so beautiful. The importance of each day cannot be measured. I healed and went on to get married, and start a family. I’m forever grateful for how fortunate I am. My heart is broken for my old friend, and his friends and family who have to keep going in this fragile world without him.
Everyday there is something that will stress us. Something that feels so urgent, so important that it cannot wait. It will distract us while driving. It will distract us from those tiny kids begging for our attention. It will distract us at 5:00 when we should leave work and make it home for dinner. The distractions of bills to be paid, plans to be kept, emails to be returned…
Life is NOT those distractions. It’s everything in between. It’s the moments when we put our phones down and really see the beautiful world around us. The moment when we roll our windows down on the ride to the gas station and perhaps hear the bike approaching ahead. Life is when we tune in and watch a child take their first step. Tune in and know the exact moment someone needs a hug, or encouraging words.
This tragedy to my friend reminded me of my accident years ago that could have very well taken away everything I hold so dear in my life now. Today I will breathe in the fresh air, slow down, squeeze these kids for a little longer, and kiss my husband more because I am so very fortunate that I can.
Rest In Peace my old friend, you will be missed.