A Little Bit of Death


"Well, now that we've got that out of the way, all we have to do is to find a way to jump start your heart so you can rejoin the human race." My dad was right about one thing; I needed something to bring me back to life.


I screamed my lungs out all the way down on my first and last tandem parachute jump. The only reason I didn't either throw up or shit in my pants was because I had literally nothing in my stomach—good thing.

The Mustang Cobra was fast but the suspension was so stiff it felt like a racecar, and who wanted to drive one of those to and from work everyday? The three Corvettes I test drove were even faster, got a hell of a lot better gas mileage, but didn't give me the rush I was looking for.

I was back to putting one foot in front of the other, all the while caring for my daughter. Both sets of grandparents were great during our time of need, but were smothering Tina. The more they gave or did for her, the more she clung to me.

When I lost Lana I became the mother out of necessity. Now, as I began to enter the human race again, I wanted to be both the mother and father she needed. Shopping for clothes with an almost nine-year-old girl was a new experience for me. Don't get me wrong, I'd often gone shopping with my wife and daughter, and I was there physically, but mentally? Well, that was another story. What happened was they did the shopping; I just stood there pretending to be interested. To me everything looked good on them.

Now Tina wanted my opinion and wasn't satisfied with, "it looks nice," anymore. I came to understand why men don't go shopping with their wives because after a full day at the mall we had only two stupid outfits neither of which I much cared for. But life for the two of us was getting easier—I guess my dad wasn't full of shit.

Six months later, two things happened. I settled with the doctors' insurance company. I wasn't rich, but Tina's education and our immediate future would be totally taken care of. I used a portion to pay off my mortgage on our beach house, including the renovations, and the rest just sat in the bank in money markets. The only thing I had to agree to was no future litigation and accept the fact that they admitted no fault in her death. I signed—nothing was going to bring Lana back. That night I took Tina out to dinner and on the way home we each put a rose on her grave. Alone in my bed I cried, setting myself back four months from where I'd moved forward.

A week later I took Tina to a car and motorcycle show at the downtown armory. It was held inside, but there were a million vendors outside selling everything you could possibly want. We walked the aisles looking at every type of show car and bike that you could imagine. Then I saw it.

Dark, mandarin orange metallic, with lime green, fire engine red, and silver-gray pin stripping. It was a chopper with a front end that went on forever. The chrome wheels shown so brightly you almost needed sunglasses to look at them. It only had a single seat, a short back fender, and a rear tire that must have come off a four by four truck it was so damn wide. Best of all, it had a For Sale sign on it.

I looked it over for what must have been at least twenty minutes while Tina stood by watching me. I asked a few dumb questions before asking permission to sit on it.

"You ride much?"

"Nope, not at all. How does it handle?"

"It'll take you a while to get used to the long front end, and you'll need to watch your speed going into the corners, but besides that it will feel like every other bike you've ever ridden." It probably would have if I'd ever ridden a bike before, which I hadn't. This was the first one I had ever thrown a leg over.

"How much are you asking?

"I've got thirty-two into it, but I need the money," he laughed. "I don't, but my wife thinks we need a house, so all my toys are going." Lana never would have done that to me.

"If you're interested and want to take it for a spin, we can set something up for after the show today."

"I'd like that, but we, or should I say I have a slight problem; I've never ridden one before."

"You mean a chopper?"

"No, I mean a motorcycle."

"You're fucking with me, right?"

"I wish I was. Look, I'm interested, but if you've got other offers don't worry about me," I said, still mesmerized by what I was sitting on."

"Here," he said, handing me his card. "I may regret this, but I'll hold it for two weeks, but that's all. Go to the Harley Davidson dealership and sign up for their riding course. In this state you have to go through this bullshit safety course before you can get a license anyway. And in your case that is exactly what you need."

I got off, we shook hands, and I gave him my cell phone number. I took one more look at it before turning around and walking away.

"Dad, you're not thinking about what I think you're thinking about, are you?" Tina asked, looking up at me. "Grandpa would kill you, you know that, don't you?"

"What Grandpa doesn't know won't hurt him." He was the last thing I was thinking about right now.

"Ridden much?" Was the first question they asked me at the Harley dealership.

"Nope, never. Sat on one though. Guess that's why I'm here." He stamped beginner on my application.

"The class is all day Saturday and Sunday. Once you pass the written and riding test, you can get the endorsement on your driver's license. I gave him a check for two hundred and fifty dollars and that was that—that's what I thought, anyway.

I also needed a helmet, boots, and riding gloves. Now, after three hundred dollars more I could finally leave.

"You're serious about this, aren't you?" my daughter said, looking at me like I'd lost my mind. "Mom would have never let you buy a motorcycle, and Grandpa calls them organ donors on wheels."

"Look, honey, this is something I've got to do right now. I'm not asking you to understand, just trust me on this one."

"You do know I expect a ride before you either crash it or Grandpa finds out and makes you sell it." I noticed she had her mom's smile when she gave me a big one, knowing we now had our own personal secret.

I felt like a total klutz. The book was basically common sense stuff, once you got it in your head you were on two not four wheels. But I'd never ridden a motorcycle. I hadn't even been on a two-wheel bicycle since I was a kid, so it took me a while to get used to it.

Clutch on the left, gas and brake on the right, is what kept going through my mind as I took off for the first time on a bike that looked like it had gone through World War II. They gave us Ducati two-fifty cc motorcycles, and by the looks of them they'd been dropped more than a couple hundred times. Over the next eight hours, I added to that count.

I started the bike, gave it a little gas, let out the clutch, and killed the engine after three feet.

"Give it a little more gas and let the clutch out slower," I was instructed. I started it again, gave it a ton of gas and slowly let out the clutch. The engine was screaming, but I was moving forward and this time I didn't kill the engine. I probably burned out the clutch, but I was riding.

It took a while for me to learn the proper gas to clutch ratio, which finally came with practice. The instructor had the patience of a saint. He had probably seen all the stupid mistakes we were making a million times before. Starting, stopping, and making turns were all that we accomplished that first day. I was drained, stressed to the max, and afraid I would be the first one to fall over—I wasn't, I was the second one. No matter, I felt alive, and every fiber of my body screamed out for more.

Sunday I was the first one there. I had made breakfast for Tina and dropped her off at Tommy's house again. I couldn't take the chance of leaving her with my parents.

The morning consisted of figure eights, sharp turns, rapid stops, and proper lane changes—I was starting to get cocky. When we had to do a figure eight one way and then reverse it without putting our feet down I crashed and burned. It took me three tries and was told if I couldn't do it, I wouldn't pass the riding test. My cockiness evaporated immediately.

That afternoon I missed one question on the written test, and maxed the riding test. We all felt pretty good about ourselves, but the instructor cautioned us saying we would need a lot more actual practice before we could call ourselves even novice riders. We got our certificates and half of us decided to celebrate.

There were twelve people in our class. I was surprised that four of them were women, and most of them had done better than the guys on the riding test. At a local hangout we toasted our good fortune while talking about the bikes we were going to eventually own. A husband and wife said that they were looking at a Harley Ultra. The oldest guy in the class said he already put money down on a trike. When I said that I was looking at a chopper most thought it was a cool bike, but not too practical if I planned on doing any long distance runs. I wasn't thinking long distance. I was thinking to and from work and fun weekend rides, but to be on the safe side, I decided I'd look at other bikes.

All right, Tommy wasn't happy I'd passed, but I made him promise, like I had Tina, not to say a word to anyone. The following weekend, after Tina and I went out to lunch, we started my quest for the perfect bike.

After trying two I realized that a crotch rocket wasn't for me. The best way to describe them was jumping out of a plane without a parachute, and I wasn't going there again.

I rode four cruisers, all Japanese bikes. The Honda had everything that I could possibly need, but it didn't have that wow factor I was looking for. I dug out the phone number from the guy at the show and gave him a call.

Tuesday after work I rode my first Harley Davidson motorcycle. As I said, it wasn't stock but it sure got my juices flowing. It was ten times as loud as the Honda with none of the bells and whistles. A speedometer, a tachometer, and turn signals were all it had. He said he had a custom made windshield for cold mornings, and even a pee pad seat for the rear fender if I was interested.

I almost dropped it going into my first turn. The front rake was so extreme I had to start turning well before I went into the corner, and cut my speed almost in half, but on a straight flat road my heart told me this was what I was looking for.

We talked price for three days before settling on one we could both live with. I think we each got what we wanted out of the deal. Frankly, I think I got the better end of the deal because he threw in all the extras, and for just under twenty-five thousand I had a bike that turned heads, including my own. I thought just a do-rag was in order—I had to look cool, didn't I? But Tina told me she'd make a quick call to her grandfather if she even thought I was riding without a helmet.

On Monday I got into work early, and everyone who came in after me wanted to know who owned the hot bike in the parking lot. I said nothing to anyone and just let everyone look and wonder. Most of the people were gone when I finally left work, however the people who did see me gave me a big smile and a thumb's up.

The following day the men wanted to know the why, however many of the women started to look at me in a whole new light. Did I want the attention? Not really, but I didn't want to be totally ignored either. The only thing I really wanted was to be able to do my thing.

A trip to the dealership to get an oil change was rather enlightening. There were so many custom parts on the bike they had to order a special oil filter. One week later I spent two hours waiting while they did an oil change, including a full look-see at the ins and outs on my new toy.

"It's in great shape," I was told, but warned if anything went wrong most parts would have to be special ordered or customized to fit. Everyone wanted to know what I paid, and if I'd thought about joining the local HOG Chapter.

"I'll bite, what's a HOG Chapter?" For the next twenty minutes I was informed about the Harley Owners Group, and how to join it. You first had to be a national member, after which you could join a local chapter.

One of the salesmen, who was also a member, filled me in on the local chapter. "We have activities most weekends, though it's really about hanging with people who like to ride." I figured it was more fun to ride with a group, so after a few clicks of my mouse and about another hundred dollars I was a national H.O.G., along with the local chapter, member.

I had fun, real fun, for the first time in a long time, actually since losing Lana. I went on rides most weekends, and even started taking Tina with me on the short lunch rides. She wasn't happy most times since she had to sit on that small fender pad and hang on to me for dear life.

One Saturday ride was a little longer than most. We turned into the Kickstand Bar and Restaurant just after noon. It was close to a sixty-five mile jaunt that took a couple of hours as we took every back road in Florida. Although I was having the time of my life, Tina wasn't. When all sat down at two large tables and ordered beverages, lunch, and a basket of munchies, Tina voiced her dismay concerning her situation. "No more," she said in a louder than normal voice, I guess trying to talk above the crowd at our table. "That seat is kicking my butt, not to mention my back." She stretched her arms above her head. "I can't take it anymore."

"It's not that bad."

"For you it's not bad, you've got a real seat. Me? I've got something the size of a napkin with the softness of a piece of cardboard. Dad, this is my last ride with you unless you get me something better to sit on. Hell, if I could get a cab to pick me up right now, I'd gladly pay for it out of my allowance just for a comfortable ride home." I was about to say again that she was over-reacting when someone from behind me spoke up.

"If you want, you can ride back with me. I've got a comfortable back seat that is not being used." Turning around I saw Nadine making the offer to my daughter. I was about to say something like that's okay she'd rather be with her dad when Tina piped up.

"You've got yourself a passenger."

Nadine and I were acquainted, how could we not be. We both went on most weekend rides and had talked occasionally, but that was about it. She was cute, well, what I could see behind those huge sunglasses she always wore, but she didn't say much. Sure we talked about the runs we were on or what was coming up next, but it was like she'd only allow a few questions, and then made it a point to disappear.

"You don't have to do that," I replied, turning around to face her.

"No problem, I haven't had anyone behind me in ages, anyway it'll be fun—a lot more fun than riding on the back of that thing you call a bike."

"I love my bike!"

"Steve, it's a one person bike. If I were you, I'd trade that thing in for something a lot bigger, and a whole lot more comfortable to ride, for the both of you."

Tina and Nadine were both right, it wasn't the most comfortable bike in the world. It vibrated, had a rigid frame, and even my seat could have used a bit more padding. It was old school I guess, that's why it had only twenty-two hundred miles on it when I bought it.

"It's made to be looked at, not ridden for any real distance, that is unless you like visiting chiropractors," she followed up with.

"Dad, please can I go back with her?" How could I argue with that face?

"Only if Nadine will let me pay for her lunch in exchange."

"Well, it you insist, but you don't have to, you know."

"I know, but for a fellow HOG member, I think it's a must."

I watched Nadine hobble around the table, grab herself a chair, and with difficulty sit down next to Tina. Damn, I never noticed, but she had to be almost my height, though I think a lot had to do with the boots she wore. Big, black, high top Harley boots with the highest heel they made. Putting her sunglasses on top of the black Harley hat she always wore, Nadine practically flopped down into the chair

"Just an old war injury," she told my daughter with a smile. It was evident she did not want to say anymore about it because she immediately glanced down at her menu..

What I had heard from others was that Nadine used to be married, but about six years ago she and her husband got hit riding on his bike. A car blasted through a red light and hit their bike about a third of the way back from the front wheel. Her husband, Greg, died on impact, and she got messed up pretty badly. She spent the next eight or nine months in therapy learning to walk all over again. Though the doctors saved her leg, it would never be what it once was. She had a ton of pins in it. It basically had to be rebuilt from the inside out.

"Tina, I've got a two year old trike with a plush back seat, speakers, and two drink holders. If you want, you can even plug in that iPod of yours and play it through my speakers." Tina was more than sold.

Lunch was good, but the conversation between the three of us was better. She wasn't backing away from Tina's questions like she'd always done mine. When the road leader yelled it was time to head out again we all went for our bikes, a few of us faster than others.

I knew what her bike looked like; I'd seen it a million times before. It was bright red metallic with gold and black speckles in the paint. Her helmet and those big red sunglasses both matched the bike. I was going to say it was a little gaudy considering its size but after looking at mine in the sunlight I decide to keep my mouth shut. When Tina climbed aboard, I saw her eyes light up as she moved around in the large oversized seat getting comfortable.

With a huge smile on her face, she announced that it was even more comfortable than our couch at home. She was probably right.

I rode about a bike's length behind them in the same lane. They never stopped talking. Nadine had an intercom system, and I could see them talk and look over at me every once in a while and laugh. I didn't know what they were saying, but it couldn't have been that funny.

An hour and a half later we were pulling into the dealership lot. Tina got off Nadine's bike gave her a hug, telling her that was the best ride she'd ever had on the back of a motorcycle.

"Maybe next week, if your dad decides to go, he'll let you ride with me again."

"Dad, please?" Tina begged, staring at me with the same puppy dog eyes her mother had.

"We'll see," was all I said. I turned back to Nadine. "I want to thank you for letting Tina ride with you. I know she was a lot more comfortable on the back of your bike."

"If you ever want to see what it's like to ride a real bike, I'll give you a ride sometime."

Not a chance in hell! Me, riding behind a girl? I'd never live that one down, I thought to myself.

"Well, thank you again, and maybe we'll see each other next week?" Which was more of a question than a statement. I told Tina to hop on and within two minutes we were out of there heading back to our house.

We grilled out on the back deck, and after a few beers I was about ready for bed, but Tina had other ideas.

"Dad, let's go for a walk on the beach," she said, putting on her tennis shoes. We were out about ten minutes when she opened up.

"Dad, do you still miss Mom?"

"Everyday, pumpkin."

"When you think about her do you still get sad?" I wasn't sure why all the questions tonight. "Dad, sometimes when I close my eyes, I see Mom the way she was before she got sick, but I don't feel as sad as I did before. I still love and miss her, but I don't cry very much anymore."

"Sweetheart, just because you don't cry everyday doesn't mean you love or miss her any less, it's just that it's going to get easier everyday. The pain will still be there, but it will fade and eventually you'll just remember the good times. And the sad ones? Well, they'll fade more and more." I hoped that would answer her questions.

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