Past. Present. Future. Expectations. Desires. Needs. Reality. Nightmares.
Where does one leave off and another one begin?
…and just how do you tell the difference?
A clean run…500 miles or so…came to an uneventful end as I stuffed the big Valkyrie cruiser in a handy spot in the sea of cars and shucked my helmet.
Stabbing the helmet on the backrest I shivered in pleasure at the cooling sensation of the breeze ruffling my sweat-soaked hair. Stretching the cramps out of my back and legs I gazed up at the massive medical center in the distance and reflected on the reason for my ride.
There wasn’t just one, to be honest. There’s never just one. Complex emotions and motivations drive me…and I’m sufficiently NOT self-delusional enough that I can still recognize that, even when I’m not sure I understand the actual drives. The complexity itself is a motivation, I think, an intoxicant, perhaps a window to explore the soul.
Whatever it is overall, today, I was here to visit a friend. Well, that, and to ride. Yeah. That too. My friend though, needed a lift and I’d felt the time was right. A reason to ride? An excuse? A need?
I shrugged the questions aside and headed for the entrance.
Inside, my friend, grievously wounded in a motorcycle accident, lies in a hospital bed. A confusing array of bandages, tubes, and monitors blurs the scene. His eyes snap open and he reaches for me. I take his hand and immediately cannot let go. With intense strength he pulls me close despite my struggles. Hot, ragged breath whispers in my ear, “Get out! While you can! You don’t want to be here!”
I gasp and fight against his grip but it’s as if our flesh has merged. The pain of our grip consumes me. I become dizzy, my eyes roll back in my head, and the scene grows dim. The music, which I’d been unaware of until just that moment, becomes unbearably loud.
We merge together. Switch places. Separate. Suddenly, it’s me laying in the bed, unable to move or speak…and it’s my friend looking down on me with concern.
“Will he wake up?”
Faceless doctors surround me. “Perhaps. Perhaps not. Doesn’t matter you see. He was a rider. This was his choice. He can never leave.”
I want to respond, to tell them I’m here, to help them understand the choice to ride is not the choice to die…rather, it’s the choice to live, but I’m suddenly not all that sure of my answer…and they’ve all left me alone.
Alone with only my choice…and my past…and the fire…and smoke…and the screams.
I find myself gasping and covered in sweat, standing at the end of the bed. I’m holding my right wrist against my chest trying to stifle the intense pain. I’d obviously hit something…and hard. The throbbing in my wrist matches the beat of the red blotches in my vision.
My wife stirs, “What’s wrong honey?”
I’m relieved her voice is sleepy and only slightly alarmed. At least I hadn’t hit her. A couple deep breaths…taking stock…I’m guessing I hit the bedside table. It’s not fragile. The solid aged maple planks weren’t likely to notice.
“I’m okay babe,” I said between gritted teeth. My voice sounded surprisingly normal. A few more deep breaths. Deliberately invoking calm. Only partly succeeding. “I’m going to sit up for a while.”
I know from experience that my night isn’t going to get any better. I often dream vividly, but seldom have nightmares. Those that I do have are of a highly specific and recurring nature best not examined in the dark of night…or in the harsh light of day either for that matter. I’d have to delve too deep into the past…into the fire…and the smoke…and the screams. It’s not a place I willingly go.
I would not sleep with her again tonight. I never have injured her, and don’t actually believe I could, but I couldn’t risk it if I physically reacted to another dream. I rubbed my wrist as I laid back on the couch. If I had my way I wouldn’t sleep again this night.
It’d been a long and intense work-week though. My resolve would not be as strong as my exhaustion.
I aggressively downshifted and braked the big cruiser, right to the edge of her capabilities, while gently guiding her towards the shoulder…around the body in the road.
A rider down. Bits of bike scattered across the asphalt. It’s unclear what caused the wreck, but that’s not really my concern now. It’s dark. And the road is curved. Any car coming would be unlikely to do as I had done, and miss hitting the downed rider.
I rapidly dismounted and approached the body. Normally I wouldn’t move an injured person…but the exception is if they are in extreme peril if left where they are. This certainly qualified.
He reaches for me. His glove is missing and his fingers are bloody. “Help me!” he gasps.
I recognize the dream again, but it’s far too late. I reach for his hand, grasp his fingers. There’s a flash. The pain blinds me. We merge, faster than the last time, and then part with a tearing sound. Suddenly it’s me lying in the road, alone. I can’t move. I see the headlights of a car coming fast around the corner. I know it won’t be able to stop…
Standing again, crouched actually, in the living room this time, muscles tensed, ready to kill.
More deep breaths. Willing myself to relax, and then a groan as I fight off the cramps in my legs as the tension drains away.
“This isn’t going to work.”
Sleep was only a path to pain this night. I wouldn’t try again.
I glance at the clock. Screw it.
“It’s time to ride.”
I quickly dress, grab my pack, and almost randomly toss a few things in it.
A quick goodbye to the wife and I’m ready to ride.
I’ve had a friend to visit you see…he’s in the hospital a few hundred miles away recovering from a serious motorcycle accident.
As I run the big bike through her gears, rocketing up the dark freeway ramp and reveling in the smooth power of the precision machine, I fleetingly wonder…which is it this time…me or him? The present or future? The dream? Or the reality?
And is there a difference?
I’ll see you on the road.