I remember it as if it were yesterday.
Actually, I don’t. That’s one trope I’ve never really understood. Certainly there was a time when this memory was fresh in my mind, ready for examination, but that was over twenty years ago. Presently anything that occurred that far in the past requires a small amount of effort for me to recall, if I can recall it at all. Examining the events in detail calls for even more effort. I have to plumb the depths of my mind to fill in the gaps. Details blur and blend causing me to wonder whether I’m remembering them properly, or if time has had its way, playing tricks with my recollections as it often does.
That’s not to say that I believe myself feeble minded. I’m simply realistic about such things. I can’t remember what I had for lunch a week ago. I’ve never been able to do that.
Traumatic things often stick, leaving scars that are easier to identify, recall, examine, but even they grow fuzzy with the grace of time. They say, ‘time heals all wounds.’ I’m more willing to accept that as truth than the previous cliché. Most of us learn to accept the uglier interludes in our lives. They fade from focus. Without attention they suffer a similar fate as a plant without sunlight. However, there are things that happen that leave enough damage that they won’t go away. They sit in our minds as mass of crumbled leaves surrounding brown, shriveled stalks.
My point is that you can’t have it both ways. Stories are often wrought with trauma. That’s what makes them interesting. Most events that are storyish in nature would be damned annoying, if not maddening, were they to remain as fresh as something that ‘happened yesterday.’ I take comfort in my failing memory as a result.
Though I think the real reason people use the first catch phrase is to add an air of credibility to their stories. People are just silly that way. They parrot it to assure the reader that the account is ‘the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth’ like it’s some sort of testimony. I don’t want you to believe for one moment that this is testimony. It’s simply something that happened to me. I will attempt to recall it in as much detail as possible. I might embellish a smidge because that’s what people do, but the core of the story will be as close to the truth as I can manage.
And I don’t expect you to believe a word of it.
As a young woman, I was exceptional in all of the ways in which blending in with the crowd would’ve been more desirable. Roughly six months before the events in question took place, I was involved with two women: Katherine and Lily. That ended the way such things usually end, not that I imagined the depth of the carnage that followed at any point before it began. I simply knew it would be bad.
I also knew that I loved Lily with all my heart, and I wasn’t supposed to. Circumstances surrounding these two women were as convoluted as any have ever been for me. They were roommates, likened to sisters who couldn’t stand each other. I found it difficult to understand why Lily was even there. The entire situation had the flavor of a fairytale. Snow White made flesh. Katherine was the wicked queen in all her splendor, jealous and vain, while Lily was soft spoken and unassuming. Just like the fairytale, both of them were beautiful in their own way.
Katherine called our relationship ‘open.’ The one piece of forbidden fruit was Lily. I was living with them at the time, which meant that sixty hours a week I had little to do except work around the house, making repairs and keeping hospitable—the job for which I’d been hired—and spend time with Lily.
I’m not a dishonorable person by nature. I never meant to fall for Lily, but I don’t think any prince who’s found himself in this situation went into it saying, ‘I’m going to sweep that princess off her feet.’ Surely they were sane enough to see the trouble involved in the sweeping. I did.
I suppose it might be said that Lily seduced me. If she did, her wiles were kindness and compassion. It’s hard not to be swayed by that. She remained everything that Katherine wasn’t. She was kind where Katherine was critical and often unnecessarily cruel. Lily listened to me as though what I thought mattered. She sympathized with me. I came to hate Katherine and I wasn’t alone. Continuing relations with her became a necessary evil to sustaining my relationship with Lily.
In short, I was damned. Every moment I spent with Katherine was a curse and with Lily a blessing. I know that sounds melodramatic, but that was exactly how it felt at the time. The whole thing seemed terribly wrong, unjust and unreasonable. I even considered the reckless fairytale-inspired course of running away with Lily.
To me the actual ‘forbidden fruit’ of the situation appeared to be Katherine. She had casual sex with dozens of people while we were together. I didn’t care. I wished she would have sex with even more people. Maybe if she did, she would forget about me. I was with Lily. She was my sun, my moon, my stars and all the other celestial soup that poets wax romantically about.
Sadly, that was too much to ask. The entire affair ended abruptly and explosively at Katherine’s clawed hands one night.
Afterward, I came unhinged. Lily and I had had a single tearful night to say goodbye before she’d left without me. I wanted to die. Days blurred into weeks and the weeks into months. I spent all of them weeping. Hysterics trailed off to a dull roar when I lacked the strength to sustain that level of grief anymore.
I lived on a bed in a box. I didn’t leave the bed except to find the lavatory. A friend took on the role of caretaker to me. Billy kept me from starving. He stopped by each night after work to make sure I was still in one piece. He brought me food and offered a kind word. I can’t begin to express how grateful I am even now. Everyone should have a Billy.
He continued to help me when I picked myself up, took an inventory of my life and decided that I had one thing left that meant anything to me. That one thing, ridiculous as it sounds, was an old Honda motorcycle. Billy understood because he owned one too, exactly the same model. They weren’t just machines to us. We loved them.
Once mine was running, it moved to another friend’s garage where I tore it apart again and began to prep, recondition and paint. All of my energy went into reviving what was basically a pile of antiquated parts.
My old Honda came out of the process with a fresh coat of ninety-nine thirty-one AA, your basic cold black in Ditzler paint codes, accenting a base color of Carrera Red. Not the cologne, the Porsche color, which incidentally, during the early nineties was over one-hundred dollars for half a pint. Not that that means anything except that I was very broke, yet somehow happier.
You see I related to machines better at that time than I did people. I still do in some ways. I can certainly fix a machine with greater ease than a person. Most people who are broken tend to stay broken despite my best efforts. Machines are easier than people in that way.
So on the night in question, I had my machine. It had been going through fits that I still can’t explain. I used Loctite when I replaced the fasteners that secured the front brake calipers to the fork stanchions. That hadn’t seemed to matter. They fell out one at a time until one fell out that I was forced to order from a dealership rather than replace with a common equivalent.
In other words, my machine was temporarily crippled. Easily seventy percent of the potential stopping power of a motorcycle rests at its front end. Cars operate according to the same principle. Think about where the weight goes when you stomp the brake pedal, you’ll quickly understand that I was on something that was infinitely more dangerous than it had been before the loss of that one bolt.
I should’ve parked the motorcycle instead of removing the entire front brake assembly and riding it anyway, but I didn’t feel I had a heck of a lot of choice. I’d promised to go to Katherine’s house and help her brother with some plumbing in the bathroom. It was a job, and unfortunately, I was too broke to refuse work. Our relationship has begun on that footing. My only regret was that I hadn’t had the good sense to keep it that way.
When Katherine’s brother and I finished up that night, I was filthy and tired. I got on my motorcycle and proceeded to putter home. And I do literally mean ‘putter.’ I was doing fifty at the most. The old Honda was capable of a sustained top speed of roughly one-hundred and forty miles-per-hour. It had a racing pedigree like a snowball cast downhill from a period in motorcycling that had been wrought with radical change.
In the mid-eighties, it was the motorcycle on which I’d learned to ride. Not just the point A to B kind of tooling around, but aggressive sport riding that involved cornering so hard that footrests scraped the tarmac at speeds well in excess of anything rational. I was rather good at this. Case in point: I was still alive.
Back to puttering. Understand that things are relative. On a corner that I could with great precision go into at ninety-five miles-per-hour and come out of at slightly over a hundred miles-per-hour, fifty miles-per-hour was puttering. Though in this instance, that was sane. I couldn’t stop. I knew I couldn’t stop. I didn’t want to die. Not anymore.
Southern Illinois had a penchant for producing balmy nights in the summertime. It was lovely outside. The house I was headed home from was located near a lake called Devil’s Kitchen, which is picturesque in a fairly unique way. It was formed by damming one end of a gorge walled by sandstone bluffs. The lake is very deep, fed by an underground spring, which resulted in clear, cool waters, around fiftyish degrees Fahrenheit even in the summertime. Steam rolls off of its surface in the evening air. That should explain its name. I used to swim there at night, though it’s expressly forbidden even in the daytime. I was never caught. It’s impossible to notice a motorcycle parked well down a hiking trail.
I was close to the lake, but not in sight of it, and not in the mood for a swim. Though I always imagined when I was around the lake that I could feel its chill. The moon must’ve been near the beginning of its cycle because I recall it being very dark out. Thick forest bordered the road’s edge on either side after a short stretch of weedy drainage ditch. Insects droned in the background. A pleasant breeze blew in though my partially opened helmet visor and down the front of my leather jacket.
You might imagine that this would be the sort of place where animals skittered across the road now and then, and you wouldn’t be wrong. Raccoons, possums, chipmunks and field rats were quite common. None of them would’ve been a problem.
The road snaked back and forth through the trees, right, left, right. I kept pace, barely working to keep the motorcycle headed in the proper direction, alert for the one thing that would cause me trouble.
Deer are herd animals. Typically where you see one, you’ll see more. They’re skittish. Using a horn is a good way to break the trance that sometimes afflicts them. I also had a good bit of lonely road to maneuver on. I figured if I saw one, I’d see five. I’d use the engine to compression brake or accelerate, maneuver around them and beep for good measure. Not that I was really planning to have to do any of that. I’d been down that road hundreds of times. I’d seen deer maybe one in twenty or thirty trips.
Anyway, it wasn’t like they hung out along the side of the road to play chicken with passing vehicles. Or that’s what I thought.
So you can imagine that was wasn’t impressed when a lone stag, his head crested with tall, impressive, many-pointed antlers, stepped from the tree line as I entered that second right-hand corner in the series just west of the entrance to Devil’s Kitchen. I looked into his eyes and he looked at me, perhaps not into my eyes—what with the helmet—but one can imagine.
“You son of a bitch!” I think I might’ve actually said that. If not, I clearly recall thinking it. In fact, that might be the clearest memory I have of that night. Don’t ask me how, but I knew exactly what he meant to do.
With purpose, he looked away from me to face the road. Or it seemed that way when he walked into the middle of it. His length nose to tail spanned nearly half of its total width. I’m not sure whether he looked at me again. I suspect he did, but I was busy.
Discordance hit me twofold as I dropped several gears. The engine loaded, spat and rumbled. I stabbed the back brake with the toe of my right boot. Of course, the bike went immediately out of shape. The locked wheel chattered and skipped, finally settling on swinging right. This was the opposite direction it needed to go. If you’ve ever watched motorcycle flattrack racing, or those lunatics who race dirtbikes with studded tires on ice, you’ll know that the back end swings out opposite the corner. Think of it as crazy severe counter-steering and it should make sense. I might’ve controlled that but I wasn’t thinking in those terms. All that was on my mind at that instant was the undeniable necessity of stopping.
My opinion changed rather quickly, which at the time felt very slowly, adrenaline having the effect it does. You see, at my current rate of deceleration, I calculated that I would broadside this monster just hard enough to piss him off. As he outweighed me by something a smidge short of three-hundred pounds, I deemed that a bad thing. Getting gored by a stag wasn’t something I ever wanted to do.
I went from levelheaded and reacting to something else entirely. I never would’ve made the decision I did without that shot of raw panic. Amazing it actually turned out as well as it did. I could’ve reached out and touched the big furry bastard when I pegged the throttle. I’m not sure whether I handled the clutch or not. I assume that I did because the sudden shot of power sent me forward.
Forward, at that point—as the motorcycle was sideways in the road, parallel to the deer—ended up being left, straight toward the outside edge of the road. I reacted to the eminent danger of ending up nose down in the steep ditch the same way I reacted to everything else. The motorcycle snapped right. And I didn’t die.
I don’t know whether I ever pressed the horn button. In retrospect, I think not. I straightened the bike out. It was leaned pretty deep into the turn. I don’t recall whether the footrest scraped either. My internal autopilot was on for several miles after that. I was rattled. Blank brained. Muzzy. My heart thudded in my chest for at least the first mile.
Gradually I came back to myself, which resulted in shaking and pain. I’d strained something in my right side…like, all of the muscles. It ached for days afterward. Sharp movements were generally a bad idea as they brought with them sharp pain.
I almost pulled over as I travelled the spillway road that bordered Little Grassy Lake. There was a rest area at its midway point that looked out over the water. The thing that kept me on the bike that night was the assuredness I felt that if I got off of it, I wouldn’t get back on.
The rest of the ride is a blur. I know I made it home. I slept in my own bed. Life went on as usual. The part came in the following week and all was well.
Months later I relayed this tale to a friend of mine who was basically Mulder to my Scully. He asked me if it had occurred to me that this might’ve been an attempt on my life.
I laughed. No, that hadn’t occurred to me, any more than it’d occurred to me that pixies might be responsible for stealing the sock that always came up missing on laundry day.
Admittedly the people with whom I had been spending my time professed to be working ‘magic.’ They believed that they were accomplishing this primarily through sex, which to me was an amusing notion that appeared to be an excuse for rampant promiscuity. Before I met them, I had been doing a fine job of being promiscuous without any need of excuses. That changed when I fell for Lily.
My Mulderish friend told me about rituals that allow humans to temporarily possess animals that are part of Native American lore. That seemed pretty farfetched, though I was unable to discount it. I can’t discount it even now. Talk about handy. The perfect murder.
The events of that evening certainly allowed the timing that would’ve been necessary for Katherine or her brother to enter a trance, seek out a vehicle and command it into my path. More importantly I knew they were into that sort of thing.
Caution was urged and I agreed. What else could I do? Belief or disbelief was immaterial. Caution was prudent. It always is.
It wasn’t hard for me to imagine Katherine being capable of that kind of spite. I had trouble viewing myself as being worthy of that. Though in her eyes, I knew I was. I hadn’t loved her. I was supposed to love her, just like the fairytale.
I loved Lily. Part of me still loves her. Twenty years later I’m still in one piece. For what it’s worth, caution works. Not that it matters. I haven’t found anyone else like her. I’m alone with a pile of wrecked relationships in my past, still mourning for things that might’ve been.