After much procrastination, I am finally engaging in the ego exercise of starting my own blog. My hope is that this will provide me with a creative outlet that has been sorely lacking in my life for far too long. I deliberately chose this day, May 28, 2006, to start this communication. Fourteen years ago, on this day, my childhood friend A. was killed in a motorcycle accident.
From the age of four, A. and I, whose birthdays were two weeks apart, grew up together in a small New Hampshire town. As a child, A. was a bit of a tomboy, so our friendship worked quite well. Using our overactive imaginations, we role-played games derived from the omnipresent cop shows of the 1970s. Our favorite game by far was "Starsky & Hutch," and we did Paul Michael Glaser and David Soul proud in the plot lines that we created. Since I had black hair and A. had blonde hair, the division of characters was easy. Our Big Wheels served as our Ford Torinos, and we had an ample array of toy guns to choose from, thanks to the liberal gun policy of my parents. (A.'s parents frowned upon toy guns, mine did not. Ergo, we played at my house.) In the pre-cell phone age, we were forced to rely upon handmade "walkie-talkies" that we created out of small pieces of wood. Using black magic markers, we drew mouth and ear pieces on our wooden handhelds and pretended to convey "emergency" information to each other on them. They proved utterly useless as communication devices, but since we always used them within earshot of each other, it didn't matter.
My sister J., who was prone to getting into a bit of trouble in her own right, played the pimp informant Huggy Bear with great aplomb. As on the show, we would shake down J. and get her to divulge information about the whereabouts of A.'s sister JE., who, because she was the youngest, always played the unwitting victim of some nefarious crime. Oh, the times we had!
Another favorite game of ours was spying on neighbors. I sometimes marvel at how that little game has evolved in my adult psyche, but more about that another time.
Without exception, A. learned to do everything before I did, which made me question my manhood at much too young an age. First, she learned to tie her shoes before me, and I would be embarrassed when mine invariably came undone and she had to help me tie them. At a time when I was still doing spin-outs on my Big Wheel, A. was flying down our street on a 10-speed bicycle, at a lightning speed that seemed incomprehensible to me. In a remarkable exhibition of bravery, A. would hang upside down from the top rung of her jungle gym while I looked up in awe from the ground below. The humiliation would continue in the wintertime when A. would recklessly jump from her parents' 12 foot high porch into the white cottony New England snow below. Notwithstanding her urging, I never had the huevos to try it too.
As with everything else, A. left our small town long before me, when she decided to attend a prestigious private high school in Maine. Soon thereafter, A.'s parents moved out of New England, and years would pass before I heard from her again.
In 1991, a year after I graduated from college, I was floundering with indecisiveness about what to do with my life. I had applied and gotten into law school, but was ambivalent about taking this "road more traveled," which seemed to conflict with other values and goals I had at the time. I was mired in a depressive, existential crisis, living with my parents, and working two part time jobs, covering high school sports for a local newspaper and stocking shelves in a supermarket. It was a low, confusing time for me.
Out of the blue, I heard from A., who was living in Los Angeles and contemplating a career making movies. After several long phone conversations, we resumed our friendship in earnest. I decided to visit A. in LA and see what California was like. I drove cross-country with a college friend and his then-girlfriend, now wife, and moved in with another college friend who was living in Long Beach.
After settling into my new apartment, I visited A., who was working at Condomania on Melrose Avenue. Seeing her for the first time after so many years was surreal. She was the same girl, only older and more mature. In a bittersweet way that only lifelong friends can understand, we reminisced about our childhood, our parents, our siblings, and our respective world travels. A. still had the same stubborn, independent streak about her that she had possessed as a young girl. She also had the same sense of adventure and daring. In 1991, I had never even smoked a cigarette. By contrast, A. had "experimented" with alternative substances a great deal, in her neverending quest to try anything once. So, I was not surprised when she showed me the motorcycle that she rode to work every day. A. suggested that I buy one too and learn to ride so that I could get around the city. As the song goes, "Nobody Walks In LA."
For some reason, this idea made sense to me at the time, and, following A.'s lead, I bought a motorcycle from a classified ad in LOOT magazine. M., a co-worker from my new job at Banana Republic, taught me to ride the bike one afternoon in an empty alley behind my apartment. "Okay - I'm going to teach you to kill yourself," M. joked. Stupidly, I hadn't even bought a helmet yet and didn't have one on as M. taught me the basics of starting, shifting, stopping, and turning. I should say here that the feeling of riding a motorcycle without a helmet, with the wind in your face and the power of the engine below you, driving you forward, is one of the most liberating experiences I have ever felt. I think that it is this feeling of complete freedom and refusal to be constrained by physical fear and life's boundaries that makes riding so incredible and so addictive to those who ride.
After one or two lessons, I bought a helmet and ventured onto the streets of Long Beach with my new, very large, very heavy bike. To say that I was shaky on the motorcycle, which was WAY too big for a new, inexperienced rider like myself, is a severe understatement. The first time I took the bike out on the street, I was practically hyperventilating in my helmet. I heard my quick, sharp breaths hitting the plastic faceplate as I fought to keep the motorcycle upright. In what bordered on an out-of-body experience, as I rode, I could see my amateur hands in front of me, moving the handlebars back and forth with unconfident, shaky jerks as I struggled to maintain my precarious balance on the bike. I soon realized that I was literally putting my life in my hands. As sweat beads rolled down my face like reluctant raindrops, I enviously glanced at the drivers and passengers next to me. How safe and secure they looked in their steel fortresses, the bastards! When I finally arrived at my destination, I felt like a prisoner of war who miraculously had survived a game of Russian Roulette.
I rode the bike exactly 3 times, and it still amazes me that I didn't get myself killed.
One morning, about two weeks after I had started riding, I walked to my parking spot and found the bike lying on its side, like a wounded animal. I leaned over, grabbed the handlebars with my hands, and pulled hard, using all of my weight to lift the massive hunk of metal to its feet. After finally getting it upright, I discovered that the right mirror and turnlight were smashed to bits. I looked down where the bike had been and saw a disorganized mosaic of triangular, yellow plastic mixed with sharp, reflective daggers lying in the drain gutter next to the sidewalk.
I realized that I would not be able to ride again until I got the light and mirror fixed, and I cursed my bad luck. "Somebody somewhere does not want me riding this thing," I thought to myself. The face of my deceased grandfather suddenly flashed in my mind. I thought of how difficult it had been for me to balance the bike when riding, how afraid I was in traffic, and how little training I had received before taking the bike onto the street (if you can describe M.'s half hour of stoner riding instructions "training"). It was obvious to me that I was in way over my head. I decided then and there that my riding days were over, and I was going to sell the bike. I placed an ad in LOOT and, a few weeks later, sold the bike for far less than I paid for it. I didn't care. I was happy to be rid of the albatross and felt as if I had dodged a tornado.
The reality of having to support yourself has a way of disposing of self-indulgent existential concerns after awhile. I ultimately decided to take the "road more traveled" and go to law school. I moved back east in April 1992 and awaited school to begin in August. A few weeks after I had moved back home, my mother told me that A. had called to see how I was doing and that I should return her call. "I'll call her back later," I thought to myself. My mother reminded me again a few days later. It was the middle of May.
I never spoke to A. again. While I somehow avoided ending my life in a motorcycle accident, A. did not. She died fourteen years ago today.
Even though A. has left this life, I have felt her presence quite often since her death. A voice in my head - her voice - reminds me that there is much in life to be felt, seen, and explored, and there is no time to waste. It is in this spirit that I pursue my mind's ambition by conveying my thoughts in this space.