The backbreaking work of breaking free from inertia
In which we explore new ways of moving forward (or not)
There’s a way my husband (back before he was my husband) and his good riding buddy used to describe the feeling of accelerating on a motorcycle: eyeball-flattening.
And it’s true. If you don’t have your visor down, your eyes water, your vision blurs. The force from accelerating can be so strong that you have to hang on tight for fear you will leave parts of yourself behind.
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One night a very, very long time ago when I was a new motorcycle passenger — not yet a rider in my own right — Not-Yet-Husband got his nose out of joint with the antics of a nearby driver, and he took off rather unexpectedly and aggressively as the light we were at turned green. I was riding pillion1 (back seat passenger) and hadn’t been holding on particularly tightly as I’d mostly been enjoying the night air and not paying attention to the budding road-rage drama taking shape.
Not-Yet-Hubby — and here I have a mind to say that yes, I did go on to marry him, in spite of this episode — cranked the throttle and turned hard right off Peel street onto Wellington. I think he was trying to get around the corner ahead of the jerk in the car beside us, but I’m not sure. I had been paying more attention to the night air and the cityscape — that is, until I realized I was about to be left behind on the pavement, at which point, I started grappling to get a grip on Not-Yet-Hubby’s jacket and a grab bar.
In the moment, he was too consumed by his ego to realize I was on the verge of falling off, though I’m sure the sudden tugging weight on his midriff reminded him. I yelled and knocked some sense into him once the immediate danger had passed, and he was duly contrite and apologetic, as one would expect.
This was back in the days when I could wear his ex-girlfriend’s motorcycle pants, and feel smug that they were a few sizes too big on me. We have moved on in the world and I won’t even make eye contact with those pants anymore. I also don’t have to yell as hard to be heard (usually). Most of the time, a glance or a shift in my tone is enough. He’s a good and attentive Husband, if still prone to wanting to get ahead in his own way.
Having turned many more corners, much more smoothly and safely, in our partnership, our joint trajectory, I look back on that sudden acceleration as a pivotal moment in our relationship.
It was perhaps the moment when he realized he would be wiser to override his impulses out of consideration for me. It’s the moment where I learned I’d better hold on tight, especially when I’m not in control or when I don’t like what’s happening. And also, it was the moment when I left behind some of my naïve in-the-moment, head-in-the-clouds enjoyment of things. You never know when the throttle will surprise you and threaten to leave you behind. Best not to be caught off guard.
Like riding a bicycle or motorcycle, it’s a balancing act. (What is? Well, life, marriage, relationships…) As long as you’re moving forward, it’s easy enough to stay upright. The tires spin, the bike stays upright, and everything is smooth — until you hit rough terrain or come to a standstill. Just try to stay motionless at a light on two wheels for any length of time without putting a foot down. It’s difficult to do for more than a few seconds. I know, I used to challenge myself regularly with my XR 650. First just tippy toes, then lift one foot off, then the other. Hold your core, try not to wobble, then put both feet down before you tip over.
So here’s the thing. Today, we (a term I use loosely) shipped our motorcycles off to Hungary. They’ve been neglected for the past three years. First, working from home meant a dramatic reduction in the need to go anywhere, much less on motorcycle. Then, there was the imposed remote work pandemic policies along with various other limitations on freedom of movement.
We payed the monthly insurance fees, and the bikes gathered dust in the garage. Then, in one of our sharpest turns yet, we left for Hungary. The bikes lowered their gaze to the pathetically inadequate flow chargers, the accumulating dead leaves on the cold cement, and lamented their lot in life. The sawdust gathered around their wheels, the cats pissed on the tires, the mice nestled in the coverings, and if you were a GS or a ZRX, you lost all hope of experiencing the adventurous life your factory settings had promised.
Today, all that changed.
With no charge in their batteries, a gummed up carb and an awkwardly rusted chain — but no flat tires! — our two beasts have been sent off on their own overseas adventure.
But first, I needed to pack all their things and help push those lazy, sleeping, resentful machines up the ramp into the back of a white Mercedes truck with the help (more than help; he did it all) of a mighty, strong, spindle-legged Transylvanian named Tudor.
I helped push and stabilize from behind as Tudor performed the amazing feat of steadily pushing the bike up the ramp even while leaping onto the truck’s platform. Neither bike got dropped, despite my vivid early morning nightmares. Nothing got broken (not yet anyway), and in under an hour, both bikes were strapped in extremely well, plus all 40 bins were loaded. Oh yes, you see, it’s not only the bikes moving to Hungary.
My mother-in-law is returning “home” to her country, along with 26 bins of her most precious belongings. (Do not ask about the Christmas tree. It didn’t make it.) Added to those are the 14 items or bins of motorcycle equipment that Husband simply couldn’t do without.
I schlepped them all — with help from my strong son. From there to here, from the back of the truck to the back of the carport, from the back of the carport to the driveway. Mercifully, Tudor the bin-slinging magician schlepped them from the driveway to the truck — demonstrating spectacular stacking prowess, I might add.
There’s something I think is relevant here, if a sharp turn away from the topic at hand.
Tom Cowan, who I admire and consider a wonderful gift to humanity, approaches health through story.
Right. It’s not about your symptoms, your aches and pains, and how that amounts to a diagnosis of a condition. Rather, it’s about your story of what you experienced and how you felt that led you to your current condition, your now. No labels of diagnosis. Only a story of you that leads to the you of right now.
Isn’t it amazing to consider how different “health” might be through the lens of “story” rather than through the lens of “diagnosis”? After all, there are many sides to every story. But a diagnosis — well, that’s pretty narrow. And it doesn’t say anything about the path you took to get there. Was it straight and boring? Were there so many turns, like on the tail of the dragon2, and were you going so fast, too fast, that you missed the curve and found yourself flung off into the woods?
How smooth was the road? Were you carrying an uneven load? A shifty passenger? Did the sun get in your eyes, or dusk make it hard to see what lay ahead in a crucial moment?
No one ever crashes and then just says “I crashed.” There’s always a story to it.
So back to lifting the motorcycles.
I consider this the crowning achievement of my day
today earlier this week, and it occurred before 10:30 a.m., and I was only partially involved in its success. Tudor, really, literally, did all the heavy lifting.
And yet, after the truck pulled out and I went back inside to sit in front of my computer and answer my emails, I felt I’d just completed a marathon.
I was up at 4:30 a.m. (nerves wouldn’t let me go back to sleep) and had done 3 hours of work before 9 a.m.
I saw my kid off to work making him promise to come home to help at noon if things went badly. I ate breakfast, drank coffee, produced various pieces of content, answered emails, and even drove over to my in-laws’ to fetch their dolly, and then moved most of the bins out of the carport and into the driveway.
“Today is the day!” my brain kept saying. Followed by “OMG OMG OMG”
Tudor was early. He worked well and quickly. When he was done, I made him a coffee (small cup, lots of sugar the way the Hungarians drink it) and he commented on how quiet and peaceful it was out here in the country.
I took a video of the truck leaving the driveway. Bye bye motorcycles. See you on the other side.
OK, so I’ve lost the thread slightly but having a coffee after a good bit of physical effort has a tendency to derail things. You stir the sugar and the conversation turns to closer matters, becomes more human and personal, a shared lull in the midst of an otherwise transactional interaction.
I mentioned my husband and daughter in Hungary, my son and daughter here. The contemplation of an unexplained situation and the grappling attempt to understand the other person’s reality.
“What is it like to live here, in the country? Is it nice?” Tudor asked, stirring his small coffee vigorously but mindlessly. He looked around, commented on the creek behind the house, the geese overhead. I said yes, it was. “It’s quiet, there are geese.”
And then, the spell of human connection made way for the business of leaving the driveway, which was the purpose of the visit, after all.
I stood back in the carport, casually holding my phone, prepared to start recording without wanting to be seen doing it. The carport seemed barren, bleak and bedraggled. Like people haven’t taken care of it in a long while — which they haven’t. The geese honked, the van pulled out smoothly, and I went inside.
My dear friend is at an unexpected junction. “Unexpected” might not be the right word. Anyone paying attention for the past 10 years or so would have predicted this, and so there’s not so much the element of surprise as there is that of suddenness or rapidity. How quickly things pivot.
Her geese, the past few times I have pulled into her driveway, have been wandering about at the road, in the driveway, poking around freely in the yard. When I notice them and comment — it’s rather a different sight than those in the far off field landing in large flocks (gaggles?) to see geese moseying about casually like the family dog — she shrugs and says, “Yes, they do as they please.” And we pause to watch them with mild bemused longing.
It’s a question of which way the scales will fall. I know she’s the one doing all the heavy lifting (and all the pushing and cleaning and caring and driving and shopping and planning) and I know she’s holding on as hard as she can because what’s coming might just be like finding out that the asshole at the stoplight is not in the car in the next lane but rather in control of the bike you’re sitting on. Vigilant, but needing to lean into the curves at the same angle as him so he doesn’t feel your weight, so there’s no resistance and you get to your destination safely. Easy, there, rider. If you have to ditch it, better it be a low-side3.
The geese have clipped wings. They’re content and well provided for but they can’t leave. Thank goodness for small mercies: she is not a goose.
When I arrived back in Canada this time, this time with many purposes, I was on jet-lag speed. I was up at the crack of dawn, had made the fire, had coffee and breakfast and then sat twiddling my thumbs concocting plans until it was late enough that stores would be open. By 8:30 a.m., I was at the hardware store. Several maintenance tasks on my list ready to be crossed off. Doorknob, check. Showerhead, check. Woodstove, check. And on it went. By early afternoon, I was home, and had replaced the doorknob and showerhead and was in the throes of planning my next move. Wheels spinning until it was time to head over to my friend’s for some socializing. How I’ve missed that easy infectious laughter, how good it was to be home and momentarily motionless.
Hubby is giddy at the thought of the bikes arriving in Hungary. The prospect of freedom and fun, of being carefree. I’m not so sure that’s how it will pan out, but for now, he’s riding the excitement.
He had me go through all the bins of motorcycle things to pack and send everything he might need. As I rummaged in one particular plastic bin, holding items up one at a time in front of the laptop camera, moving each one into focus, his eyes would light up and he’d say “"YES! Yes, I need that!” We went through doodads for changing this and for fixing that, and when in doubt, he would say “Might as well throw that in too!” and eventually, as I got down to the bottom of the bin, he started saying “Yes, we need that, too.” And I didn’t call him out on his word choice, his subtle low-siding shift into our newly common goals.
Yes, we do need it because it lit up his eyes and his voice like I haven’t heard in a good long while.
And then I hauled everything outside and wrestled with bins that were only slightly too small for the pieces, or too flimsy, or too heavy. I swore and stomped, and put on a show for the neighbours. I threw my body weight into tilting the dollies loaded with bins, sometimes unsuccessfully, and I pushed and dragged, and grunted and complained. And in the end, it all went in (because I am exceptionally good at packing). Husband cheered at me in Telegram messages. “Bebe! You da best!” and it made me feel happy and accomplished to read it, though I felt justified in indulging in some grumpiness. And then I sat down to relax.
For 5 minutes.
Because there’s more to be done, and this house has been neglected. And who will do it if not me?
I’m stiff and sore, and I get out of bed like my joints are made of rust and lock-tight, but still I go up and down the stairs, schlepping MIL’s belongings, bringing up wood to heat the house, carrying out garbage, loading the truck. And then I go to the gym, and in between, I sit down at my computer to log in to work and try to put the words in order the same way I’m putting my space into some semblance of sense and meaning.
Soon, there will be the next chapter: a trip to New Brunswick to see the goblin hideout for myself and size up the task ahead of us. It’s a long road: more than a 10-hour drive, if I recall correctly.
Who knows what awaits. My son tells me New Brunswick is full of steep hills and beautiful vistas, and that it’s very windy. And I’m sure he’s right because in many ways he sees things more clearly than I do.
I keep pushing from behind, keep my eyes on the goal, on where I want to go, knowing that this momentum I’m creating will help me through the hard long patches and will help me stay upright when I have to lean hard into the curves or let go of the throttle.
I think about balance and moving forward, keeping the rubber on the ground and enjoying the ride, the moments when we can sit around and tell stories of our rides. And I, we, get better at it, I think. The curves become easier, the long straights less boring. Every so often, the one of us who is steering reaches back to pat the other on the leg because we’re in it together, and we’re about to accelerate, so better hang on tight.
For more on this expression and others related to being a passenger on a motorcycle, I invite you to consult Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pillion