Sunday’s visit was “better,” all things being relative. She was more alert and I’m fairly certain she did recognize me at times. Dad wondered if taking in photos of me when I was younger might stir some recognition, so I went through and found a few representative pictures, including one of the two of us together when I was eight or nine.
When I arrived, she was sitting in her Jerry chair in the community room. There were perhaps eight or so other patients in there, sitting alone or around a table, and Mom was off to the side, staring off into whatever her mind was trying to show her. I pulled up a chair and sat next to her.
I laid the photos on her tray. She clutched at them, almost reflexively, but did not hold them up herself. I held them up, one by one, explaining the photos were of me, of her and me together, and I think she might have had a second or two of recognition there.
Due to background noises, my bad hearing, and her quiet volume, I could not hear or understand most of what she said. Once home, I imported the video I took into Adobe Premiere Pro and amplified the volume. I think she said at one time, “hug me… if you can…” but I did not hug her because I couldn’t hear what she was saying. Heart-breaking. Of course I would have, had I heard. Once, she said fairly clearly, “help me.” Oh, my, I wish I could.
To be completely honest, there were a few moments when I thought I should end it all for her by gently, ever-so-gently, holding a pillow over her face until she quietly suffocated to death. It would not take much, or long. However, I realized that forensic science (should that be called upon,) would quickly discover the cause of her death, and I certainly did not want to spend any time in prison, even for such a crime of compassion. I thought about suggesting to the nurses they give her “a little extra PRN” (as-needed morphine doses,) and very quickly realized that was just a terrible idea. This was Mom’s path to walk alone; no one else could legally help her along.
One thing she asks often is “why…?” At times, it seems like a full question unto itself, at others it seems like she has something more to add but then trails off after the first word. I don’t know whether she’s asking why in general, or why about something specific, but there is no answer I can give her. There’s no good reason for any of it, other than pure human frailty being a motherfucker sometimes.
She manages to communicate snippets, incomplete thoughts. Not long after I arrived, she mumbled something about “my sisters,” but I don’t know what she was saying or asking about them. She has two younger twin sisters, only one of whom has she seen in recent times.
“I want you to stay…” she later said, I think to me, but wasn’t sure.
She is typically very agreeable – when someone makes a suggestion or asks her a question, her response is often a weak, simple, “okay,” with an lift at the end, like a small child. Unless she really doesn’t want the thing being suggested, and then there will be a “no…” with varying degrees of intensity.
I wonder where she is in her head, what she sees, what she believes to be true.
I settled in for this last visit, and, like millions of children before me, I reversed our roles and wiped my mother’s nose; I helped get her fed and changed and bathed; I soothed her to sleep with my voice as I stroked her hair. I thought of singing her a song my parents made up for me when I was a toddler, but didn’t think I could bear it myself.
Perhaps the most important thing about this visit was Forgiveness, and I thought long and hard before saying anything about that to her. I weighed out the pros and cons of lying versus actually being able to forgive versus not saying anything at all. I don’t know that I can forgive her – I don’t even know all the things I need to forgive her for, there’s so much. Then again, this person in front of me was not the same person who committed all those acts of maternal treason years and years ago.
Yet how do I forgive a person who cannot remember the things that she’s done to me? How could I not? I know that forgiveness is as much for me as it is for the person receiving it, but my own benefit has never really been a good motivator for me. If it were a lie, it would be for her, and how could I begrudge her that?
I don’t even know that it was a true thing when I said I loved her. It’s been so long since I’ve thought of her with any shred of positive emotion that I no longer actively feel the love for her as my mother. What I felt was compassion and kindness and despair for a fellow human being who was suffering and who should be let go. I felt a generic sort of love for a now-gentle and helpless person. Subconsciously, of course, I’m sure all sorts of havoc was being wreaked.
I cried or struggled not to cry a lot on Sunday. I’m sure some of the tears were related to the painful past we shared, and, to some degree, acknowledging that my mother was in fact dying no matter how estranged we might be. The first time I really felt certain she recognized me was … profound, I suppose. It wasn’t long after I arrived Sunday, when we were still sitting in the community room. Our eyes locked, and hers seemed clearer for a moment. She clutched at my hands, reached out on her own and touched my face. Not long after, I cried a full-fledged cry, surrounded by strangers in various degrees of suffering, in various degrees of awareness and lucidity. One of the nurses kindly and silently brought me a box of tissues when she saw me, and her compassion renewed my tears.
I thought to apologize to her, but I realized that crying in situations like this is normal and natural and healthy. Nothing to be ashamed of, although I am always ashamed when I cry in front of other people. My traditional “Stuff all the feelings down just like this casserole” Midwestern upbringing forbids ugly crying in public or in front of … well, in front of anyone, really.
Here, however, it would probably be more peculiar if I did not cry. In the face of this kind of suffering in any living being, how could anyone not be moved to tears? What kind of monster would not cry upon seeing her own mother in such a state?
In the end, everything is stripped away, everything but the most basic needs, the most basic thoughts, the most basic feelings, wants, desires. The need for human contact, the need for physical comfort, the need to be cared for and reassured. There’s nothing left of any residual badness or evil or unkindness from the past; all of that has been cleaved away leaving this empty husk, a bare shell of a woman who seems very sweet, very gentle… and full of needless suffering. So much pain.
Her former business partner and close friend wrote some kind words about Mom to my aunt, and I realized once again how the outside world knows a very different Lynn than I did. No one else experienced her as a mother, and most people from her public persona would never believe the things she said or did. How could such a kind, generous, sweet, compassionate woman be so cruel? Because untreated Borderline Personality Disorder, that’s how. She was both personae, now she is neither… though she is closer to her public persona than her private. This is a good thing for her and for everyone around her.
She’s obviously suffering so much. She is in constant discomfort, even while she’s sleeping, and she is obviously distressed in her thoughts as well as in her physical sensations.
This photo shows, starkly, the overall tone and sentiment of my visit with Mom Sunday, the second day. Both of us overshadowed by the agony of her affliction.
One of the fears I had about visiting her was of making things worse. If she did recognize me, would it cause her stress, anxiety, too much excitement? What if she did recognize me, and was reassured that I was there… and then I was suddenly gone? Would that traumatize her anew? These were among many fears and concerns I had to stare down in their red, beady eyes.
I’ve read about how people try to interact with dementia patients, though it was suddenly very starkly clear I was unprepared for this. Things are different when it’s personal. Things are different when 48 years of life and experience are scattered and flung to the four winds, leaving me standing alone in the barren field of her dementia. She was there, but not there, caught in some purgatorial hinterlands of her own failing mind.
I knelt before her, having no idea where to start.
“Mom? Hi. Hi, it’s me, it’s Erin. I’m your daughter.” I managed a weak smile. She was fairly sedated, and could not keep her eyes open for long. When they were open, it was difficult to get her eyes focused on me (or on anything, for that matter.) After awhile, same nurse who told Mom I was here knelt with me before her chair with the tray removed. She took Mom’s hand and put it on my face and took a very authoritative, loud tone.
“Lynn, Lynn – your daughter is here. Your daughter is here. She came to see you. Touch her, hug her! She’s here and she loves you!”
I had not yet said “I love you,” and I wouldn’t for awhile. I didn’t want to lie, and I didn’t know whether it was true. I was still trying to adjust to this wretched figure before me being my mother.
I had the feeling the nurses’s words were as much for my benefit as for Mom’s; she didn’t know our history, she only knew Mom had been asking for me and that I had never visited. She kept trying, kept putting mom’s hand on my face, kept trying to get her eyes to open and focus.
Then, after getting virtually no response from Mom, she said to me, “Oh my God, her brain is just gone, it’s gone.” Mom’s hand fumbled on my face and neck limply and without much response. “Lynn! Touch your daughter, she came to see you from California. Lynn! Lynn! Your daughter loves you!” This was the first time I came to tears – the kindness of the nurse, coupled with her stark words, mixed with the enormity of our relationship, of the situation.
My mother’s house was a very nice two-story Colonial in a good neighborhood, full of her books and beloved possessions. Here, she was sharing a room with another dementia patient, with only a few scattered belongings to remind her of home: Some photos, my old deacon’s bench that held my toys for so many years, one of her favorite paintings, a few knick-knacks on a bookshelf. Nothing more.
Mom walks almost continuously. If she is not sleeping, she wants to walk. This is apparently common in dementia patients, and in her case, they believe she is looking for me. She very frequently talks about “my daughter, I have to find my daughter,” and worries about me being in some kind of danger relating to water.
Sunday morning, my dad told me of a time when I was 4 years old and we were at Lake Michigan camping on the sand dunes. My mother was back at the campsite, while Dad and I were playing on the beach. I took it upon myself to wander off, he thinks maybe back toward the campsite, but I didn’t know my way and I got lost. I was only away from my parents for maybe 10-15 minutes at most, he said. However my mother was in an absolute panic, and I’m certain it felt like a small eternity to her and probably to my father as well. He wondered (and now I do as well) if that’s where she thinks she is, and why she feels like I’m in danger and need rescuing. Cruel. Stuck not in happy times from her past, but horrible ones.
We got her laid out on her bed, only ever so briefly before she struggled to get up again and resume her endless march, and I looked over her tiny body closely.
I recognized the mole on the back of her left calf, and not much else. Her face… no. Her entire person… no. There was no visible sign of my mother. She had been devoured, erased by this disease.
I went through the video, grabbing still shots and editing them, finding ways to express how she had faded away:
She was kept fairly medicated for pain, as she had fallen recently and had a huge, awful bruise all over the right side of her bottom and back of her right thigh. Because of the physical pain, she often wore an expression of anguish, which I amplified in some to show the awful, ugly reality:
One of the wonderful caretakers told me she had recently gotten Mom to smile and dance a little bit, but her dancing was just moving her shoulders back and forth. I was happy to hear she had a moment of fun. She told me that before Mom took a radical turn for the worse, she had a friend, Phil, on the floor who would walk with her. They would sometimes stop and kiss. Sweet.
The patience of these women was profoundly humbling; I could never hold a candle to a one of them. It is exhausting and difficult to keep track of my mother as she carries on in her search which will always only end in failure to find her goal. She can no longer walk alone, she has to be accompanied so she doesn’t fall.
Trying to get her into bed, even when she is literally falling asleep on her feet, is impossible. She has a nearly superhuman strength, apparently also common with dementia. It took everything I had to try to keep her lying down, or to get her to lie down – it was impossible without hurting her.
They could restrain her, it would be the easiest thing for them, but instead… they walk with her. They ask her questions, they try to get her to engage. When all else fails and they must attend to someone else, they sedate her further and wait. Her tolerance is so high, they have to dose her repeatedly to get her to calm or sleep. She seems to be more comfortable in her Jerry chair than in bed, so we try and try again to seat her for more than 30 seconds at a time.
She wants her hands held almost all the time, she wants human contact, and reaches for every hand she sees. While she was lying down quietly for a rare moment, I held her hand for the first time.
After awhile, convinced I would keep close watch, they left me alone with her to walk the halls. Eventually, I closed us in her room, because she was so medicated that when she stopped to turn around at the end of the hall, she stooped over asleep. I wanted to keep her close to her bed and chair, and so we walked in circles around her room. She would sometimes try to open the door, but I held it shut. She shuffled to the other end of the room and seemed to look at the photos on the bookshelf or out the window, but I don’t think her eyes actually saw anything external. I’m fairly sure her eyes were closed, and when her grasping fingers touched upon and gently held the picture frames, she was only keeping herself upright as she fought the many milligrams of morphine.
At one point, she said, “itch my back,” and I thought maybe she recognized me at that moment because she would make that request of me sometimes, but perhaps not. Saturday was mostly just incoherent walking. I talked to her a little, and, when she was clearly in physical agony or was excessively worried about something going on in her head, I would reflexively say, “everything is ok.” What an exceptional lie. Nothing was ok. Absolutely nothing at all was “ok” in her world of turmoil.
I left after perhaps four hours, after which time I was exhausted. It was not a productive or satisfying visit in any way, I had not reached her at all. It was only ceaseless shuffling and struggling, punctuated by seconds of calmness. I went home to my dad and step-mom’s house to ponder, to recover, to wonder.
Today marks the one-year anniversary of my first visit to San Diego. I came to visit some Michigan friends who had moved here a couple of years before, and also to see if I might be interested in living here myself. As you’ve seen, I love to ride, so I had one requirement for my next place of residence: I needed to be able to ride my motorcycle year-round on beautiful roads. That was my single criterion. I was tired of putting up the bikes for 4-5 months out of the year, tired of riding in straight lines on boring, flat, shitty roads.
To be honest, we don’t get many snows like this anymore. Back in the 70’s, the whole winter was like this, and it was pretty great. Now, things just tend to be below freezing cold, dead, gray, and awful.
I was always interested in and attracted to motorcycles, but they seemed so unsafe, so unstable. Then I dated a guy (hi, Troy) with a V65 Sabre, and after a few rides on the back, I said, “ok, fuck this – I wanna drive.” I was 26 then, and I wish I’d started when I was 16. Or 6, for that matter. Instead, young Erin’s need for speed was confined to sneaking the family car out and careening down those abandoned country roads with my best friend, Lisa, and to tractors, and to roller skates.
A favorite childhood pastime.
Fast-forward to now: I’ve been riding for a minute – about 22 years, but the vast, overwhelming majority of that time was spent riding in central Michigan (otherwise known as, “where roads and cars both go to die.”) Whilst living in Lansing, we had to ride 30 minutes in one of two directions to hit any sort of twisties. Northwest, there were several s-curves in a row – several! Several was a big deal back there. Southeast there was a longer bit of road that was more twisty and which took a good 20 or so minutes to travel in one direction. Then, from there, we had a few fairly attractive options in the Ann Arbor area, but nothing to write home about. Let me show you what I mean – this is a map of the area:
See all those straight lines? Now imagine them filled with potholes the size of a Buick. That’s central Michigan for you.
Central Michigan is very agriculturally driven; those roads tend to either follow the property/field lines or water. As a result – I bought a Harley. Now, now, hear me out – I’ve been a sport and sport-touring rider for my entire riding career, and I largely held Harleys in contempt. In contempt, that is, until I rode one and just had a grin on my face the whole time.
No regrets – She was a great Michigan Bike.
So it came to pass that, in 2012, at the beginning of my very own Mid-Life Crisis*, I bought a brand new Harley Super Glide Custom, named her Dahlia, and spent about 16,000 very happy miles on her. Harleys are fun to ride in straight roads. Now, for those of you who have never lived anywhere but in San Diego County, “straight roads” are exactly what they sound like – roads with nary a curve to be seen. Freeways here in SoCal are better than the best roads in central Michigan. You feel me? Right on.
I thought I was a pretty damned good rider when I lived in Michigan.
I was, of course, wrong – it’s just that Michigan is not precisely a hotbed of super-accomplished motorcyclists.
Thus, when I moved here, I basically had to learn how to ride all over again in a more tactical manner. Chuck and Lorraine took me on my maiden ride, and I was utterly blown away. We hit Sunrise, we hit Mesa Grande, we hit Palomar, we hit The Chairs, we hit … other roads I don’t remember… but I was exhausted by the end of it. My brain was going a kazillion miles an hour, and my shoulders were a little fatigued from “all the pushing” of the handlebars. Some of the turns intimidated the hell out of me – heck, some entire roads intimidated me (Highland Valley, for example, was just a huge stressor for a good, long while.)
Back then, I was riding my now-gone FZ1-R1, and I loved her desperately.
Power all day long.
Many of you will remember: I was slowwwwww. As my beloved Mike Mc. recently said, “Erin, when you joined this club, you couldn’t pass a mouse.” He’s not wrong.
On impulse, I bought an FJ 09 for the annual trek up to Gerlach, Nevada (where I first met Chuck in the 90’s!) Had I known better then, I would’ve skipped straight to the GS and saved myself some money and headache, but I didn’t know what I didn’t know. Recently, Randy dubbed this bike “Cassandra:”
Sadly, the FJ did no favors to my riding skills; the stock tires were so utterly abysmal – what they lacked in road feel they also lacked in grip. Confidence = undermined.
Thus, when I first started riding with the club, I was inexperienced on these roads, on a bike whose tires fought me every inch of the way. It wasn’t until I put new PR4’s on Cassandra that my riding noticeably improved and I began to fully appreciate the FJ’s light weight, incredible power, and extreme agility. Juuuuust in time to buy the GS, naturally.
By the time I picked up the GS, I mostly had the hang of San Diego roads, and the confidence boost the GS gave me was immense. You all know the story of how Ember came to pass, so suffice to say, I am so happy with this bike. She is the best bike, the nicest bike, I have ever had. I ride the GS better and faster than any bike I’ve had, and only some of that can be attributed to me – much glory to the bike.
Best. Bike. EVER.
I’ve been gradually riding better and better, thanks to following behind some of the best riders I’ve ever personally known: Rex, the two Scott’s, Phil, Tom, the aforementioned Mike, Nick, Edward, Rich, Jonathan, Bob S., a couple of Bill’s, and more than a few assorted others. You guys have been the best instructors, just leading by example most of the time, and at others, offering advice.
Lately, I’ve come to feel more confident, and confidence is where it’s at.
The San Luis Obispo trip was a huge turning point for me; these were roads I’d never ridden on previously, in a group comprised of people with whom I’d not ridden previously (or at least not much, apart from Scott R. and Scooter Bob.) Thus, I had no expectations, no preconceived notions of what was hard, what was easy, what was scary, and who was “way faster than I am.”
I just rode, subscribing largely to the, “If He Can Do It, So Can I” theory of speed – if Scott, on his older GS, could keep this pace on roads he hadn’t ever been on before… shit, maybe I could, too.
Familiar words echoed in my head: “Erin, you have got to learn to trust that GS.” The thing is, I trust the GS implicitly – that bike knows what it’s doing, no question. The distrust lies within myself – I don’t trust my reflexes, my judgment, enough to have faith that whatever is around that turn, I can handle it. I feel like all of the people I noted above have that kind of confidence – and, short of a bus blocking both lanes, they’re probably right.
Sure, the odds are in our favor on blind curves, but one never truly knows. I was talking to The Unnamed Gentleman the other night about this very thing, and he summed things up succinctly: “I ride for the 99% of the time it’s going to be clear; you might choose to ride for the 1% it might not be.” He went on to talk about ways to mitigate possible problems (late-apex cornering, for example,) but in the end, it comes down to faith and common sense.
Faith and common sense. Are these mutually exclusive?
I’ve had more than a few “oh, shit!” moments on bikes when reflexes and instinct took over and everything worked out just fine – my muscle memory and judgment did their things. Those things weren’t always the best courses of action, but they got me through.
And it surprises me Every. Damn. Time.
After the SLO trip, though, I noticed a change. Yes, some of the curves and roads were still a bit intimidating, but it didn’t matter as much – sit there, twist that, everything is good and fun. Fine and dandy. I’ve been working consciously on removing any preconceived notions of “this curve is scary” and instead, just riding.
This past weekend, I rode with Klaus for the first time, just the two of us. He took it easy on me at first, and then suddenly, we were fucking flying through the curves. I started scraping things. Hard. Hard enough to actually warrant backing off on Montezuma because I was afraid three points of contact were going to flip me into a high-side or other gnarly situation. I am certain Klaus could have gone a fair bit faster, flinging that HP2 all over hell and gone, but we were moving right along.
The sidestand footprint enlarger took a hell of a beating on Sunday. It hangs down a fair bit lower than the peg – which somehow also got scraped. No bueno, no bueno at all.
Upon seeing that, The Unnamed Gentleman said, “Your suspension is on SOFT.”
“Hard ROAD, hard DYNA?”
“So when you’re pushing that hard, try one rider with bags. It will keep the bike from sagging at the apex under the G-force.”
“I’m afraid that’ll be a little tall when stopping.”
“Won’t really affect the height.”
I went downstairs and adjusted the suspension, feeling the bike lift up a good two inches on me. “Won’t really affect the height,” he said. I’ll give it a go for now, though.
After Sunday’s romp, I have zero chicken strips on my rear tire and I have to say – that feels pretty awesome. However, I’m now confronted with learning how to ride all over again at a different level – using body weight to reduce lean angle. I’m not going to be dragging knees anytime soon, and likely never will, but I have to start getting used to hanging my ass off the saddle a bit to help things along.
Plus, I need to learn how to ride in the dirt. All the learning: I can’t wait. All of this I would love to one day parlay into a traveling, ADV-moto-journalist career, but I can’t afford to quit the day job just yet, and it’s not an easy field to break into.
Back to my main point: This club has been amazing and has helped me to advance my riding by several levels. You’ve shown me the best roads, both paved and not, you’ve given me a tribe here in SoCal when I had none.
I am exceptionally grateful to all of you who have been so welcoming, so kind, so gracious, so helpful. I want to give a bunch back to the club and am still figuring out the best ways to do it.
From the bottom of this Michigan farm girl’s overflowing heart – thank you. I’ll do my best to make everyone a casserole over time.
* The rest of the mid-life crisis went like this: Chop off 20 inches of hair; dye short hair weirdo colors (wait, I’m still doing that – shit;) leave husband; divorce husband; proceed to date a bunch of people half my age; buy a flashier car than I needed; run up credit card debt; move to SoCal.
Everything is unusual until we become accustomed to it.
Last Friday, I “crashed” the GS for the first and second (but assuredly not the last) times.
I don’t want to talk about it.
Who am I kidding? OF COURSE I DO. (Have we even met?)
EDIT: I feel compelled to add a very important thing here; no one forced me to do anything; I went along all roads and trails willingly and I take full responsibility for dropping the bike both times. The fault lies with me, and with no one else.
I have been semi-bitten by the dirt bug – I love the idea of getting out there and thrashing around on trails and such, but before I can do that, I have to… well, learn how to do the basics. I sent a query out to the Let’s Ride list, and a few folks answered the call. Rich advised me to take off my aluminum panniers and provided me with an impressive list of people in the club who’ve had their legs broken by them. I took his advice, though I was “sure that wouldn’t be an issue.” Ha.
I arrived at the designated gas station fairly early, and there were two GS’s already there. Given I didn’t know two of the names who said they were or might be coming, I figured they were the two. I walked up, introduced myself, and said, “so, where do you guys want to go?” They looked at me like I was a crazy person. We very quickly figured out they were not in any way affiliated with the club – derp. We had a good chuckle and shot the shit for awhile.
Rich, Brett, Don, and Juergen did show, and we all aired down to about 25 pounds which seemed insanely low to me, but I deferred to Rich’s expertise. Ember was alarmed – for the duration, a flashing red warning light constantly reminded me she did not approve. We rode over to the entrance to Black Canyon Road following Rich’s lead, and I was happy to run into Scott R. as we did. Easy-peasy, that road, though I’m still not confident enough to keep up with the more accomplished dirt riders, who left me in their (literal) dust. Juergen and I held up the back end of the group, mincing our way along. I was on Anakee 3 tires, which are about 90/10 road/off-road – not great traction in the dirt at all, but better than my Pilot Road 4’s, assuredly. Don was kind to remind me at several points that he and I were working harder because we didn’t have dirt tires.
The Anakee 3’s look like this:
Whereas the TKC 70’s I’ve just mounted as of yesterday are:
I really do hope they make the difference people have told me they will.
We reached a gated turnoff and found the gate open – off we headed down the truck trail. It was a little intimidating at first – I had no idea what sort of bump or rock or gully would be A Problem for the GS, and there were times when I got pulled off-course by sand or gravel or slope and had to go over some shit I definitely would’ve avoided, but man – she took all of it in stride. I’m sure I’ll continue to be wildly impressed.
Once we were on the truck trail, Rich kindly took up the sweep position so Juergen and I would have help if we needed it. About 45 or so minutes after we started our adventure, maybe 20 minutes after getting to the trail, we took our first pit stop. I was whipped and my legs were quaking like the proverbial aspen. I’d been watching some off-roading videos, and they all said to keep my knees bent to help soak up the bumps, so I was. Rich later told me to just keep my legs straight and let the ridiculously good GS suspension do the hard work unless the bump was really awful. Had I known this when we started off, I’d have been in much better condition as time passed. As it stood, or rather, as it tried to stand, I was, as one of my Texas buddies, Allen, would say, “tahrd.” Not just “tired,” but tahrd. Cooked. I felt like I’d spent the last hour doing squats… which, I suppose, I essentially had been. It was hot, but not super hot, and I was sweating like a mofo.
After taking a short break, we pushed onward. We reached a fork in the road where the leaders had graciously paused to let us catch up. Rich wanted me to do some dirt-based practice – standing up and turning in a tight circle. In front of everyone? Oh, gosh. Ok. I wobbled around in a few circles, sitting at first, then standing. I was so tired, though, I didn’t want to generate any more lactic acid than absolutely necessary. After practice, some of the group headed for home, which I also probably should’ve done given how exhausted my legs were.
But no. Of course I did not, because I didn’t want to miss out on the fun ahead. Mistake number one.
The next section of trail was about at the limit of my skills when I’m this out of shape and already struggling with muscle fatigue. I was so disappointed that the GoPro overheated and shut off for that section because I kind of felt like a badass afterward… a graceless, slow badass, but a badass nonetheless. That was mistake number two – hubris, baby.
After a small eternity, we reached another stopping point. Brett carried on to the end of the trail, but I opted to stay behind and rest for a bit. Rich was kind enough to hang out with me, and we soon turned around and headed back down the trail – we knew Brett would catch up. 😀
Rich is a fantastic dirt rider, and wanted me to do some skills practice. I don’t think I managed to adequately convey how very, very tired and made-of-Jell-O my legs were. I opted to pass on his “find the tipping point hitting the brake and the throttle at the same time,” drill and will save that for another day. We did do some emergency stopping, however, so I could try to get used to that feeling. The first few went well, but then… then, I slammed on the brakes and discovered my right foot couldn’t touch the ground – I’d stopped over a small gully on that side. WHAM! Over we went. Hard. Past horizontal, too. I didn’t realize how hard a hit it was until I watched the video – wow. I suspect that’s what knocked my gaskets out of alignment, rather than the second incident a few minutes later.
Rich came back and we got the bike back to a “normal” dropped angle. He offered to lift it for me, and did – thank goodness, because I know my legs would’ve crumbled into dust. The paracord wrap on my crashbar didn’t seem any worse for wear. 😀 I learned repeatedly pressing the keyless ride button does not kill the engine, so the bike ran for longer than I would’ve liked on its side. Foo.
When I first got the GS, Dr. Tom had told me I should just go out and throw the bike down once to get that first damage “out of the way.” I politely passed, but I must admit that once I had that first damage done, I gave far fewer fucks about subsequent accidents. I was tired, I was getting a little hangry, and I was ready to head for home. I felt a little too cocky, and went a little too fast, and paid the price for it.
The new prevailing theory is that I crashed because there was a sand monster lying in wait for me. Shown here as we hit the ground – it has a gaping maw and scary eye, and you can see my helmet in the top right corner.
Everything was going just fine until I hit some fairly deep sand in a right-hand curve. When I realized what was happening, it was too late – the bike was on the ground faster than I could react. I remember very distinctly flying a short way through the air saying, “oh bugger,” as if I were suddenly British. Upon landing, I felt a small “pop!” in my right shoulder, which squarely absorbed all of the impact. “Oh, bugger indeed,” I mused, thinking I’d broken my clavicle or torn my rotator cuff. Both of my parents have torn their cuffs and said it was the most excruciating recovery of their lives. And it was a long recovery, too. Fuck. Noooo! Incidentally, Rich may have saved me the trouble of a broken leg by having me remove the hard cases – this was exactly the scenario he had described to me. Thanks, Rich!
Rich and Brett weren’t too far behind me. They got the bike up, and I said we needed to get going Right Now before this shoulder becomes A Very Big Problem. It felt like a very long ride to pavement and I took it very easy. Each time I had to move my right arm, agony, which increased every so often. Shoulders are complicated joints. In my head, I was negotiating the injury with the universe – “ok, a fractured clavicle over a rotator cuff, please. I can handle a bone break, that’s easy. Just don’t let it be the rotator cuff!”
We reached civilization and pulled off to the side of the road. Rich asked me what my plans were, and I said I was taking myself right to the emergency room on the way home. “Who are you going to call?” he asked.
“Oh, no one – I’ll just take care of everything myself, and if I need someone to get the bike from the hospital for me, I’m sure a few folks would help out.”
“But who are you going to call?”
I paused. “… I guess I’m not sure I understand what you’re asking…”
I’m an only child. A polite, Midwestern, only child, who assumes she can take everything on by herself. I hate inconveniencing people. I am not overly fond of asking for help. Rich assured me he had inconvenienced people in far greater ways, and offered to escort me to the ER in Escondido, and then to help with the bike. What a guy! I followed him to Palomar Health, a very nice facility. I’d guess from the point of impact to the time we arrived was perhaps two and a half hours.
To a person, everyone at the hospital was incredibly kind and friendly. There was a lot of laughing and joking around, and when they asked me my pain level and I said, “oh, about a 7,” the nurse said, “Oh, honey, no no – 10 is high, 1 is low.” “Right, I’m going to stick with a 7, because this bitch hurts. A lot. But acting like a jerk and being grouchy about it isn’t going to help anyone – don’t let the jokes fool you, I’m definitely not ok.” They offered pain meds, which I declined.
For me, “a high tolerance for something” (in this case, “pain,”) doesn’t mean you don’t feel the thing – it means you feel it, but it doesn’t affect you as much as it might another person. I have a high pain tolerance, but an insanely low itch or tickle tolerance. A mosquito bite that a normal person might be able to ignore will drive me insane. Being tickled in certain spots makes me very, very angry and uncomfortable. I am basically incapacitated by a minor case of poison ivy, but hell, slam my finger in a door and I’m going to giggle through the tears and carry on. They palpated, saying it felt more like an AC issue than a rotator cuff or broken clavicle, and popped me into a sling.
We waited for perhaps an hour for me to be taken to radiology, where a very sweet radiology student named Kimmy was my caretaker. Kimmy informed me I had to take off my bra. Ooooh, boy. That was not possible given I couldn’t move my arm much anymore. I mentioned previously it was hot, and that I was sweaty. Three or four hours had not improved that condition any. Oh, Kimmy… I’m so, so sorry. Maybe I could just leave now, rather than ask for help?
I apologized profusely and said I was going to need help. Unfazed, Kimmy dove into the sweaty miasma that was my back and between the two of us, managed to wrangle it off. Because Kimmy was new, we had to redo several films, and then she brought out two bags of sand. I was to hold one in each hand while they took the next set of images to diagnose a possible AC tear/separation. Each bag weighed about 15 pounds. It was their turn to apologize because this was not going to be any fun for me.
Fortunately, those didn’t have to be redone, and that completed our tasks. Kimmy, herself sporting rather large breasts, asked if I were comfortable going without my bra. I looked into her eyes for a moment, and we both burst into laughter. “Comfortable” without a bra. Mmhm. Sure. Just get prepped for all the passers-by who will have black eyes as I walk past. Fortunately, I was wearing one of those HeatOut shirts that are fairly tight, clingy, and supportive, so the girls were less unruly than they might have otherwise been. I opted to forego having Kimmy deal with all the eDar sweat again, and just went without, comfortable or not, though I did keep my arms self-consciously crossed most of the time, and the sling helped.
Perhaps a half hour later, the radiologist came out to chat with me. He was probably about my age, super jovial, and a former rider himself. “You’re not 20 anymore, Erin,” he joked, and a small, sensitive part of me wanted to punch him right in the mouth hole for reminding me. Instead, I laughed. We proceeded to talk about the accident, and he said the R1200GS was an amazing machine, but far too big and too heavy for off-road. I told him that was a lengthy discussion for another time, but that I had about 50 friends who would disagree vociferously.
It took longer to be discharged than anything else, and I lamented all the riding I might be missing out on for awhile. “What am I going to do with my weekends,” I mused. “I know! I’ll do some snorkeling!” Wrong. I am not terribly bright – no, there would be no snorkeling, because that requires even more movement and joint stress than riding does. I supposed I could read. Or write. Or … something.
Rich and his lovely bride, Deb, loaded the GS into their truck and drove me home through rush-hour traffic, for which I was very, very grateful. It was as I was getting myself into the truck I noticed the oil leaking from the right valve cover. Shit. Yep, something was definitely not ok.
That first night was rough. Every time I moved, agony. Not much sleep was had, and I did end up taking a Norco I’d had from the year prior, when I ruptured my S1/L5 vertebral disk and had sciatica the likes of which I could barely stand.
Saturday, however… so much better! Vastly improved. Not good enough to ride, but I could function. In 2005, thanks to a freak alpaca incident, I was without the use of my left hand for about a year and a half.
That is a very, very long time to be at half-capacity for hands. I had to learn all kinds of coping strategies – How2Pants, How2GroceryCart, How2Shower, How2OpenJars, and so on. Not any fun whatsoever.
And that was my non-dominant hand. This was my right arm – might be a bit more difficult.
I dutifully wore my sling all day long, including to Saturday morning breakfast at Palomino’s with the gang. My dearest Phil did a lovely job of alllllmost not saying “I told you so,” and gave me a referral to his excellent osteopath. I can’t get in until the 23rd, but I hope they’ll be able to do an MRI that same day to check for soft tissue damage.
After breakfast, I ran some errands and found myself near a Rite Aid that I haven’t used before. Since I was there, I figured I’d fill my Norco and mega-Ibuprofen scripts there. They had my address from 2005 on file, which seemed strange. They also didn’t have any valid insurance information they could find, which seemed odd, given my Rite Aid has that. The scripts were from “out of the area” (20 minutes away?) so they don’t normally fill those kinds of controlled substance scripts. The pharmacist’s assistant kept looking at me sideways, and I’m sure she thought I was drug-seeking.
Not to downplay the opioid epidemic, but come on: The best I could hope for was, “WOOOOO! I FEEL A LITTLE DROWSY!!!”
Fine. I’ll just go back to my own Rite Aid. They filled them without question, and I keep forgetting to go get them.
Sunday morning, I felt able to ride, so I did. I stayed toward the back of the New Member Ride group, and dutifully took it easy. My right boot was absolutely covered with oil by the end.
Monday, I was able to shoot some pool. Tuesday, things were a bit sorer. Today, Wednesday, things seem to have plateaued, so I’m looking forward to seeing the doctor Monday. It feels very much like an AC issue at this point, given where the pain is.
I had the bike fixed yesterday – both valve cover gaskets and an hour of labor. Could’ve been worse!
My first look at Ember’s innards.
All in all, I feel very lucky, and will not be deterred from doing more dirt. I also had a set of TKC 70’s mounted yesterday, and I am absolutely dying to see how different they feel off-pavement… but I know it would be stupid to risk reinjuring the same site. Maybe I’ll just go find a nice, flat dirt road somewhere. Or maybe… I could just be patient.
AAAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. I couldn’t even type that with a straight face.
Now I’m off to pick up the headlight guard that’s just come in, because I can’t just ride up to the dealership once in any given week, no; it’s a three- or four-times-a-week gig for me. Luckily, I adore the staff and they tolerate me. 🙂
For many years, I was a thoroughly shitty person. Competitive, judgmental, negative – all the things – probably more internally than externally, but I’m certain it was obvious to others more often than not.
Many of these thoughts and behaviors were directed at other girls (and later, women) because I had been so fully conditioned to see other women as some evil force in the world, competition for male attention, threats to my personal satisfaction, et cetera.
What. Utter. Bullshit.
It was doubly idiotic in my case, because I am I am often attracted to women as well as to men, so I had this ridiculous war going on in my head of hating women, of feeling ultra-threatened by them, and yet also being drawn to a number of them.
Thankfully, somewhere in my thirties, I managed to break through that insane socialization and began to appreciate women, to respect them, and to be very gentle with judgment. Of course, there are a ton of women who are better at things than I am. Of course, there are women who are far more intelligent, more together, more attractive, more everything than I am.
And that’s ok.
I’m sure many, perhaps even most, of you grokked this far earlier on in life than I did, but my perfect storm of a wretched, judgmental mother combined with American marketing and general socialization, had me swallowing that particular bait hook, line, and sinker.
I couldn’t be more grateful to the people who unknowingly helped me to climb out of that pit of despair. Thank you. My life is so much richer, far less miserable, now that I can accept other women as whole people rather than just Competitors.
Recently, I became friends with a woman who would have sent me through the roof with jealousy and anxiety a decade ago. She is intelligent, kind, driven, skilled, generous, supportive, gorgeous, and just generally neat. The more I get to know her, the more I adore her: She’s all the things. The good things. Sure, I’m certain she has her baggage like the rest of us do, but her level of kick-ass far exceeds that other stuff. Look at this girl:
Right? Not only does she ride, but she races. And she rides dirt. She does all manner of things I’d love to do myself but never made priorities in my life. So, I’ll live vicariously a little through her adventures and hopefully share some, too. Ten or fifteen years ago, I would have just quietly seethed with raging jealousy and avoided her, because I was dumb.
This post started knocking around my head this morning as I was scrolling through footage of the lunch ride down to Ensenada, Mexico, we took yesterday with two other friends. Raven (because of course her name is “Raven,”) was behind me for some of the trip, and I found myself looking for frame grabs in which she looked awesome (these, incidentally, are not hard to find.) I had one of those “huh!” moments as I realized I wanted her to look awesome, to be seen as spectacular. The me of days past would have quietly swept those under the rug. Here’s one now:
So, this is a sort of self-congratulatory post, which makes me wince, but I’ll throw it up here anyhow as part of my journey. You know me – I seldom have a thought that doesn’t come tumbling out of my fingers. Plus, since The Dawn of the Internet, I’ve found when I share shortcomings, it often helps someone else wrestling with similar things not to feel alone.
Here’s Raven’s Stuff so you can follow along with her, too:
“Do you really need more than one?” is a question commonly asked by non-riders. N + 1, baby; N + 1.
I have dated many men and women over the decades, and I’ve run the gamut of good relationships and bad. Of the <cough><insert number here> people who have been in that mix, vanishingly few of them have ridden motorcycles – which is simultaneously a tragedy and a blessing in disguise.
On the “blessing” side, having partners who don’t ride guarantees me a certain measure of Alone Time, no matter what. I’m an only child (“ooohhh,” people always say, nodding; “that explains a lot,”) and I needs mah Space. My soul gets restless and itchy if subjected to people non-stop for a long period of time.
On the tragedy side, if someone doesn’t know that irresistible beckoning of two wheels, hasn’t ever experienced the promise of a full, cold tank of gasoline pressing against their thighs, hasn’t ever had to dodge an errant cage driver, hasn’t ever downshifted and rolled on through a big, long, smooth sweeper… can we really connect? Yeah, of course we can… but there’s always going to be that impassable gulf between us. Stopping and taking a break on a particularly breathtaking ride and being able to share the view and the whole damn experience with someone I care about is superb. I miss that.
Non-riders look at motorcycles and see Machines; we look at them and see beautiful, endless possibilities. Miles of ’em.
Fuck yes, I want this between my legs more than most things most of the time. This is apparently difficult to understand. No, it has nothing to do with vibration.
Too, I don’t just ride – a ride a lot. It is, after all, the biggest reason why I moved to San Diego. It’s November 26th, and I just got home from a spectacular five-hour ride that was only a little chilly at the beginning of the morning. My poor Michigan friends, as well as our other northern bretheren, are stuck making vroom-vroom noises in their garages for another 5ish more months.
Time and time again, so many of the married riders I know (men and women alike) who don’t have a spouse who enjoys riding lament their misfortune. They speak of “kitchen passes” and sometimes have “curfews” and limitations on how many days per week they’re “allowed” to ride. Others are more fortunate and have understanding, gracious partners who happily allow them the time they need to bond with their machines and riding buddies, which makes the time they choose to spend together all the more fantastic. I love seeing my friends happy in their relationships – it’s such a refreshing change of pace from the all too common bitching and moaning about a less-than-perfect marriage.
My ex-husband just didn’t get it, and over the brief six years we were together, the more time I spent on the road, the more he came to resent my most treasured hobby. When I bought a Harley in 2012 (sssshhh, we’re all friends here, no judging,) he was so furious… he called his mom to tell on me. Oh gosh – Stuff just got real. He was a great guy, make no mistake, but our compatibility fell well short of where it should have been in a number of areas. Eventually, I had to flee to save both of our sanities.
Now, having uprooted myself and relocated cross-country for the third time, I am faced with a dilemma – Am I willing to compromise on this key area again? The bigger part of me says “of course!” but there is a nay-sayer in the back of my head, clucking her tongue and inhaling through her teeth if someone isn’t a rider. “I dunno,” she says, skepticism virtually dripping off her words, “is s/he going to start getting shitty when I do overnight trips with other people? What about when both weekend mornings are consumed by club rides? Are we willing to sacrifice that?”
Sure, if I’m head-over-heels in love, I’ll compromise, but “head-over-heels” seldom happens. I am a seeker by nature, and it takes a lot to get me in it to win it. Once In It, however, I’m 100% there as long as everyone’s happy.
Cue the inner pragmatist, who seldom sees the light of day: There are a lot of damn pitfalls in any potential match – politics, monogamy versus poly, incompatible schedules, lack of geographic proximity, hatred of something important to the other… should I really narrow my field by another order of magnitude?
Sure, I could drive up here… but it’s soooo much more fun to ride.
Thus far out here, every rider I’ve taken a liking to has already been snapped up by some other lucky human, and I have painfully learned my lesson about keeping my hand out of that particular cookie jar. Granted, there are a lot of good things about being single – a whole lot. I am beholden to no one, I set my own schedule without fear of reprisals, I don’t have to check in. “Is there money in the bank? Yes? Sweet, let’s go!” “Do I feel like just not coming home tonight? Fuck it, I’m staying in Borrego Springs until morning.”
Of course, there’s the distinct lack of sex, which is problematic. But these are the choices I make. For now. <twitch>
Meeting people is a bit tricky when online dating doesn’t work for me. I need to meet someone organically through a common thing – motorcycles, for example, would be great. Or shooting pool. Or snorkeling. Shooting. Photography. Or whatever thing we have in common that provides a foundation to build upon other than, “Hey, so I hear you’re looking for someone to date, too!” <awkward laugh> OKCupid is a fucking nightmare. Tinder? Ick.
It would be fun to have someone to Do Stuff with (it’s difficult to talk random friends into cage diving with Great White Sharks to the tune of $3000,) but at what expense? As with all things, I need to relax and just let time play its track out. I’ve sort of settled into being single for the rest of my life at this point – I’m 47; my dating pool is shrinking by the nanosecond. The last several people I’ve dated have been in their twenties, but obviously, while super fun, those sorts of gigs aren’t going to be terribly long-term due to the sheer magnitude of experience differentials. At this point, I’m seeking a grown-ass person who has their shit together, who, for one reason or another, is single. Oh, and who would find me remotely interesting. Where they at?
Alright, enough bemoaning the woeful state of my non-existent love life, y’all. I am so exceptionally fortunate in damn near every other area, I think I can be cool missing out on this. Right? Right.
When I was ages 18 through 21, my second home was The Nectarine Ballroom in Ann Arbor. I worked there for about a year, but mostly, I was wildly devoted to Industrial Nights on Monday.
Those people, that place… it was my life, and in some ways, I let it absolutely ruin my life and what it could have been. It was the Nec that moved me to decide to break up with Jon, the love of my life, a decision I would soon and eternally regret after that fateful, stupid night. I often uselessly wonder how my life would be different had I just … not done that one stupid, impulsive thing. Such ponderings are pointless, of course, and only lead to frustrations and sadness. The Nec was wonderful, and horrible, and all-consuming, and I was its minion.
The Nec exerted a powerful pull, and the focal point for Mondays was John, the DJ. That guy spun the best tunes, and exposed me to bands that still rank as all-time favorites to this day. I spent many, many hours flailing around on that dance floor, looking up at the DJ booth, wondering what was coming next. My crush on John knew no bounds, man – all the lust and admiration an angsty younster could muster was laser-focused on him as he picked our musical fare for the night. I was just another random girl in the crowd, of course.
It was the Nec which destroyed a significant portion of my hearing, and which is responsible for the constant tinnitus I’ve had since age 19. The main factor was an astonishingly loud concert by Ministry – it was so loud, I couldn’t actually discern any music; it was just fucking noise. Al, the lead singer, was super drunk, didn’t give a fuck, and it was horrible. Did I leave? NOPE. Of course not. This was Ministry, a legend, one of my favorites, and they were right there in touching distance. I saw Patty Smith and other notables while there, as well. Ah, Nectarine – you were my jam.
It’s been more than 20 years since I was last at the Nec, which is now significantly smaller and has been renamed “Necto.” This past Monday night, John (aka DJ Cyberpunk, no less) made a return to Factory Monday (what Industrial Night is now called,) and played two sets: I wouldn’t have missed this for the world.
A chance to relive some of my long-lost youth? Hells yes, of course.
As I walked in the door and up the stairs, I was assaulted with both the familiar feel of the place as well as the new aspects. It was cleaner, better-maintained, and actually decorated. The kids working there looked much like the kids of my time. John’s first set had already begun, and we said our hellos after an eternity since we last saw each other. It wasn’t long before he played a tune from those old days, and I headed down to the dance floor, the only person out there.
In those earlier years, I would have rather died than be the only person dancing in a public place. My friends and I would either wait for other people to start, or we’d wait for “the right song.” Silliness. Life is short, dance like crazy whenever you want.
As I started dancing (badly, as I always do,) my brain took me vividly back in time. I remembered how, whenever unknown people came into “our” bar, we scrutinized them closely. I remembered specifically one older couple, probably in their 40’s, who came one night and danced to absolutely everything, no matter who was on the floor or what the tune was. They just had a great time, and gave no fucks about what anyone else thought of them. They were wearing normal adult-type clothing, whilst the rest of us were skulking around in our goth/industrial garb. I admired them a bit then, and I understand them much better now.
As the crowd started trickling in last week, it was so much fun seeing what the costumes of the current day were. I was surprised to see a lot of furries there, and there were also fire spinners with their glowing batons, people in masks, people dressed up as rogues, people wearing classic/vintage stuff from our day. We geezers reminisced, drank to absent friends, and danced. I danced far, far too much – It’s now 5 days later, and my blisters still haven’t fully healed, though my sore, aching muscles have mostly recovered. I discovered I still sweat a lot when I dance.
But holy shit, it was so much fun, you guys.
There were only a very few familiar faces: John, Steve, and Chris. I don’t know Chris, didn’t even actually know his name until Steve told me, but I surely recognized the way he danced from Back Then. Some things in this universe are constants.
The trio below were probably superhigh on something, but they were having a great time. The small girl called the moves, which alternated between Tai Chi and Randomness. I wish I could have gotten more footage of them, but my phone’s battery died mid-video here:
I hope there’s a dance club in San Diego I’ll like – life is too short not to dance, and I’d forgotten that. John lives in LA, just a train ride North from San Diego. I would absolutely make that trek to get in on this regularly.
This past year has been absolutely amazing in terms of waking up as a human, coming out of a decades-long depression, and other good things. The people around me are largely responsible for this shift, for which I am eternally grateful. How am I repaying them? By moving just about as far away from them as I can, while still staying in the U.S.
But an eDar’s gotta do what an eDar’s gotta do, and to preserve my sanity and joie de vivre, this must happen. Last Monday was a wonderfully good time, as well as a reminder of things that could have been. I never could have predicted where I’d end up more than 20 years hence – I would have hoped for better, but decisions have consequences. Regrouping at this late date is better than never regrouping at all.
A couple of years before I officially left my (now ex-) husband, I noticed I was exhibiting all the symptoms of A Mid-Life Crisis.
I was 42, and I bought a Harley on a whim.
Thanks to work, I was hanging out with people far, far younger than I was.
We were going out to the bar several nights a week, and I was drinking more than I ever had in my whole life (which is not to say I was drinking a lot – just more often; I’m not much of a drinker.) I bought a BAC meter to keep in my car, because I wasn’t sure I knew where my limits were, being such a booze amateur.
I reallllly stepped things up a notch when I left my husband in 2014, immediately started dating someone 19 years my junior, and began living the single life again. I can’t say I was “out of control,” but I was not acting like myself.
He was young, he was half-insane, but he was sweet and he was hot, and I loved him.
“Not acting like myself.” Which is to say… I was having a hell of a lot of fun. I’m not someone who usually “has fun;” I might enjoy some things more than others, but when out in the world with other people, mostly, I “tolerate” it.
Since October of 2014, however, damn – life has been good. Sure, it’s been kind of a cliche, too – I bleached my hair blonde, I dye it crazy colors, I spend a fuckton of money on clothes and shoes and other shit I never thought twice about. I dated three other people almost 20 years my junior, one of whom was married with kids (good choices, edar!)
I bought a car far more expensive than I had any right to own.
“4-Door Sports Car” is an apt description for the Maxima. <3
I took the primary boyfriend to a Suicide Girls show, where another quasi-boyfriend showed randomly up, and that made for an interesting, fun time (no, seriously – two ridiculously hot boys in front and back of me, with mostly naked women running around on-stage? Yes frickin’ please.)
Basically, I’m doing all the stuff I should have been doing all along with my life, and was just too… reserved. Too worried about everything. Too busy over-analyzing everything to live life rather than to observe it. FOR PETE’S SAKE, I have wasted so much time.
Everyone should have a mid-life crisis, only we should have them in our twenties, when we can really take advantage of our young, healthy, strong bodies.
Then, we should keep having them, either every year, or every now and then, because they are RIDICULOUSLY FUN, YOU GUYS.
Do it. Do it all. DO ALL THE THINGS YOU WANT TO DO – of course, provided you’re not going to hurt yourself or someone else in the process, et cetera.
“Age is just a number,” if we are to believe the cliche.
It’s such a lie an alternative fact – technically true as a fact, but “age” is not “just a number;” it encompasses so much more.
I understand the sentiment behind the well-meaning saying, of course; “don’t worry about your age; people don’t judge you by how old you are.” The blissful ignorance of that statement is precious and lovely, but also naive and ignorant in so many circumstances. Hanging out every day, sure – it’s not necessarily on everyone’s minds. On an employment application? Age can mean the difference between getting a job or not.More to my point here, though: Folks, it’s not just the age – it’s the miles. It’s the shit we’ve witnessed and lived through and cried over and laughed at until we couldn’t anymore (often at ourselves.) We have seen absurdity and serenity, abject cruelty and profound compassion, acts of altruism that make us burst into tears from their sheer beauty and acts of hatred that leave us enraged and hopeless.
We have borne witness to events much bigger than any of us are, as well as millions of simple, repeated, everyday moments, and that leaves us with little choice but to expand our awareness, to become mindful of how little we know, and, for many of us, it leaves us with a deep and abiding sense of smallness. Humbleness.
I should note – that humbleness does hibernate at times. I am reasonably certain my ego, if unchecked, would run absolutely amok. You have only the smallest idea.
I know plenty of people younger than I am who look like they were ridden hard and put away wet for decades; the sun, their lives, their kids, illness, jobs – something shriveled them, some from the inside out, some from the outside in. I also know people older than I am who look a decade or more younger.
I’ve been fortunate to apparently have good anti-visible-aging genes, and it probably helps that I’ve never spent a bunch of time sunbathing, or wearing a shitton of chemicals on my face. But the wrinkles are creeping in – first, around my eyes, now a bit around my mouth. It’s making me panic just ever so slightly, just occasionally. Now and then. Infrequently.
For now. I am certain it will increase and intensify if I do not get ahead of this looming trainwreck.
That ego is glancing around the edges of the mirror, finding each and every pore, every imperfection, every scar, every smidgen of evidence I am Not As Young As I Once Was, and she wails in despair. Oh, the unfairness of it all. Youth is wasted on the young! Get off my fucking lawn! Et cetera.
Both helping and hindering reconciling ego with reality is this: Since 2008, the vast majority of people in my life have been significantly younger than I am; I work with primarily twenty-somethings, with a few thirty-somethings peppered in there. Almost no one at my company is 40 years old or older. Most of the kids I work with are remarkably more mature than I ever was at their age – hell, some of them are more mature than I am now – and I have remarked before upon how much they have helped me to grow and develop as a human, for which I am eternally thankful.
I’ve been very fortunate that my team/tribe has been very accepting of an older person in their midst. For a long time, most of them did not realize how large the age gap is between us, but they recognized it was there. Many politely suggested they thought I was in my early-to-mid thirties (thanks, good genes!) and seldom have any of them seemed to really judge me for my age. There have been times when I’ve felt like Jane Goodall – even to the point of having mental conversations/note-taking sessions in that vein:
The young tribe members are wary and uneasy today; I let it slip I had never once in my life played a Sonic the Hedgehog or Mario Brothers game. This was a rookie move; my inclusion has ebbed slightly as a result. I must find a way to regain their trust and once again move with them as a troop member. “Hey, how about those Pokemons?!” did not have the desired effect. I will consult with my source text – The Urban Dictionary – for better vocabulary consistency.
Sure, it’s a source of some good-natured teasing, and a lot of groaning on my part when I realize these people have zero context for formative parts of my life, and indeed, most were not alive before I went to college. It’s sobering. Humbling.
But it’s also helped me come to terms with things much better. I hid my age pretty obsessively until the last few months, when I decided “oh, fuckit. If Dana Delaney can be out and proud about turning 60 and looking fucking amazing, then who am I to keep hiding it?” Out of the mid-life closet I tumbled.
She is 60 years old. Yes, seriously. Right?! She looks a hell of a lot younger than I do.
I am 46.
I spent most of 2015 and 2016 saying I was 46, when I was actually 45, but whatever.
The guy I was dating until about a month ago was 28. The guy before that – 26. My husband was 9 years my junior. Thus, I have a bit of a history with younger men, sure, because I’m fucking surrounded by them and have no life outside of work.
The person who just asked me out is about 24. He’s an insanely mature 24, but I think that is too young even for me, no matter how well-traveled, well-read, ridiculously attractive, and generally amazing he might be. My entire brain balks at that number – nope, nope, nope, nope, nope, nope, nope, NOPE.
Of course, were he to know my age, he’d probably be NOPE-ing right along with me.
Men dating (often significantly) older women is quite a trend now, according to some sources, so I’m apparently not alone, but I’m not entirely comfortable with that large an age gap.
Per usual, I have digressed.
Just as I cannot fathom the perspective of someone 15 years my senior, these kids cannot fathom the things I have seen and done, and why I have answers to many of their questions. Why I can offer seemingly sage advice – it’s not because I am “wise,” my friends; it is because I have made a fuckton of mistakes, many of them more than once. I learned the hard way most of the time. I’ve seen many other people make similar mistakes, and have learned from them, as well.
When older people say, “someday, you’ll understand,” we’re not trying to be patronizing or dismissive of your life experience – we just know it to be true in more cases than not. Just as once cannot innately understand how the Krebs cycle works until we’ve seen it in action and have actually put the time in learning about it, we cannot expect to have the life perspective we’ll have 5 years hence.
Aging, like life in general, is not for the faint of heart. Today, a Physician’s Assistant at my doctor’s office told me (of my extreme sciatic pain,) “ah, you’re almost as old as I am; yeah, this is probably going to keep happening, and it’s probably going to get worse as you age.”
Naturally, that reminded me (as many things do) of a Louis CK bit:
Apollo 15 lands on the moon and uses the Lunar Rover vehicle for the first time.
The microprocessor was introduced.
The environmentalist group Greenpeace was founded.
Roe v. Wade legalized abortion
Beverly Johnson became the first black model on the cover of Vogue or any other major fashion magazine. (Important aside: THAT IS HOW RECENTLY SHIT LIKE THIS HAPPENED. IN MY LIFETIME.)
The United States Bicentennial
Microsoft and Apple come into being as companies
The original Star Wars is released… and I watched it in the theater.
Three Mile Island
Iranian hostage crisis
John Lennon killed
The wreck of the Titanic is discovered
First woman appointed to Supreme Court (not so long ago, eh?)
US invades Grenada
First woman goes into space
Hole in the ozone layer discovered
DNA used for the first time in a criminal case
Berlin Wall came down
First computer virus reported
Exxon Valdez disaster
This brings us to 1990, a time by which most (but certainly not all) of my people were at least born, if not fully aware of the world around them.
I am as susceptible as anyone else to think of “anything that happened before I was around happened forever ago,” (for example, I spent the first 10-15 years of my life thinking Black Americans had been treated like equals for easily 50-75 years – that racism was truly a thing of The Past. Tragic.)
I was about to launch into another whole thing about Trump and the things he’s destroying that we’ve worked so hard for during my lifetime, but I’m spent. Thank your lucky stars. 😉