When he called, I was expecting a quick lunch at Puckett’s downtown. That’s feels like our usual place now, even though I think we’ve only been there once together. But, then at one o’clock, I hear the familiar rumble of his Harley pulling up in front of my house. I could recognize the sound of Dad’s bike coming from two blocks away. When I realized we’d be taking his bike, my stomach did a quick flip-flop. I hadn’t been on a motorcycle since Ellie was born, 9 years ago. Not that I had many opportunities to decline a ride, but once I had a baby to take care of, motorcycles made me nervous.
Dad gave me a few options and we decided on the Loveless Café. I’d never been there, even though it’s like a Nashville hotspot. I climbed on, worrying that my older, more hefty, middle-aged version of myself would be more than Dad could handle on his bike. I played the scene of Dad losing his balance and us crashing. When my brain made the mental check that it seemed unlikely, he revved the motor and we took off.
A smile spread across my face. As we rounded onto 11thAvenue, the rush of wind against my face was followed by a rush of memories. A flip-book of a dozen childhood scenes flashed through my mind. I remembered burning my leg on the tailpipe of a neighbor’s motorcycle that my dad forbid me to ride. I remembered the utter terror of feeling like I was going to slowly vibrate off the back of Dad’s vintage Triumph speeding down the freeway in Atlanta. I remembered, after taking a huge jump on a dirt track, landing hard on top of the gas cap of my brother’s Yamaha 250, wondering if it was possible to break your vagina. I remembered trying to keep that pain hidden because I was the only girl around and wasn’t sure if anyone had noticed yet.
Now, just like every ride I ever took with him as a small girl, I felt a visceral connection with my dad. His love of story, of adventure, and of me emanated from his back directly into my chest. And my chest was open. I sucked in deep gulps of it as the ride started, relaxing slowly into regulated inhales and exhales as we rode down the Natchez Trace. The powerful rumble of his huge bike underneath me and the great, open sky above me reminded me of how small, how fragile I am. But, Dad, just like when I was eleven, blocked me from most of it. His broad back, the gray hair curling out from underneath his helmet, and the soft crease in his neck were all familiar reminders that I was protected from the bigness around me.
I am looking forward to more Harley rides with my Dad, though I am still a little unnerved by the thought of doing it again. Adventures and intimacy are always risky business.