by Thruxomatic 12/27/09
** Part One **
I went for years thinking I'd never get married and found myself surprised when it did. Then, after the whirlwind marriage, so-called normal life was the standard and I found myself surprised again when I was back out and single, with that empty side of the bed and empty side of the closet reminding me of the hole left behind. Don't tell anyone else, but I poured a lot of myself into that marriage. I really wanted it to work, for some reason. For a loner, that's something meaningful, at least to me.
I know my ex-wife saw it very differently. She didn't realize the mental effort it took in me to get riled up enough to care. I tried to tell her, in so many ways, that she was the sunshine that split through the clouds, but I don't think it ever really sunk in. I can't count how many poems I wrote trying to capture the feelings I had when I saw her, but nothing really fit. The words just weren't enough. When she walked, she said she wasn't angry, just sad that I had never really connected. I was mystified. It was the first time I felt alive; I had never been so connected with another human being in my life.
So, I cashed out. I sold the place, quit my job, sold some investments and with that all-too-tiny kitty of cash, decided that it was high time I drove across the country. I'd done it once before by bus in my youth, but the trip was a pastiche of beer, lots of faces of lots of girls that never amounted to much, and a handful of pictures that lost all meaning outside of their original context. I don't think you appreciate place that much when you are a kid. It's either land you have to cross to get somewhere or a generic destination that simply holds your real goal. It's a shame that we lose that, in a way.
The bike got tuned up before I left and by mile 10 I was feeling really good. I love riding that old Triumph. There's something about the old TR120s, rattletraps that they are, that get me excited. I loved that I did all my own maintenance, even though it meant maintaining a network across the east coast of suppliers for parts. It was like a ritual whenever I tuned her up. Piled high, with my tent and all my gear (and abundant spare parts), she was my mule. We'd make it to the other coast if it killed us, she and I.
Of course, I named her after the wife. Sara. I laugh, sometimes, when I question which was more reliable, the person or the bike.
I'm not going to go into the road, because this isn't a road story, it's a sex story, even if it didn't start out as one. The country, by way of an aside, is beautiful. The people, less so, but even they are beautiful in their own way. I'm not so far gone from the human condition that I can't see the value of a person, even if I don't much appreciate them myself as much as recognize what they mean to others. I'm an observer, I guess, and my job is to be neutral. God, if he's up there, made me damn good at my job.
The money had all but run out by Idaho, so when I rolled into Washington and the vague feeling of the sea was back upon me, I was damn good and broke and the bike had my last tank of gas in her. A stranger in Spokane got me another tank - bless her soul - and it pushed me through to Seattle, but just. I'd never been to Seattle, but I knew my mother's sister lived there: Karen, with her husband and two kids. I'd always wanted to explore the Seattle underground because I'm kind of a history nut that way. The idea of entire blocks of the old city preserved underground from the 1800s just turned my crank. Add in some opium, some prostitution, and I'm hooked. Real history, with real people getting really drunk and stoned and fucking. That's history to me. The book stuff is just too damn dry.
First things first, though, a roof and food. Real travelers know this is the order, too. Starving is possible for a great many days, but one night out in the elements and you are instantly miserable.
I called my Aunt Karen up, largely on a whim. I hadn't heard from her in over a decade, so it was a bit awkward and we had to do a lot of catching up before she realized that I had even gotten married, let alone divorced. Initially, her daughter Chloe answered in her bubbly teen tone, but she didn't even know who I was and handed me right off. I'd last seen her as a baby, so that's no wonder at all. Her Mom was more taciturn, matter of fact, but she was kind of like my sister: kin was kin. I knew that and that's why I'd even made the call.
So she said she'd let me crash and I spent the better part of an hour tracking her house down in the winding streets. When I got there, it was a large two story with a three car garage ... she'd obviously done well by herself. Last I had checked, she had been a small-time producer for commercials and local news, but that had obviously changed since I saw her last. Her husband, Jim, did construction or something like that. Maybe he was an architect. I never really cared, which you can probably guess, and so I didn't care enough to remember. All I knew was that he was tall and had a mustache. I felt it made him look older and stodgier, in a way.
By the time I got there, Chloe was gone - she'd skipped back to university. She'd only stopped by to do some laundry and grab some home cooking. She was off to a party that night and despite her Mom's entreaties, had no desire at all to hang out in the near suburbs when there was drinking to be done and boys to be had. Other than my Aunt, the place was empty. As I dragged my bags in off the bike, apologetic for the dust and dirt on them, I resisted the urge to ask about Jim, assuming he was off on some business trip. I seem to remember him doing a lot of those.
"You ever think about making that thing into a cafe racer?", Karen asked. She was by the window, limned in the light. I'd forgotten just how pixie-like she was. Tiny bob, black hair, and not even 5' high.
I laughed. "I didn't know you even knew anything about bikes! I've thought about it, definitely. If I could find an old featherbed frame I'd make a Triton, but that's a project for when I'm old and gray."
"Yeah, like me."
No, not like you. Aunt Karen was never beautiful, but she was definitely cute. She had a button nose and a wide, endearing smile, and the smallest hands I'd ever seen on an adult woman. Her face laughed, even if her phone manners didn't really show it up, and there was a reason she ended up in the media. Quietly competent and much more motivational than most of the men she competed with for positions, her people loved her. We'd had a chat about parenting once and she surprised me with how open-minded her ideas were. Her kids were well-adjusted kids and she was a big part of that. I admired her for it, even if I never got quite around to telling her.
"Bah, you're not old, not by a long shot. At least that old crate held up to here. I had to do some tricky work on her in Minnesota, but that's the kind of thing you expect from an old bike like that. Parallel twins rattle like the dickens and they shake loose a lot of stuff over time."
"I had an old mono-BSA when I was a kid, so trust me, I know rattle."
"Aunt Karen, you just jumped about ten ranks on my cool factor scale. I won't lie, that might just get you into my underwear of the month club.", I grinned.
"Underwear? Who the hell wears underwear anymore." Karen laughed, and I laughed with her, not quite getting the joke.
She made me dinner, which I wolfed down because I was starving, and we talked about the family more than anything. I told her about my sister's kids, my brother's kids, and how I'd even lost touch with them over time. She filled me in on Chloe and her new boyfriend, about Keith and his long-term girlfriend he was living with out of town. There was something else there and it took me getting into my divorce before she really opened up. As I was describing the empty I felt when Sara walked out the door, she nodded and in that grim look I could see that she had been where I had traveled.
"Jim?" It was all I needed to say.
"Yeah, he's decided that he prefers younger models these days."
"How much younger?"
"Oh, about 20 years younger. She's just a surveyor, but she worked enough projects to catch his eye, I guess. Faced with me or a 20 something hard body, who wouldn't choose the 20 year old?" She looked hurt, like admitting that had cost her something. She went to her junk drawer and hauled out a picture. It was Jim in a tuxedo with his arm around his wife on one side and his other arm around a good looking blond, clearly at some work-related function. The girl was kind of pudgy like young girls are these days, but you could see the attraction.
"See? The bastard even introduced me." She ripped the photo from my hands and jammed it in the drawer. "I should have just fucking torched the thing." She stared away and couldn't meet my eyes. Still fresh, then.
"Well, I have this theory ...", I began, as I got up to do the dishes, "I think that people reach a certain point in their lives, where they have to transition from looking for all the normal biological imperatives - fertility and its physical signs in youth - to being with their lover because they actually care about them as people. Even if Jim loved you as a young woman, he loved you at least partly because you represented fecundity to him just like he represented virility to you. As you both transition out of your child-bearing years, you both have to change perspective."
"Holy cow, someone's been into the sociology texts, again.", Karen laughed out loud, sipping at her wine in between chuckles.
"No, seriously. Hear me out. There's phases to life, which isn't any kind of revelation, but the shift from one to the next is pretty hard and takes a lot of mental re-organization. Not everyone makes that shift. You did, clearly, but your husband didn't. I think it's a lot more common than we allow for."
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