My RideOriginally run as a six part series May 3, 2009 – June 6, 2009. Now presented in its entirety.
But who am I to tell you that I’ve
Seen any reason why you should stay
Maybe we’d be better off
Without you anyway
You got a one way ticket
On your last chance ride
Got a one way ticket
To your suicide
Got a one way ticket
And there’s no way out alive
” Coma “– Guns ‘N’ Roses
Oh hell, it ain’t just the car, it’s the road baby. Highways are for pansies. There’s so much more to see on the back roads. When was the last time you saw a herd of deer grazing or a flock of vultures circling from the interstate? Where are the steep hills and sharp hairpin turns? Where else can you see the early morning fog lifting off the trees? Not on the main drag that’s for sure. You want to go for a ride with me today? Well then we’re going out into the country roads where life gets interesting. There’s no better way to kill a day than to just drive right through it.
My car? That’s my dream. A vintage 1964 Chevy Nova, lovingly repainted in a Mustang Mystichrome paint that would make bring on heart palpitations in any purist. What self-respecting Chevy owner uses a Ford color on such a classic? Some things just aren’t done! But this is MY baby, not theirs. This shade changes from light green to dark green to almost blue to gold depending on your vantage point. I picked it to match my eyes, which will color-shift depending on my mood. As a sign of my warped writer’s sense of humor, there’s an inscription in black script above the doors that reads, “Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate.” The Italian translates to “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” The interior has been restored to its original pristine white. I toyed with the idea of a blown 502 big block engine but couldn’t bring myself to destroy the sleek look of the car. Besides, I can get myself into enough trouble with the power this car packs already. She’s got plenty of power in that big V8. She’s way short on safety features, but I love her anyway. There’s a rush in feeling un-tethered by the modern intrusion of shoulder belts so I skip the seatbelt.
I keep it under 80 on the highways but as soon as I can I get out on the curvy backcountry roads and push the speedometer up past 100 through the turns and over the hills. I crank the windows down and the music up. My other great car sin, a wicked iPod-ready sound system cranks out Metallica, Guns ‘N’ Roses, AC DC, Flogging Molly, Etta James, or Norah Jones depending on my day and mood, or perhaps the color of my eyes. Hardly factory original, but like I said, this is my baby and I go nowhere without a soundtrack for my life. My car gives me the freedom that I can’t seem to find anywhere else.
My black t-shirt, dark jeans, black boots, black bandanna to hold the hair out of my eyes, and the obligatory shades are all required driving attire. I know I look every inch the tough, especially with a four-inch tattoo on my forearm. I like it that way. When I do stop to take in the sights and maybe enjoy a cigarette, nobody bothers to talk to me. That suits me just fine. I like riding alone.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve had my share of passengers. Some were flesh and blood but too many were shadows and ghosts come back from my past to taunt me and haunt me from the back seat. Passengers are distracting. I can’t afford to be distracted traveling at these speeds and I don’t want to slow down.
Slowing down allows the real world to catch up to me. There’s pain in the real world. More pain than I want to face. Pain, anger, rage, disgust, and disappointments, are lurking by the roadside waiting for me. But I fly past them all, just a blur of greenish gold, untouchable and unstoppable. There’s a string of heartbreaks and grief spread out down the road behind me like so much roadkill. There’s the guilt that comes from wondering how much of it was my fault. How much grief do I leave in my wake? My urge to run, to flee is instinctive, primal even. Get out before I get hurt. The faster I go, the safer I feel. The safer I feel, the more chances I take. Accelerating into blind turns, crossing the middle line, risking a head-on collision at every bend, flying over the crest of the steepest hill, even going airborne at times without knowing what’s beyond the crest of the hill, risking an unexpected turn, a slow-moving hay truck, or worst of all an innocent cyclist.
The music gets louder and it takes every ounce of energy I have just to stay in control. It’s exhilarating and exhausting. I get crazy and stupid, enjoying the rush and the thrill of it all. I know tonight I’ll go home exhausted enough to sleep without the dreams coming back again to haunt me. I fly around the next bend, topping out just past 107…
It’s too late. By the time I see the BRIDGE OUT sign ahead of me I’m suspended in mid-air just long enough to brace for the pain of impact and to hear the maniacal cackle from the backseat.
Damn! From what corner of darkest Hell did that thing crawl? Oh shit! It can’t be…
I never felt the impact. I’m lying in very tall marshy grass next to a stream about six feet below the road. Everything hurts and blackness is crowding in on me from all sides. Yet somehow I’m alive. How long I’ve been here I can’t tell. It was before noon when I started driving but I lose track of time when I drive. The sun is still out but it’s early spring and the sun will only be out until seven. Fading in and out. Breathing hurts but I don’t think anything’s broken. My car. No way my car survived a wreck at that speed. Forcing my eyes open again I see the thick blacksnake about three feet in front of my nose. Ugh, I hate snakes and instinctive recoil forces me to my knees as he slithers off in the other direction, equally spooked by the intrusion of a human into his domain. I almost faint again from the pain but at least I know I can move. I smell the gasoline and antifreeze. Not good.
I push myself to stand and look around. My beautiful car is nearly unrecognizable. I must’ve caught a few of the small trees as I came off the road at the bend. The car looks like it’s been used for a game of kick-the-can by a bunch of giant street urchins. The windshield is gone and for the first time I’m seeing the cuts on my arms and hands. I can feel the liquid warmth on my face. As for my car, she landed right side up just missing the stream but she’s pretty banged up. The radiator is shot judging by the steam still rising from the mangled hood. The chassis is pretty twisted and I can see that the gas tank is ruptured too. Not that I could get it back up on the road without a winch anyway. I had been thrown clear and landed about 15 feet away in the grass. Anyone passing by wouldn’t be likely to notice me or my car in this little ditch. Hell, with the bridge out, most locals would have enough sense to take another route. The nearest crossroad is probably 10 miles away at least and probably farther.
Time to find a way out of this mess. My cell had been on the front seat. It could be anywhere now. What’s a bigger waste of time – trying to find it in chest high grass or walking down the road and trying to figure out where I am? I always loved that bumper sticker “Not All Who Wander Are Lost” but it’s sinking in now that if you wander long enough, you get lost. Turning around a slow circle, surveying my surroundings, I see him.
About 50 yards further downstream from my wreck, seated on a fallen tree is a rugged looking young man dressed in white robes. No, he’s not in the gleaming angelic robes with dazzling sunlight and all that jazz, but definitely biblical-looking clothes. Roughly woven off-white linen and sandals – this guy is something else. I’ve either crashed into some cult’s backyard or I’m going to have some ‘splainin’ to do very shortly. So far it doesn’t look like he’s even noticed me. Now how do you have a car go careening off the road right past you, take out a bunch of small trees and you don’t even notice? He’s just sitting there, idly playing with a bunch of grass in his hand like he’s been there thinking all day and nothing is out of the ordinary here.
“Oh come on now, you aren’t stupid enough to think he’ll help you, are you?” came the familiar hissing voice from behind me.
Spinning around I see the gremlin sitting on the hood of my car, smoking one of my cigarettes, blowing the smoke through its long razor-like teeth.
“You’re not real,” I whisper even as my chest tightens as I come face-to-face with the nightmare that has lived in my head for years. I’ve lived with the gremlin for a very long time. It’s that nasty little voice that tells me what a total screw-up I am and questions everything I do or say. Sort of like that whole angel/devil on the shoulder thing but this little shit doesn’t poof away when I make the good choice. No, the gremlin hangs around telling me all the ways I’ll screw it up anyway. I made up this imaginary creature as a way of personifying my own self-doubts and self-recriminations. It seemed like a very clever idea at the time. Somehow it was easier for me to deal with, having a creature behind the voice. Easier until now, when it’s suddenly in front of me – all seven feet of him complete with black scales, big leathery bat ears, yellow eyes, long teeth and longer claws. “I made you up! You can’t be real.”
“Wanna bet?” It laughs at the obvious tremor in my voice. It’s low cackle ripples with derision, delight, and the promise of desecration. Sliding off the hood, it takes several steps towards me in strong sure strides. It stops and turns, tossing the still burning butt towards the car.
“Noooooo!” Too late. The blast from the explosion knocks me flat as blackened metal and burning upholstery rain down around me.
Trapped. Trapped out in the open and my worst nightmare has somehow become real. How the hell did this happen? Think, stupid. Think! No, don’t think. Run! I start crawling away from the burning hulk of my car, pushing myself onto my feet intending to run downstream towards the figure in the weird robes, the only other one out here who doesn’t have claws, big teeth and scales. As I get my feet under me, breaking into a run, the gremlin flies over my head, landing directly in front of me. I stagger backwards and nearly fall. But I’m closer now. But I’m closer now. The guy in white is only 25 feet away but he’s still just playing with the same clump of grass, completely oblivious to me, the burning car, and the freaky seven-foot black scaly monster.
“Leaving so soon?” Every time the gremlin speaks, it’s lips pull back into a sneer. Its voice is a grating hiss. “I’d thought we’d get to know each other better now that we have some time to kill.”
“You stay away from me!” As I’m backing up, the gremlin is dogging my steps, almost prancing on his huge muscular legs. Its yellow eyes are taking in my every little twitch as I’m trying to draw up as much attitude as I can find. I’m still trying to figure out what’s real, and how and why. Am I dead? Is this Hell? How can this thing be here?
“Did you really think you could outrun me? Didn’t you know? You’re mine now. I own you!”
“You’re nothing! You’re not real! You’re just a bunch of random thoughts, an illusion!” Illusion or not, I was still trying to back away from this horrific nightmare come-to-life.
“Oh really? Illusion am I?” It picked up a stone about the size of a softball and crushed it into dust with one massive clawed hand then blew the dust off away, enjoying my ever-rising panic.
“Go back to Hell where you came from you son of a bitch!” I scream in its face as I try to bolt past the nightmarish beast. Self Defense 101, your attacker never expects you to move towards him. Or so I thought.
“Ah, then you’re coming with me!” Quick as lightning its claws are around my arm, foiling my desperate attempt at escape. Over its shoulder I see the gaping hole opening in the ground as it starts to drag me. I dig in my heels. I hit and kick, trying to break free but it’s useless. The gremlin is far too strong and it just laughs as I struggle in vain to break its death grip.
“Oh God! Help me!”
The white flash is blinding. Instantly, the gremlin’s grip is broken and it screeches in anger, retreating to the smoking remains of my car. Hissing and snarling from its black twisted throne, it makes no move to come any closer.
As it let go, I fell face down in the dirt. Now laying there with my head on the ground just trying to breathe, I slowly open my eyes, hoping this impossible scene is going to vanish like so many other nightmares have in the past. I see sandals and look up into the face of a total stranger. Yet when our eyes meet, he seems so familiar, like I’ve met him somewhere before but can’t remember where. Tears immediately spring up from somewhere deep inside and pour freely down my dirty, bloodied face. This insanity is destroying me. How long will it last? I just want to go home or wake up or die, if I’m not already dead.
“Why didn’t you help me? You were going to let that thing drag me off to God knows where? Why? How could you?” The words catch in my throat. Sobbing, I lay my head on his feet and weep. Pain rips into my heart as the sobs rack my already battered body.
“Ooooh how could you? Save me!” mocks the gremlin from the remnants of my once beautiful car. “Come on Miss Bad Ass – you don’t need him. Save yourself. All you gotta do is get past me and I’m just a – what was it again? – an illusion?” Still cackling, it produces another of my cigarettes, lighting it off the still smoldering hulk that had been my two-year labor of love. It sits there sneering and blowing smoke rings, slashing them with its claws. It’s watching closely but shows no signs of leaving its perch.
The anger begins to well up in me again. As I stare at this somehow familiar stranger, my heart desperately wants to believe this guy with shoulder length brown hair, brown eyes, and Middle Eastern complexion could somehow be Jesus Christ, or at least some kind of angel. Logically, if the evil gremlin is real then some force of good could also be real, I thought. And yet, my mind is not buying this crazy fantasy world. This is some nut dressed up with the whole “white robes and sandals” bit but he’s clean-shaven. Stuff like that doesn’t happen to people like me anyway. Divine apparitions happen to pious saints at holy moments of great conversion, not after a car accident caused by an attack of recurring stupidity. There’s kindness in the stranger’s face but this certainly doesn’t look like any image of Jesus I’d ever seen. This was just some wacko out walking in the woods. But what if…?
“Why didn’t you help me before? What the hell took you so long? What’s wrong with you?”
“You didn’t ask and you seemed to have things under control.” His answer was so calm as though I’d commented on what a lovely day it was to stroll through the woods.
“Under control?! UNDER CONTROL?!” The anger and hysteria were making my voice nearly as screechy as the gremlin’s. “In what dreamland do you dwell? Didn’t you see the car crash? Didn’t you see that, that, that gremlin, demon thing blow up my car? And that thing isn’t supposed to be real. I MADE HIM UP! He’s a figment of my imagination!” I pause to take a deep not-so-cleansing breath before continuing. “I’m sorry. My sanity seems to be wearing just a wee bit thin here.” I begin to pace, trying to breathe and get a grip on the bizarre reality of this whole mess. “Damn you! You’re unreal dude.”
He seems unperturbed by my ranting. “Why unreal? If this creature is real, than why am I not real?”
I stop dead in my tracks, eyeing him suspiciously. Yes, even my baffled mind realized he was making a very logical point. Then again, on some level it’s starting to occur to me that if I’m dead, I probably shouldn’t be mouthing off to the guy who may well be the Savior Of The World while some demonic gremlin is waiting in the wings to drag me off to Hell at the first opportunity. The hysteria is starting to dissipate slowly and in it’s place, questions are starting to pop up. My mind is racing in a 100 different directions at once, all at 1000 miles an hour.
“Who are you?” I demand staying just out his arm’s reach. No sense in getting too close. He could be just as dangerous as the gremlin or worse.
“Beloved, you know who I am,” he says softly.
This just can’t be happening. These things don’t happen in the real world. Jesus doesn’t just show up like this. I tried all that cryptic meditative prayer, scripture reading, and Eucharistic adoration surrounded by little old ladies, with their rosary beads clicking as they prayed their never-ending novenas. I’d waited desperately, hoping for some whisper, some feeling, something, anything, and always I’d ended up with nothing. Nothing but silence, and the soft, mocking snickering of that blasted gremlin.
Resuming my pacing, I’m trying desperately to find logic in the illogical. I’m beginning to understand how Spock must’ve felt when dealing with Earthlings. “So, he’s real? You’re real? This whole crazy thing is real? Where are we? Am I dead? I can’t be dead. I hurt and I’m bleeding. Dead people don’t bleed. How do I get out of here? Or do I? And why am I here with you and that evil beast in the first place? Do you show up at every car wreck or I am just so friggin’ special that you thought you’d drop in for a chat? Wait, wait a minute – if that thing is real now, that means he can really hurt me. Why would you allow that? How could you let that thing anywhere near me? This is so insane! This can’t be real. I’m brain dead in some hospital somewhere on a morphine drip just waiting for someone to locate my living will and just pull the godforsaken plug already. I’m outta here!” Throwing up my hands in frustration, I turn around and start walking away from both the weirdo in white and the nightmarish black gremlin, heading upstream and back towards the road. I’ve had my fill of mythical creatures and schizo hallucinations for one day. I make it about six feet and the gremlin lunges directly into my path. I freeze but don’t run. I’m determined to hold my ground and prove that this whole scene is just a bad dream, or more likely hallucinations brought on by severe head trauma. But then I smell the smoke of another one of my cigarettes…
“I hate to say I told you so, but,” it pauses to take a long drag on its cigarette, “I told you so. I knew he wouldn’t help you.” The gremlin blows a huge smoke ring and lazily catches it on one of its foot-long claws.
“Oh just go away already,” I mutter. I’m tired. I hurt all over. I’m getting dizzy and I’m quickly losing my capacity to fight back, physically or mentally.
“Ah, but I’m not going anywhere without you. I’m part of you and I always will be. You’re stuck with me, kid. You belong to me.”
Spinning around, I see the stranger standing nearby watching the whole discussion. He’s no longer lost in thought but staring at us intently albeit silently.
“Is it true?” I ask the stranger, “This thing is part of me? No, that can’t be. You took that away on the cross, if that’s who you really are,” silently praying that he was real or at least real enough to get me out of this mess and to a hospital.
Saying nothing, he holds out his hand to me. I slowly walk to his side. Maybe…just maybe…it’s worth taking a chance that if the evil monster was real, than so was this guy. I’d swear I know this guy, but not in the same scary way as the gremlin. I think he’s from a time in my life when there was still quiet and innocence, before life got ugly.
“You’re wasting your time,” growls the gremlin, but I’m not sure if its words are meant for me or for the stranger.
“Are you really Him?” I ask the stranger, staring intently at his face. “I want to believe that you are but…” I bury my face in my bloody hands and sigh, “I don’t even know why… I’m so sorry I’m having such a hard time with all this.” My exhausted mind can’t even begin to come up with the questions I need answered.
“You’re not the first person to doubt that, you know.” His voice is so full of tenderness and compassion that my heart aches. But I know what I’m thinking isn’t possible. He’s just a kind stranger who has one of those seemingly familiar faces. I don’t why he’s even bothered to step into my hallucination. “People have struggled to recognize me for over 2000 years. Your struggle is nothing new. I’m here because I want you to see and to believe.” With that, this stranger in rough off-white woven robes and sandals begins to change. He morphs from one human image of Jesus to another to another like some kind of living flipbook. He flips through every image of Jesus I know and love, from the infant, to the happy, smiling young man, to the shepherd with staff in hand, to the terrifying bloodied crucified Jesus on His cross, and finally ending as the risen Jesus in brilliant ethereal white robes with the wounds plain to see on his hands and feet.
I collapse at His feet but the doubt still lingers. Am I’m truly safe from harm? Does the gremlin no longer have any claim on me? Am I dying or in Purgatory or just plain crazy? And then the guilt over my lack of faith, over my never-ending doubt, floods my heart and the gremlin begins to snicker.
I look up in time to see the gremlin dissolving into a massive cloud of black smoke, which rushes towards me, enveloping me. I can’t see anything but I hear the gremlin’s unmistakable hiss close to my ear. “See you around kid.” Then it’s gone. There’s just silence and I look up at Jesus, who is no longer a stranger to me. He now appears to me with shoulder length brown hair and a short beard. The white robes are gone, replaced with jeans, a white t-shirt and black leather jacket. The sandals have been replaced with motorcycle boots.
“Will that thing come back?” I ask as He helps me to my feet.
“The gremlin never really goes away. But it doesn’t have as much power as you think it does. It only has what you give it.” He starts walking towards the stream and I follow Him closely, still glancing around, half-expecting the gremlin to reappear at any moment. He gestures for me to sit down on the fallen tree where I’d first seen Him. On the tree is a cup made out of tightly woven grass. So that’s what He was doing with the grass! Dipping it into the stream to fill it, he then hands it to me. The cool water tastes so clean, so good. Taking my bandana from my hair, He dips it in the water.
“I have something I want to give you, but first we need to clean up these wounds of yours.” He slowly and gently wipes the blood and dirt off my face, then my arms and hands. Taking the cup, He pours water over the cuts until they’re flushed clean. I gasp in pain as the cold water hits the open wounds. The bleeding has finally stopped and the flesh has already begun to knit back together. There’s no doubt these cuts will be leaving some wicked scars behind but I feel whole and clean for the first time in a very, very long time. My mind has finally stopped racing. I give up trying to understand as I realize that acceptance has replaced fear. Acceptance of Him or acceptance of my own complete insanity, I don’t really know, but it beats being so scared.
“Come with me.” He begins walking towards the charred spot where the remains of my now obliterated car lay. We climb up to the road and parked on the shoulder is a brand new motorcycle. Not just any motorcycle either, but an Indian Chief Vintage painted in rich Thunder Black with long classic fenders over white walled tires. I’m awestruck. I’ve been eyeing a bike like this for years but never dreamed I would ever get a chance to ride one. The tank was detailed with a Celtic cross with a white rose at its center – a flawless replica of my tattoo! I walk in slow circles around the bike, tracing the cross with my finger and comparing it to my tattoo. It’s exact down to the tiniest details.
I turn to ask Him the hundred questions racing through my mind but He’s gone. Sitting on the road where He had been standing is a black helmet with a white rose on the side resting atop of a folded black leather jacket. On the back of the jacket is a flame-colored orange and yellow rose in the center of a delicate leafy green vine. Above the rose there’s an inscription in white Celtic lettering that reads Beloved, Believe, Be Healed. It’s a replica of my other tattoo, which is hidden on the small of my back. Few people know it exists and only the tattoo artist and I have actually seen it.
Slipping on my helmet and jacket, I climb onto my dream bike. I take off down the winding country road. The sun is hanging low in the sky as I come to a wide place in the road near the river. I pull off watch the sun paint the sky with rosy pinks and deep purples before finally disappearing from view. I’d like to thank Him but He’s gone from my sight.
I thank Him anyway.
I still ride every chance I get. Highways are for pansies. I long to get out on those winding backcountry roads but now I take in the sights as I ride. I return to the scene of my wreck every few months, looking for what I do not know, perhaps to prove to myself that it was all real. If not for the scars and the bike, I’d have written off that whole afternoon off as a mental breakdown. Climbing down to the stream, it gets kind of hard to ignore the broken trees and burnt scar in the ground surrounding the heap of charred scrap metal that had been my Nova.
I don’t smoke anymore – too many bad memories. I do stop for coffee though and to enjoy the beautiful views. My bike and my jacket usually attract a lot of attention. People seem drawn to the designs and I explain how they match my tattoos, which often leads to lengthy discussions about spirituality, faith, and of course, tattoos.
I haven’t seen or heard from the stranger since, but when I ride, I trust that He rides with me, well sort of – trust is still really hard for me, but I’m working on it. As for the gremlin, I still hear that grating hiss all the time but it doesn’t matter as much as it used to. He doesn’t have any real power, I don’t think…
She says, “I’m okay; I’m alright,
Though you have gone from my life
You said that it would,
Now everything should be all right.”
“If I Ever Leave This World Alive” – Flogging Molly