from passenger to pilot.


When I was fifteen, I seemed intent on breaking myself.

First, it was doing back flips off the high dive, and – I shit you not – I hit the diving board. With my face. Specifically, on the bridge of my nose. I remember the almost-knocked out feeling, falling like the intro to Mad Men into the water, then watching the diving board get smaller and smaller until I hit the bottom. I came out of my stupor just in time to have the teacher jump in after me.  Almost miraculously, the worst thing that happened was that to this day the bridge of my nose is a little numb.

That same year, while my aunt and uncle were out of town working, my friend Shane came over to teach me how to drive a scooter. He had a white, fairly new, Vespa P200 that clearly needed to be crashed. Shane gave me a 15 minute lesson on shifting gears, and away I went. Not sure if you’ve ever hit gravel before, but it doesn’t feel good.

That time, I didn’t escape with anything less than a concussion. Apparently, Shane peeled me off the pavement, got me home, and then did what any scared teenager would do: left me. When my caregiver Jacky got there, I was all sorts of loopy and she took me to the emergency room. It didn’t take more than a few minutes to determine I had a concussion, but they weren’t sure how bad it was so I was given a cat scan. I totally remember singing “Dazed and Confused” while they were running me through the machine. Clearly my sense of humor was left in tact.

And, apparently, so was my fear. While in some areas of my life I am a “get back on the horse” sort of person, when it comes to the physical realm I am, frankly, a bit of a wuss. Or, just very risk averse.  I still haven’t done a back flip off a high dive since that day in 1987. I don’t think I’ve flipped backwards anywhere, it unnerves me so.

I have, however, learned to ride a motorcyle. I made myself. I couldn’t stand letting one incident control my life. I was 30 when I finally got on a bike.  I took a class, and felt so proud when I got my M1 classification. I practiced for a little bit, but the fear kept overtaking me and I stopped.  It’s taken me another ten after getting my motorcycle license to do what I did this last weekend.

I can safely say I have finally moved from passenger to pilot.

Some context: I have spent a lot of time trying to get myself to move faster in this arena than I’ve allowed myself. This is true for just about everything. When I was young, I wanted to be older. When I picked up a hobby, I wanted to be just instantly good.

Now, I live with a lifelong motorcycle enthusiast. I’ve felt the pressure to catch up. Him – and all his friends? Everyone just seems good. Expert. Nobody is a beginner, and I certainly haven’t wanted to be one. When I’ve fallen prey to my ego-paralyzed mind, I start comparing myself, and it’s downhill from there.  I am not sure any of them remember what it’s like to fumble with the kick starter, forget to turn the gas on, or stall a bike and not be able to get it started again. It’s funny to admit this, since everyone I’ve met who rides is incredibly supportive.  I know it’s just me and my insecurities, feeling like the whole world is invested in keeping me from my dreams.  Of course, in reality, it’s just me, NOT wanting to be exposed. Wanting to be cool. In control.

It’s taken a lot more time than I would have liked, but now at 40 I really am starting to trust myself – and the process. I am starting to move at the rate/speed that makes sense for me.  It’s a wonderful feeling. Sometimes progress happens lightning quick, but a lot of time it doesn’t.  It’s a lot about practice and patience, self love and just being EXACTLY WHERE I’M AT.  It’s a vulnerable place to be.

And that vulnerable place right now for me is riding a cheesy twist and go scooter because I just want to focus on driving rather than all the other things (shifting, kick starting, that sort of thing) that turn me into a grumpy wreck before I even leave the parking lot.  It’s allowed me to feel comfortable to get out there and just ride,  for longer distances and less stress.  It’s allowed me, just yesterday,  to go on my first scooter ride with a large group of people, not on the back (like usual) but in the front.  I even had my kid on the back.

The freedom! Yes, I was nervous riding with a group of people, following the unspoken rules of “the pack” as we made our way to and from our destination. It felt good being able to see where we were headed. It felt good having my kid behind me and holding onto my waist and snuggling up to me as we picked up speed.

It felt good to finally be participating actively, when I’ve spent a decade being passive.

I can now see all the line to this moment as clearly as if the events had happened over a year or two versus more than twenty. I did it in my own time, in my own way.  Sure, the fifteen year old girl in me wishes it were that cool Vespa P200, or the 1972 Suzuki that’s sitting in my garage waiting for me to drive it.  All in due time. For now, I’m going to savor just getting in the driver’s seat, and staying here.





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