52: Chapter One


         This stretch of I-65 in the middle of Chicago and Indianapolis looks straight and empty and safe enough to see just how fast my new “supercharged supersport” motorcycle can go. So I grip the handles and clutch the throttle and feel the rush of the 998 c four-cylinder engine propel me forward. The flat countryside surrounding me becomes a blur as I soar to the edge of the horizon. 130. 140. 150. Still no vehicles in front of me. 180. 190. Then I pass 200. 

         It feels like God is pushing me forward now. 

         The Kawasaki Ninja H2 I’m riding is my birthday present to myself. It’s ridiculous but that’s okay. An almost 52-year-old husband and father shouldn’t be on something this powerful; he shouldn’t even own a moped. My grandfather got killed on a moped; shortly after I promised my Mom I’d never buy a motorcycle. But I reasoned that my promise expired after my mom passed away. She won’t be worrying about me in Heaven, but maybe she’ll help the angels keep me safe. 

         The frame of the Ninja H2 is lightweight, the suspension built for racing. I barely even know how to ride this sort of machine, so this is pure insanity. Pushing my life to its limits. 

         The exit I just stopped at feels miles away—an entire state seemingly behind me—and Florida doesn’t seem to far down the road. I’m planning on meeting my family down in Destin. None of them know about the Kawasaki. It will be a surprise. If, of course, I make it there in one piece. 

         A feel a bump on the interstate and for a moment my heart is thrown off into the nearby ditch. I can’t tell if I’m breathing as I make sure I’m still on course. This helmet still feels tight and maybe a little too small, but wearing it is a first as well so I’m not sure if they’re supposed to feel this way. I don’t feel like I’m riding a motorcycle; I’m an astronaut heading to the moon. 

         We will be celebrating my birthday in a few days. The early birthday present . . . I know it was a rush decision. A rash decision. But considering the last year, the last decade, the state of everything, I didn’t care. I decided to be half my age again, the young man who made stupid and illogical choices. Ah, yes, to be 26 again. 

         I’d like to punch that young man in the face. But since I can’t, I figured I’d join him by acting out of impulse one more time.  

         Another bump and this time I feel like I almost lose control. I’m going 190 miles an hour and I doubt you’d survive a crash going that fast. My leather jacket surely isn’t going to shield my body from cracking like a wine glass dropped onto the tile floor. 

         I resume control and ride at a more controllable 150 miles an hour as I breathe and regain my confidence.       

         There are many reasons I plan to give to Ada. 

         I hate long drives so this helped speed things up. 

         I don’t have a car so this is my replacement.   

         I work from home, so I really won’t be riding this much. 

         I’ll probably get bored with it.  

         I can only ride by myself, so really how often will I be driving it?

         I’m going through a midlife crisis.  

         I don’t believe any of those except maybe the last one, and my wife won’t either. But at least I’ll throw them out to see if she bites on any.

         The miles flicker by like scrolling photos on a phone. Life and moments all swiped by in seconds. Ten minutes feels like one second. Soon I look and see that I need to stop for gas. 

         It feels like I just got onto I-65. But life feels a lot like that. 

         It feels like I just turned 26. Then I breathed and blinked and boom—I turned 52. 

         But I haven’t turned 52 just yet. And going over 200 on the Ninja H2 might not get me past 51. 

         When the next exit with a gas station arrives, I get off the highway. Making this long trek to my family already enjoying their spring break is actually fun. All of them flew since I had work obligations at the start of the week. Now I wish we had chosen to go to southern California. That would certainly be a memorable trip to take on a motorcycle. 

         After filling my motorcycle’s tank and getting some interested looks at my bike while I do it, I go inside for a bathroom break. When I walk back outside, I can’t find the Kawasaki. It’s nowhere in sight. Not in any of the 12 gas lanes. I begin to panic for a minute, looking all around the parking lot. Then I see figures in the back of an SUV trying to get my attention. Maybe they’re wanting to let me know who stole my bike. It takes me a moment to take in what I’m seeing.

         It’s my children waving back at me.