Authors: Lily Brooks-Dalton
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Copyright Â© 2015 by Lily Brooks-Dalton
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Motorcycles I've loved / Lily Brooks-Dalton.
1. Brooks-Dalton, Lily. 2. MotorcyclistsâUnited StatesâBiography. 3. MotorcyclesâAnecdotes. 4. Motorcycling. I. Title.
GV1060.2.B757A3 2015 2014017320
Names and identifying characteristics have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals involved.
Penguin is committed to publishing works of quality and integrity. In that spirit, we are proud to offer this book to our readers; however, the story, the experiences, and the words are the author's alone.
For my parents
started learning about motorcycles when I was twenty-one. A friend was poring over a photo gallery of sleek, sexy sport bikes on his laptop, and I looked over his shoulder while he fantasized about buying one. Only passing time at first, I quickly found myself taking an interest in his research, egging him on to purchase something he couldn't possibly afford so that I could hop on the back and feel cool. I imagined myself doing this, but it was all guessworkâI hadn't been on a motorcycle since I was a little kid, when my dad used to prop me up on the gas tank of his dirt bike and take me up and down the driveway, my mother shouting after us to be careful as we sped away.
“That one,” my friend said, as he settled on a black model with thick, silver exhaust pipes and a seat made for a jockey, slanted forward at an alarmingly steep angle. I was perplexed.
“Butâwhere does the passenger sit?”
“They don't,” he replied, and from that moment on I knew, without a doubtâI didn't want to be a passenger on someone else's motorcycle.
I wanted to be the one riding that motherfucker.
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FEW MONTHS BEFORE
, I'd left a man I loved very much, one who had been my companion across four continents and throughout several years. In the process, I alienated almost everyone I knew in the Southern Hemisphere, lost my Australian residency visa, and abandoned one of my favorite people in the world. Making the choice to leave him was as devastating as it was necessary. I couldn't see myself anymore, could only make out our two-headed, two-hearted composite, a creature driven by compromise and safety. It was easy to live with Thom in Australia and feel as though I was being brave just by being fourteen time zones away from where I'd begun, but it took coming back to my beginning, to Vermont, to see that somewhere along the way I'd lost the intrepid thirst I'd started out withâand that I wanted it back.
A change in geography is a psychic jolt, like falling in love, or out of it, like doing drugs, or getting sober, like learning something new, or revisiting something forgotten. It's an electric pulse to the brain, but after the shock fades it's still the same brain, with the same thoughts and feelings and impulses. It's only a glimpse, a nudge toward what could be. An alarm going off, presenting the dreamer with a choice: between sleep and lucidity, stasis and change. I'd been hitting Snooze for so long, hopping from place to place, from person to person, hoping it would be enough, but it was only a series of false starts in exotic locales. Transformation takes sweat and tears; it can't be bought with a plane ticket or an admission of love.
At first the rubble in the wake of that one, abrupt decision to leave Thom overwhelmed me. The shock was dizzying, the wreckage seemingly insurmountable, but as I began picking up the pieces of a different life in New England, one I'd left behind at seventeen, I sensed possibility: more lives, yet to be lived. Work to do, room to grow. I'd put too much of my life force into someone else, had let the weight of my well-being rest on a single pillar in the center of my consciousness. When I let myself imagine what would happen if it all collapsed, I knew I had to do just that. Without the backdrop of Ireland or India or Australia, without Thom standing next to me, I could finally see myself, as if for the first time. I took stock. To find what was worth savingâand what wasn't.
It makes me think of the old barns and woodsheds along the Vermont country roads where I grew up, most of them in various degrees of disrepair, leaning at impossible angles for years, even decades. Ever so slowly disintegrating, season by season, defying all logic until finally the rotting, nail-bitten planks tilt too far in one direction and whatever beam had held it all together, whatever mystery had kept those walls from folding in, gives. A gust of wind, a heavy rain, and an empty meadow in the morning.
Time moves slowly in Vermont. Farmers leave it to the fields to take back the unused sugar shacks and empty woodshedsâbut I've never been so patient. I had to demolish in order to rebuild, and so I did it quickly, coldly. I couldn't wait for the ending to end, couldn't bear shrugging off the questions I didn't have answers to. A gutting drive to the bus station, Thom's backpack on his lap, fists resting on his thighs like grenades, a force field of confusion and tension buzzing between us. Only twenty minutes, yet an impossibly long trip, a strange, horrible good-bye muttered in the parking lot. We agreed that I would keep the car, he would keep the laptop, and we would close the joint bank account, then I set him looseâto make his own way back to Melbourne. There was a tang in the back of my throat as I drove away in the Corolla we'd bought together in California, the taste of battery acid and stale coffee and leftover love. And then, emptiness: an end and a beginning commingling in the dusty void.
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I bought a backpack and a plane ticket, then wandered for three and a half years. I circled the globe: starting with Ireland, ending with Australia, joining hands in Vermont. During those years, I learned to pull a pint of stout, got robbed twice, made a fool of myself constantly, meandered through western Europe, fell in love, went to India for a while, then gave Thailand a try; I kept moving, stopped moving, settled down in Melbourne, then started moving again. It was the sort of journey that forms a person, as surely all journeys during one's formative years doâit broke me apart, then built me back up again. I didn't recognize myself when I came home, didn't even know if
was the right word anymore, but at the very least, I knew I was made of something. Matter: I knew I was made of matter, which might not sound like much of a thing to know, but it's the only place to start.
If matter, that which has mass and occupies space, is the fabric of the universe, then energy is the thread that binds it together. In physics, it's relatively easy to understand ideas like this: to internalize the logic of matter and energy and the laws that follow, but the utter nonsense of being alive, of experiencing things and reacting to them, is murky, often distorted. The emotional landscape is archetypal and cryptic, and the cacophony of pink matter inside my skull seems to churn out nothing but noise. It can be hard to tell what's realâyet in physics I find clarity from time to time. I find scraps of order. Fleeting moments of comprehension.
Sometimes things come apart, irrevocably and inexplicably. When they do, it helps to go back to the beginningâthe root of what is known. Assume nothing, test every plank, every nail. Return to the foundation, take it apart and look at the blocks. Turn them over in your hands, hold them. Then rebuild, slowly, carefully. Watch how they fit together. Matter. Time. Speed. Distance. The less you think you know, the better off you are.
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, I mourned my life in Australia and I began to build a new one, without having any idea of what I wanted it to look like. There were shadows of an earlier, younger self fluttering in the wings to contend with, and the jagged, raw edge where Thom and I had been connected, and the way nothing I knew about myself seemed to fit quite like it had before, my personality hanging on me like baggy jeans, a few sizes too big. I felt hollow, deflated, like there weren't enough organs in my chest, no blood in my veins. A vacuum the size of Australia, next to my beating heart. I had shrunk somehow, a withered soul living in an oversized vessel.
At some point I realized that empty space was what I'd needed all along. The chance to consider my own contents. To cull, reshape, and ultimately to innovate. To find stillness, and then, eventually, discover a new kind of motion.