Vulnerability and Motorcycles

Over the weekend Mr. Blue Eyes and I went on our first motorcycle ride of the year. Unlike the East Coast, our weather has been in the 40’s and 50’s (F) with blue skies. Sure, a bit chilly for a motorcycle ride–motorcycling not being a typical January activity in a state with “Greatest Snow On Earth” for their slogan and a significant chunk of the economy serviced by the ski industry. But, even so, motorcycling we went.

As we were riding I started thinking about vulnerability. Really, riding on the back of a motorcycle is perhaps one of the more dangerous positions for a person while on the road. Cars and trucks and semi’s are swirling around you at ridiculously high speeds and you are a) not the one in control of the movements of the bike and b) not able to effectively and quickly communicate with the person who is in control. If something happens you are the most likely to end up in a body bag, helmet or not.

I’m sure there is an entire psychology book here about taking known risks, self-endangerment, adrenaline and peer pressure, but that’s not what I want to get in to right now.

I want to talk about my outfit.

No. Really.

I have fallen/been thrown from a motorcycle once (not with Blue Eyes) and was incredibly lucky to walk away completely unscathed except for soaking wet jeans due to landing in a puddle of slush. Over the years I have amassed quite the collection of motorcycle gear. I have a helmet—black with hot pink flames and a skull with ponytails on each side, of course—and a black and pink Kevlar-lined jacket and gloves. I like being protected, I like feeling invincible, and I like the way my full-face helmet keeps the wind out of my eyes and the sun off my skin. I like feeling like I’m in a little cocoon, looking out on the world. I imagine if I were an astronaut I would feel the same way, protected inside my suit of armor but still able to observe and interact with the strange and scary world around me.

My helmet has padding and a hard shell to protect my brains, my jaw, my chin and cheekbones. It’s so tight to my head that I can’t wear a ponytail or a braid without causing myself some serious, literal headache. I’m fine with this, of course, the helmet head AND magpie-nest hair combo is a sacrifice I’m willing to make for intact brains and cheekbones. The jacket is made of this serious Teflon-like material with layers of stuff to protect my skin. In the elbows and shoulders are these linebacker-like plates of Kevlar that make it impossible to do, say, yoga whilst in my getup, but protect me in case of a fall or crash. Along my back is a long, broad plate—extending from shoulder blades down past my tailbone–that gives me excellent posture, and layers of padding that will cushion my spine if necessary. I’ve got multiple levels of protection over my chest and organs, and zippers and cinches all over the place make sure this jacket-armor is a tight, close fit.

Honestly? I love my motorcycle gear. I mean, the hot pink flames and skulls with ponytails are fun and all, but I love how I feel behind these layers of protection. I don’t feel vulnerable; I feel safe. Even though I’m perched on the back of a speeding whir of leather, chrome, and growling engine, I feel like I can take on the world, or even the freaking asphalt. (Note: Just so we’re clear, I will never choose to take on the asphalt.).

Sometimes (ok, most of the time) I feel like I am going through my regular life decked out in a Kevlar-lined suit with extra protection over all my most vulnerable spots. Religion? Nope, it’s tucked behind this shoulder pad. Issues with my mom? Buried beneath that unbreakable plate. Self-doubt? Wrapped up and carefully zipped inside my front pocket. General fear and anxiety? Somewhat successfully contained below a layer of pharmaceuticals and another of steel-like Kevlar. Frustrations and ongoing anger towards Blue Eyes’ ex-wife? Yep, that is stuffed up into my helmet, going around-and-around in my brain with hardly a suitable outlet for expression.

So, what is my metaphor here? That motorcyclists should always wear protective gear–yes, they should. Always–and therefore I should keep all my issues under Kevlar-lock and key? No. I shouldn’t. I can’t. At the end of a long ride, you get off the motorcycle, stretch your legs, pull off your helmet and breathe. You strip off the layers of dirt and gear, sit down and relax. The walls I hide protect myself behind don’t get pulled down every night, they just get thicker and taller, and soon I’ll build them up so big I won’t be able to even see out to enjoy a sunset. As safe as I feel tucked up in my tower, it’s really time I learn to come down.

Cue: panic, deep breathing exercises, and unnecessary necessary baking. And writing. Because for me, the only way to keep the prison walls at bay is to write them into tiny little pieces.

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