Monday I visited home one last time. It was hot, hot as blazes, & the old man was in the garage tinkering with his bike. There are seven of them back there now, only three of them rideable, & my grandfather’s bike looms over them all, a great behemoth of a vehicle, hulking & shining in the holiday heat. The old man stands up & wipes his hands, eyeballing the front end of his motorcycle.

“How ’bout a ride?” he says. I run inside, swap heels for my mom’s sneakers, & jump on back. I tell him I do not need a helmet. I will regret this later, when my hair is at wild angles, all whipped up & mad scientist, but kicking down the pegs on the back of his red BMW I do not care. It is my summer.

We ride towards Bullfrog Lake. My shirtsleeves are bunched up around my shoulders & I can feel them freckling, peppering in the early September sun. We make sharp turns, take bends dangerously fast, lean close to the pavement then accelerate, right ourselves, moving onward, forward, faster & faster. We pass forest preserves & in the shadows of the oaks the temperature drops – a noticeable change at our speed – & goosebumps sprout across my arms & legs. The wind whips my dad’s shirt & I hold tighter. My knuckles go white.

We pass a couple on a bike. The driver puts his left hand down to his side, first two fingers extended. My dad mirrors him, right hand tight on the clutch. He tilts his head back.

“That’s a biker’s handshake,” he says.

“What?”

“A biker handshake,” he shouts. “Two fingers down. Sayin hi.”

I consider this.

“I thought only Harley guys did that,” I say.

“Ah,” he says, “as long as you’re not riding a rice burner they’ll wave.”

I do not know what a rice burner is but I nod as though I do & hold on tight as we round the bend.

At 70 miles an hour, the wind does not flow around you. Your head cuts through it like a blunt knife, leaving behind you a broad wake of unsettled air, broken by the shape of your raw, wind-whipped face. There is no scenery on a bike – the world is a blur. It is the most beautiful blur you have ever seen. It is a menagerie of greens & blues & flecks of earth. bright bright lights heading towards you then away, pages of strangers’ Saturday afternoons smoothed over & sampled during pauses at stop signs. A bike does not barrel. It glides & slopes & is wary of overly large stones & sharp dips in the road. There is no sound but the undulating thunder of the bike itself, low & rumbling & pulsing through the whole of your being. You do not ride your bike on the way to your Saturday afternoon – the bike ride is your Saturday afternoon.

My dad narrates as we turn down the road to the forest preserve, informing me that this site, where in high school cross country meets my brothers would run with dozens of other boys up & down hill in awkwardly tiny shorts, was the site chosen for the disposal of the Manhattan project’s nuclear waste. He waves at a little boy running to join his family picnic. We slow & dismount.

There is a retention pond, & we sit in the grass, watching fish flop in & out of the water. Families bicycle down the dirt paths & he adds sound effects – “Shhhooo KUHHCHUNK KUHHCHUNK” – as the hit the dusty bumps. I stretch my legs.

He says he’s worried about me being so far away, & that he’s sorry he didn’t visit me more in Chicago. I tell him not to worry, it’s just New York, it’s not so far & I’ll be back. I tell him it’s ok. & he says he knows. But he’s a dad. He worries. That’s just what he does. I do not tell him that I worry, too. That I’m sorry I didn’t visit home more, call more, that I’ve been a pain in the ass all my life & really they spoil me. I am the Queen of Second Chances & they are my people, adoring & abiding, blessing me with a life charmed by their unflagging support, love & acceptance. I do not tell him that I know I am lucky. I am very lucky.

“Beer or ice cream?” he asks. I waggle my feet back & forth, my mom’s white Reeboks too big on my feet, my legs tan for the first time in ages. Soon I will board a plane & leave Chicago, kiss friends goodbye-for-now & promise to write & call & email & carrier pigeon if necessary. I will pack up my life in small bags & FDA approved bottles & watch the city by the lake get smaller & smaller until skyscrapers reappear, boroughs materialize & oceans span the horizon. Soon I will be gone.

“Beer,” I say, & we get up, dust our jeans, & start up his bike. The noise is loud, explosive, & I am going so fast, faster than ever before.

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