Saturday, December 3, 2011

Of Motorcycles and Men

This morning I headed out toward the mall, determined to do some Christmas shopping.  Coming down the street leading to the freeway entrance, I heard the deep throated rumble of several motorcycles off to my right.  I couldn't help but smile as I watched them pull out just ahead of me, ten or twelve big beefy Harley's, with one or more big and beefy black leather clad riders, all sporting in bold lettering, Bikers for Christ on the backs of their worn biker jackets.  With long, grey streaked hair billowing out from the bottom of their helmets, and grizzled faces under their face shields, it just struck me as nothing short of amazing.  These guys, likely the biggest and the baddest of them all in their younger days, were now biking for Jesus, and not ashamed to proclaim it.

This got me thinking, and my mind went from motorcycles, to faith, back to motorcycles, to my ex husband, to my son, Chris, and his love of motorcycles.  And, then I was remembering the last time I saw my son truly happy.  Kailyn and I had gone to Chris and Shari's home to deliver Easter goodies for the grandkids, as we were flying to Arizona on Easter Sunday to visit my dad.  Chris was so animated, and very excited because he had talked his dad into taking the next day off to go motorcycle riding up the Gorge. He was looking forward to a day in the sunshine with his dad. Good Friday, 2002, was the last time I'd ever see Chris laughing and smiling.

The next day, just after I got home from work, Chris called me.  It was hard to understand what he was saying, but I got enough from him to figure out that there had been an accident and his dad had died.  I rushed to him, and between his wife and a couple of his friends, I pieced together the story.  The guys had been riding a narrow road, and somehow, Mike had lost traction and gone off.  He probably broke his neck instantly, but Chris attempted giving him CPR until an ambulance arrived. He couldn't save his dad, and he never forgave himself.  In his mind, the entire thing was his fault, because if he hadn't talked his dad into taking the day off, they wouldn't have been riding there, and it wouldn't have happened.  There would never be any way of convincing Chris otherwise for as long as he lived.

I'd never seen my son the way he was that night.  He was screaming, crying, punching walls, breaking things.  Every once in a while he'd come to me, and let me hold him, and he would sob, then he'd break away and go crazy again. He was blaming himself for his dad's death. There was nothing anyone could say that would change his mind. I didn't know what to do.  I didn't know how to help.  I didn't know what to say.  He was also very drunk, as were most of the people at his house.

After hours of my impotent attempts to comfort him, Shari suggested I go home.  Her mom had taken the kids home with her, so I told Shari I'd be back the next morning.  All the way home I cried and prayed for my son.  I was terrified that he would either injure himself while he rampaged, or worse.

The next day, Shari took me aside and told me that Bill, Chris' friend from high school, had taken all weapons from the house.  That relieved me in some ways, but Chris was practically catatonic.  He wouldn't talk to anyone, including me. He just sat in a chair, chain smoking, his legs bouncing erratically, and scaring me worse than I'd ever been scared before.  I tried to talk him into letting me take him to the hospital, but instead he then got up and left the house.  There was no way I could fix what was happening to my baby boy.

As we talked, Shari convinced us (David was with me) to go ahead with our plans to go visit my dad.  She assured me that she was going to take care of Chris, and I knew she would.  She also reminded me that Chris' dad's wife wouldn't want me to attend the funeral, which I knew.  We went home, finished packing and got the plane for Arizona.  My heart had never been heavier.

While staying with my dad, I called Shari every day, and was miserable because Chris refused to talk to me.  She said he wasn't mad at me, he just didn't want to talk to anyone, and I had to accept that.  Eventually when we returned, Chris talked some, but he was never the same again.  I lost my son, not through anything I did, or didn't do, but I lost the man and boy I knew forever.

I was unable to ever convince Chris to seek counseling, so I went myself.  I haven't stopped, and it's unlikely that I ever will.  Over the next few months, Chris recovered a little of his former self, and there were a few moments when he would smile at something one of the kids said or did, but they were few and far between.  He never rode his motorcycle again. Eventually, I felt he was slowly returning to the Chris I knew, a sadder Chris, but his heart was healing a little. He wrote me a beautiful poem for Mother's Day 2005 and I allowed myself to believe he was going to make it.

This isn't a good place to stop, but it's where I must stop, for now.


  1. There is never a good place to stop when dredging up memories like these. But it is good to get it out, Sandi. I am heartsore for you, for Chris, and for all who have lost and been unable to return to any semblance of normal life. I know that blaming yourself for events like this are not the way to recover. Sometimes I wonder how I would deal with something like this. Grief counseling would have been my first step, I think.

    Thanks for sharing this, even though I know how much it must have cost you. It means a lot to me.

  2. You have awakened a sore pot in my heart. my Brother was killed in a motor cycle accident just after his 30th birthday in 1978. I screamed when I heard the news and it took me years to get over that shock. His wife was at the wedding last month.
    Perhaps I'll write o post about that time?
    Right now I'll just keep an eye on hubby. Christmas is not here yet and I'm hoping he'll be with us and out of the hospital.

  3. This makes me so sad. I'm thinking of you and sending my best that you will have a peaceful holiday season with your girls.

  4. It may be the hardest thing to accept - that we don't have the power to save anyone from anything, no matter how much we love them.

    The quality of your writing has become so much deeper and intimate - so much more heart-felt - in the last couple of months. You are an inspiration, my friend. Hugs to you.

  5. Hugs Sandi. No one can help a person who has chosen his own course.

  6. Oh, my heart breaks for you and what you went through then and for what came later, although I do not know the details. Hearing this tragic story has revealed just how very deep this ache in your heart is, Sandi! I am so sorry for all of you that life dealt such a temendous blow to your family. Much love xoxo

  7. Dear Sandi,
    I feel, as I've said in other comments around the blog world, that you are inviting me to stand with you on the holy ground of your memory. All of us who read about Chris witness the effects of tragedy and the deep-seated guilt that can result from it.

    Deb's words seem so wise to me: "It may be the hardest thing to accept - that we don't have the power to save anyone from anything, no matter how much we love them." Chris had no power to save his father; you had no power to save your son; but you did have the power and the resilience to save yourself from residing ever and always in the void of despair. This is a holy journey you are on.


  8. Sandi, coming so recently to your writings about Chris, I don't know all the background, but is obvious from this post how traumatic for Chris was the accident which killed his father. No wonder it dealt him a blow from which he never really recovered. My heart aches for his grief and yours.


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