3, 3, 9

Yesterday I sold my motorcycle. Today I was finally able to delete my last voicemail from my dad. The two are not separate.

I have always known I wanted to get my motorcycle license. At some point, it was going to happen. In old family movies, there is one scene of a very itty bitty me after I’d been hoisted up and allowed to sit on a cousin’s bike. I am grinning with my whole itty bitty body.


When I lived in Indonesia, I was giddy when I got to rent small displacement bikes and zip around the islands. It was the fulfillment of some very deep-seated very long embedded dreams. I’d be sat on the bikes, finally doing the driving, and still grinning with my whole body.

As I closed in on 30, I suddenly realized I had the time and means to make this happen for myself — to get my motorcycle license. I even had a parking spot, sitting there, just waiting for two wheels to occupy it.

So I got rolling. I signed up for lessons, still not sure exactly what my plan was (would I buy a bike? what would I use it for? would I ride alone, or find others to ride with?). But I started down the path figuring I’d figure it out as I went.

Then my dad, who I also adored with my whole being, suddenly had serious health problems. As I was taking my motorcycle training, he was being admitted to hospital. As I was shopping for my first bike, his was worse and worse news (though always delivered as if it were not). When I narrowed in on a particular bike, he had me tack up a picture of it up in his hospital room. When I came to visit, we would talk about how it was going. It was the thing to talk about that wasn’t the big scary thing in front of us. A redirection technique at which my dad was a master.

In my last voicemail from him, the one I’ve been resaving for 4 years, he is phoning me to celebrate the removal of his chest tube. He is proudly telling me how he got to help remove it himself, and how it means that he will be out of there in 24-30 hours (“Colour me excited”). He said he was just happy about it, and wanted to share that with me. Then he goes on to ask how it is going with shopping for my motorcycle, and hoping it’s going well, whether I’m just scoping out or if I’m buying. Then he signs off and hangs up.

Every time I listen to his message, I think of when we spoke when he first woke up from hip surgery. How he said that day, when he woke up, it was the greatest day of his life. All his Christmases and birthdays all rolled together — he was awake and alive. He’d been afraid before surgery, and all he’d wanted was to open his eyes again when it was over.

In this voicemail, I can hear his love and I can hear so much pure true dad. The happy, kind, generous and excited teddy bear of a dad. The one who calls to share his happy and excitement, and also to ask after yours with genuine interest, curiousity and support. In the years since he’s been gone, I have learned how unusual this made him, how little most of us do this for each other.

If I listen closely though, I can also hear that his voice is not right. Everything he says is cheery and full of relief and promise. But there are sounds on this call that belie that everything is not going to be okay. He clears his throat strangely, and there is a gurgling sound in it. When he hangs up, it takes a long time. He has some difficulty getting the handset into the cradle. The phone clunks around on the base for a while before the line goes quiet.

He called me and left that message on May 7th 2011. He died suddenly a couple of weeks later on May 26th.

I have not been able to handle this. I have missed him too much, and it has hurt too badly. The other day, my husband told me that after my brother called to tell me my dad had passed, I made a sound that my husband didn’t know how to describe. Then he realized that it was the sound he thought of when he’d watch The Princess Bride. The sound of ultimate suffering. The pain of your soul being wrenched apart. He said he still thinks of and remembers that sound when I am in pain now.

One of the only photographs I have of me on my bike was taken by my dad. I made my very first ride on my very first bike a trip to visit him in Oakville, shortly after he was out of hospital. He insisted on taking a photo of me. It is one of my favourites. I am smiling at my dad, and he is showing me he is proud of me.


My plan had been to learn on my bike by driving out to visit my dad. I thought it was perfect. It would be a nice ride along the Lakeshore, and I could go out and see him more often. He wouldn’t need to pick me up from the train. I’d go out on Sunday mornings, and when we’d get together for work, and we’d have coffee (mine black, his mostly milk) and we’d watch the boats.

And then within weeks, he was dead.

And everything broke. And everything changed.

And I broke too. And I had this bike. And I didn’t have him on the other end anymore. What I did have was this new sense of death. Death right up close. Death up so close it smothers you. It turns off all the lights in the world and drains all the oxygen out of the air.

But I don’t like to give in, and I don’t like to give up. And if I just sold this bike, if I did what I wanted to do and laid down and died myself, that dream and whoever I was along with it, might go and always be gone, and I might never find it again. And what would dad do. What would it mean about life before and after. What if everything really was just gone and there was no colour and no dreams and no point and no life. But what if the only way out was through.

So I dug in – hard, blindly and unrooted. I decided I would finish this, I would get my full license. I’d zip my broken heart up and put on my helmet and jacket and I would do this thing — for the little (and medium, and full-sized) me who’d always wanted to, and because it was what I had started, a piece of the path that had just been blown apart. A road connecting before and after.

I’d passed my first test with flying colours, and my instructors suggested I’d be good as an instructor. I turned visits to my dad into much further and chillier early morning visits to my aunt’s farm. I’d arrive shivering (and a little purple) but triumphant, and re-anchoring to family I had drifted away from. I practiced, and took lessons, and got good. My bike and I appeared on the cover of the riding school pamphlet.

I got better, I learned how to handle a big unwieldy bike with skill and confidence, and I remained broken.

I kept practicing. And I took my second and final test. I passed it only 2 points shy of perfect. When I found out in the parking lot afterwards, I nearly sobbed with relief and pride and accomplishment and loss. When I got home, I let that sob out.

After that, I had some moments of pure bliss while riding. Riding in the early morning, through thick sweet meadow air just north of the city, coming across a pheasant, watching the sunrise, riding a motorcycle on open quiet long roads. It is heaven on earth. I felt absolute and total joy and comfort and ease.

And when it was time, on a cold Easter weekend, for my brother and sister and me to scatter a small box of my dad’s ashes, I rode my bike back out to Oakville to do it.

And back home, year over year, every time I picked up voicemails, I would resave my last message from my dad. Usually, I would skip it. 3, 3, 9. (Fast forward, fast forward, resave.) Very very rarely, I would listen to it. But mostly, I just kept resaving it. 3, 3, 9 and go on about my day. I’d notice I wasn’t ready to delete it, but not know why or when that could change. After a couple of close calls where I’d delete a run of spam messages and nearly hit 3, 3, 7, I saved a copy to a backed-up drive. As the years passed, I was able to delete his entry from my cell phone, my home phone, my address book, but I couldn’t delete that voicemail.

3, 3, 9.

The relief and joy of riding began to diminish, and as a couple more years went by, I noticed just how hard it was to get from the thick of downtown Toronto out to the fields and birds and soft and quiet. How I was trading 2 hours of cold and busy and angry drivers to get out to those fields and that peace. And how maybe it wasn’t balancing out.

Where was the line between the pain and the pleasure? What had I set out to do? Did I have any further to go, or had I arrived there while I wasn’t looking?

Yesterday, I sold my bike. One day, maybe I will buy another one. Maybe for now, I’ll rent. Maybe I will do some more off-road riding — starting and ending in the woods. Maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll enjoy all the future possibilities all that pain paved for me. Maybe I don’t need to rush. Maybe I’m not sure what happens next. Maybe I’ll figure it out as I go.

But yesterday, I let go of that bike, and today I was finally able to let go of that voicemail. This bike that I had this troubled relationship with, these big ups and big downs, I let it carry some of the pain of these past few years. The struggle. The struggle when the struggle was too tough to really make any sense. The freezing cold mornings to avoid the traffic. The desperate slogs out of the city to find somewhere there was oxygen in the air. What it felt like to try and figure out a way forward into a future you couldn’t imagine, and didn’t want.

I let them go just before the calendar ticks over to another year without my dad here, another year of never hearing a new voicemail, never hearing his voice say any more words. Every year, inching forward. Every year, figuring out how to breathe, what to hold on to, and which things it’s time to let go.

I think dad would understand, and I think he’d still be proud.

Hi Me, it’s me.

Hey you.

So, I hear you have your motorcycle test booked for tomorrow. I also hear that while you thought you had your head sorted out about it, I have it on good authority that your belly was still churning like a cement mixer. Which means you were probably not actually sorted out about it (how’re those pangs down your arm treating you?).

Future Me, here are some notes from the eye of the belly storm. Three things that actually made a difference in calming our ass down.

1. Treats!

You are very good at giving yourself a little reward after success. But you never give yourself a consolation prize. (No, berating yourself is not a “prize”. Moron.)

What that means is you head into things with a prize in mind, just hoping that it will work out. But you let the sentence trail. You say “Okay, here goes, and if this doesn’t go well then…”

That ellipsis there? That gets us into trouble. Because when things don’t go well, through our own result, or just some random circumstance, we are left as a pile of goo. Because all we had “planned” for if it didn’t turn out was how incredibly sad we were going to be.


Think of something you really, genuinely, want. What would be amazing. What would you like so much, that if you can only have it if you “fail”, you might find yourself kinda hoping that you do fail, so much do you want this treat (*cough*facial!*cough*). Make it better than your “everything went great!” reward. Got it? Good. That is the thing you get if it doesn’t work out. WIN!

2. Do something else.

Have you lost perspective? Have you built this thing up into The Thing of All Importance. No? … Are you lying?

Yes you are. You are so worried and so nervous. Because you have to get 100%. If you don’t get 100%, we have it on pretty good authority that the world will end and you will be useless.

Oh. No. Wait.

Actually, we had that on bad authority. For a very long time. We have since replaced that with good authority that the world will, in fact, go on. You will live to try another day. Having to do something more than once is not failure. Failure actually does lead to learning. You do many things, you have accomplished much, and you are not, by any stretch of any imagination, useless.

Trying to do something hard or new or unusual that you aren’t perfect at right away is much more valuable than the thing you never have to work for but are “naturally” good at.

Got it? Good.

Now. Go do something that has nothing to do with what you’re stressed about. If it’s work, go for a run. If it’s exercise, bake. If it’s mountain biking, read a book. Go to opposite land! Your life is bigger than any one thing. No one thing is that important. They’re all moving forward. Some faster, some slower. You’re working out your skills in lots of areas. There is balance. It is all good. Try, learn, fail, fight, win.

3. This too shall pass.

Being predisposed against religion means that sometimes good idea babies are lost to retrograde authoritarian bathwater. Like the phrase: “This too shall pass”. Perhaps the only sentiment that means something to me/Me, even after detentacling Catholicism from my brain. (Yeah yeah, don’t steal, be nice to people, etc. I still hold to those, they got a free pass under “duh”.)

“This too shall pass” is a good and useful truth. It’s about change. All change. A person doesn’t look at an adorable kitten and say “this too shall pass” (unless they’re a person who wears a lot of black eyeliner). Though it’s equally applicable. Everything changes and everything ends. Good and bad. Stressful, frivolous, flippant or significant.

That includes motorcycle tests. One way or the other, it will be over. You will go on. More decisions will be made. Tests can be retaken (for free even). You will still be you. You will figure it out. This too shall pass.


I know sometimes we can be a bit balls at managing our stress. We’re getting better though, teamie. Give yourself credit for that. While you’re at it, give yourself credit for everything. You are so quick to focus on what you haven’t done yet, or the “lost” 5%. Stop that. Enjoy your accomplishments. Enjoy where you’ve got to. It’s a good damn place.

Oh, and also? At 30, you took one of your dreams and made it happen. Studied, tested, passed, registered, studied, tested, passed, purchased, practiced, improved. Were told you’re doing great and at exactly the right spot to pass this next test. New skills, the very best kind. Still alive? Then there is still time.

And if you don’t pass tomorrow, on your very first try, that facial is still going to feel so damn good.

We hint you prefer not to explode

While I’m taking a course in motorcycle maintenance in April (let’s pause here for a round of “fuck YEAH!”), since April insists on coming after February, that leaves me “winterizing” my bike now like a big ignorant February-era slob.

Yeah. I know. That’s why I put the quotes there. In my defense, first I was cheap, then I was undecided, and then the store screwed up my order of winterizing schtuff. (I choose to blame the last bit.)

My “winterizing” is going to consist of throwing some fuel stabilizer in the tank (if that fuel isn’t already borked), then removing the battery from the bike and hooking it up to a battery tender. I may spray some WD40 in the tailpipe if I’m feeling cuh-razy.

I have seen the battery before, but I have never removed it before. I have actually seen the battery many times, from when I kept taking the seat off to gawk (seat goes on, seat comes off, seat goes on, seat comes off…).

I’m going to go ahead and not pretend I know more than I know. Because when you pretend you know more than you know? That’s WHEN BATTERIES EXPLODE. How do I know that’s when batteries EXPLODE? Because in reading up on how to do this, it is quite clear that batteries EXPLODE. Why are you being careful? Why are you hooking it up in the right order? Why are you connecting an (over)insulated battery extension cable to the negative battery post and not directly to the battery? SO THAT NOTHING EXPLODES*.

Back when I was 16, fresh off my Young Driver’s course, and the principle (um, I mean occasional, I LOVE U INSURANCE GUYZ!) driver of my mom’s circa Cold War Toyota Corolla, one of my favourite things to do was jumpstart the car. Which, given that the only “maintaining” the car got from me was a regularly refilled wiper fluid tank (but maaaan, was that bad boy filled), I got to jumpstart the car all the time. I would regularly stop and offer expert jumpstarting roadside assistance to pulled over cars with their hoods up. You’re welcome stranded motorists of my past.

But then I started driving more reliable cars. And started having to consult the owner’s manual to remember the proper sequence for a jumpstart hookup (“salt is salty!”).

Which leads us to today, when I’ve forgotten everything I ever knew about batteries, yet I refuse to let my Honey Badger sit one second longer un-tended to, now that I have my battery tender (okay, and I also bought a sticker for it because that is what owning a vehicle is about).

And when you’ve forgotten everything you knew, and everything you knew wasn’t enough anyways, you read.

And here I would like to submit for consideration that when potential consequences (however remote) involve the word EXPLODE, one should go ahead and spring for a proper translation of one’s manual. In connecting and disconnecting a battery, sequence counts. So allow me to share in stages how my manual suggests I disconnect the battery:

“Disassemble the front seat, disassemble the (+) positive battery wire…”

(wait for it)

“…after the (-) battery wire. Remove the battery.”


But if you’re really not sure what to do with your battery? You can go straight to the manual’s battery warnings to find out how to keep safe. Ahem:

“Keep after separate at the motorcycle for the minimum of self electric discharge and electric leakage when don’t use for a long time.”

Go on. Tell me that’s not sort of beautiful.

I’m sure it’ll be fine. But you might want to stand over there a bit… Little further…

* Wanna know why it could explode? Apparently a bit of hydrogen gas can collect around the vents of lead batteries (even sealed ones). So when they suggest you use an extension cord to connect to the tender, it’s a precaution against you disconnecting it incorrectly, and causing a spark near the battery. At least with the extension cord, your spark will be far away from the battery. Because spark + hydrogen == EXPLODE! The more you know.

Fight, win!

I hear the easy way of doing things is amaaaaazing.

Me though? Trial by fire. All. The. Way. That’s why it’s called Trial by Fire bitches. Because if it was called “Trial by Fluffy Bunny Rabbits”* it wouldn’t be worth doing. If I’m going to learn to do something it’s going to be hard and mean and a real renameyourpethamsterandpouryourchocolatemilkonthefloor bitch of an undertaking.

Which is why The Universe decided it was important that instead of this bollocks about “learning incrementally” and “step-by-step” approach to riding, the heavens should part and dump some brimstone on my poor n00b bike riding ass.

I checked the weather report. I budgeted the time. And yet, 10 minutes into a nearly 3 hour ride home, something hit my visor. Then another thing. Then another. Things that were shaped an awful lot like oh holy shit you’re kidding me rain.

As it got colder. And darker (country roads don’t have streetlights little city mouse). And wetter.

But like the fucking champion I am, I did it. So if you saw a very very (very very) wet person on Saturday night (and you may have, since I single-bikedly cut across most of the GTA), driving along with their visor up (so. much. rain.) and a gleam of crazy in their eye, possibly shouting something like “AHAHAHA I’M ALIVE! I’M ALIVE!! GO BIKEY GO!”, that was me.

Still. One of the better moments of my life? Pulling into the parking lot.

One of the other better moments? Submerging hippo-like into a very hot bath. Until it got cold, and I got out to order motherfucking chicken wings and onion rings, because when your hands look like this You. Need. Chicken Wings. Like. Now:


The End.

P.S. That’s a total fucking lie.* “Trial by Fluffy Bunny Rabbits”?! How fucking awesome would that be? Think of the robes alone! Gavels made out of carrots?! Would they be tough but fair? Cruel and mercurial? What would the bribes look like?! THE POSSIBILITIES ARE ENDLESS.

P.P.S. Fight, win!