She had been his placeholder girlfriend; the one you reference for the rest of your life. The page where you put your finger in the book and flip back and try to remember what not to do. The training wheels girlfriend. The first one you really took chances with, putting it out there and hoping you didn’t wind up in a bruised, broken ball or whimpering loser.
He stares at his front wheel watching the broken white line whisk by. Light flits off the spokes and it looks like a roulette wheel in a poorly lit casino turned up on its side, spinning without friction, spinning wildly splashing rhythmic light over an empty room.
She was the anchor. A place where he could go and remember that you never called a girl fat, or heavy or any thing close to it because of the look that had been on her face. It was that magic, frightful place where you learned that bumping noses while going in for the kiss was cute and delicate and if you handled it right the damn most romantic thing that can happen. She had been the bunny hill learning curve that taught you to fall off and get back on. Gentle. Resourceful. Respectful. Hopeful. Trusting.
The white flashing line edges closer to his imaginary vertical roulette wheel. He realizes that a good chunk of his bike and body are in the opposing lane. Staring at the ground is a bad idea but it pushes his brain somehow deeper into his memories. It is a stupid thing to do but he slides
closer and closer to the line and more and more of him is in the wrong lane. The guys who taught his motorcycle safety class—their ears must be burning–or maybe not. So close the line now that he wondered if he could get the edge of the tire over the line but keep the contact patch, the
part rooted to the ground, just off the paint.
She had been risk, reward and renewal. All the embarrassing things had happened back at that place. All the first true risks were there too. The coasting the car to her house out of gear to keep the engine noise down; sometimes to drop her off, others to pick her up. Bailing out the backdoor as Mom came in the front. Somehow they survived seeing each other undressed or burping while kissing or just saying too much. The first “I love you” that carried real danger was there but forgiving, they had been forgiving and learning and testing and doomed to be a memory someone else would benefit from. A 5 dimensional memory of touch, taste, smell, fear and love that broke a trail that then ends up trod by someone else. She had been the rainbow but not the pot of gold.
Really, he thinks, truly and seriously I am in the opposing lane. Oncoming traffic is crossing the fog line trying to keep their distance. The cars and trucks appear as noise and flashes in his peripheral vision, just a thing that’s happening next to him. A gentle press on the right handgrip. In his mind he swears he can see the front tire deflect ever so gently as the drift back into his lane starts and the gap between tire and paint increases. Gently the bike dips into a low spot in the lane where trucks have cut a rut that only he knows is there because he can feel it. Looking up he realizes he doesn’t know where he is because he had just been following the paint.
She had been a crap driver. He feared for his safety when she drove. But it was thrilling because she was distracted and beautiful and talking and singing and doing just about anything but operating the car. Two weeks ago Thursday morning a stroke had taken her while driving. It took the coroners from two counties before they figured it out. Her brain had blown a gasket and blood fouled the plugs and she was gone in seconds they said. She was dead. He would never be able to say, “Thank you”. She was his placeholder girlfriend, and this was their last first.