My freshman year of high school, my uncle Mark passed away and my dad went to Chicago for a month to have him cremated, and take care of his final affairs.
When he returned late at night on Christmas Eve, he brought back with him my uncle's Harley Davidson.
A 1987 Sportster, too small for a man his size. My uncle wasn't a big guy. Tall. but lanky in the way that everything he wore always looked good on him, and he had an air of coolness that seems to come with being underweight.
The handlebars on this bike are short, so my dad always had to kind of hunch over, usually with one elbow propped on his knee giving him an "I couldn't care less" look.
Almost immediately after he brought that bike home, it became his daily driver.
My sisters had both already grown up and moved out of the house, so there was no need to have any sort of family car with only one 14 year old kid at home - not that we ever really had a family car anyway.
He took me everywhere on that bike. The grocery store, buying only what we could carry comfortably, school. friend's houses.
It got to the point that when we had to go somewhere, I just immediately put on my jeans, riding boots, and leather jacket without asking if we were taking the bike.
One morning in the summer after I'd stayed up all night battling a particularly long stint of insomnia, he came into my room and said simply "Wanna go for a ride?"
In those days he wasn't around much. Usually drinking, or partying at a bar his friend owned, mourning the death of his younger brother, and struggling with the life he'd ended up in.
I answered back "Sure" and got ready.
My dad has always been a stickler about proper motorcycle riding attire.
Tough, thick jeans, boots that lace up and go at least an inch or two higher than your ankle, and a leather jacket, regardless of the weather or temperature. Also a helmet, obviously.
I didn't own a leather jacket, so my dad always had me wear one that had belonged to my uncle, which was an old Chicago police motorcycle jacket he'd bought at a surplus store. Being the 14 year old punk rocker I thought I was, this was very cool.
I got into my riding "uniform", met him outside and hopped on the back.
I didn't ask where we were going. I didn't particularly care. It was over 100 degrees out already and I just wanted to start rolling already, because the sun was soaking into my black leather jacket faster than oxygen into my lungs.
We took off and made the winding trek out of our neighborhood, down the mountain we lived on the side of. I love the way you have to move with a motorcycle. The way you have to let yourself sway exactly in rhythm with it for every turn, every curve. It's like a dance. A balance. An agreement that's made between you and the bike and the road. You'll all move together, and nobody gets hurt.
We got on the freeway and headed north. Out of the heat, I guess.
Traffic was heavy and drivers were inconsiderate for most of the way through the valley, but once we got to Anthem on the I-17, the road opened up before us like a great wagging tongue, inviting us into the mouth of the mountains and valleys and canyons beyond.
We accepted, and revved the motor, switching gears.
The day rumbled on in a blur of scenery, little towns sprouting up here and there like unexpected gardens, and then disappearing as fast as they had come into sight. Houses on the sides of hills, trucks with trailers and yard full of horses, little gas stations, diners, of course McDonalds.
When you ride in a car, you feel the silence like a living thing during long trips, and after a while you start to need to fill it. With the radio, with conversation, with road games.
When you're on a bike, the buzz and steady roar of the motor, the whisper of the tires against the blacktop, the wind rushing around your helmet, all blends together into a kind of silence that makes everything else fall away.
You don't mind not being able to talk.
Nothing would improve on that silence.
We drove for a good while until we got into a little town, I think it was New River, but I didn't ask. We stopped at a gas station for Cokes and bathrooms and to stretch our legs. The insides of my thighs already felt bruised and numb at the same time, but it makes you walk in a way that suggests a natural swagger, and that's always cool.
There was a diner in the same parking lot with a big ad painted right on the side, advertising the best pie in the state.
We stopped in and sat in a booth with a window. We chewed our pie mostly in silence. My dad looked out the window. I noticed that we have the same nose: from the side an angle so straight you could use it to halve a piece of paper, coming to a perfectly round drop off at the end. Wide from the front. Everything else I have is my mother's.
After we finished the pie we saddled back up and continued on. The weather was already a few degrees cooler up there, and there was almost no traffic, since it was a weekday morning.
I still didn't ask where we were going, and at this point I cared even less.
I don't know if it's from years of driving a tow truck, or years of hitchhiking around the country, or both of those, or neither, but my dad always knows his way around, and seems to always know where he's going.
Because of this I've always been drawn to men with excellent navigational skills.
Sometimes the things I look for in partners is exceptionally odd.
Eventually we arrived in Flagstaff. It may have only been a couple degrees cooler, but if felt about a million.
We stopped in a McDonald's parking lot, and I had already ripped off my helmet and leather jacket before I'd even gotten off the bike.
We spent the day roaming. Roaming with my dad is akin to aimlessly walking, but for exceptionally long distances. Part hiking, part trespassing.
My father is a story teller, but he has to be in the mood. When he is, it's hard to stop him.
My favorite thing to listen to him talk about has always been women.
This may sound weird, seeing as how I'm his kid, and kids aren't supposed to ever want to hear about their parents dating, or falling in love, or doing anything disgusting like kissing. But I never saw my dad as an infallible parental figure, who was all knowing and perfect, and probably never did things like have a one night stand, or do drugs. In fact, quite the opposite. I've always been starkly aware that my father was - regardless of his parental status - still a person. A human, not just a dad, just as capable of mistakes, just as full of wants and needs and desires and fulfilled dreams as the rest of us.
The way my dad talks about women is hard to explain.
Few people really get it until they're on the receiving end of a story or a tidbit of advice about the fairer sex, and when they are, they always end up in rapt attention by the end.
He has a romantic and somehow simultaneously 100% real view of women.
He sees them both as unbelievably strong and intimidating and capable, and somehow still seems to have a perfect understanding of their needs.
The tragedy of his seemingly sage and infinite wisdom on the topic of women, is that it apparently doesn't seem to extend to his dealings with his own girlfriends, ex-wife, or three daughters.
He told me that day - and several times since then, actually - that the thing he was never good at with women was communicating.
"I've never been too good at communicating with women. At least not in the right way, I guess. I keep all these feelings, all these thoughts, all these wonderful things I know about them up in my head and forget to say them. Or don't know how to say them. And I've learned that the quickest way to make a woman act 'crazy', is to stop communicating with her. Something about it makes them feel...known. Recognized. Included. Needed, too, I guess. See I've also learned that women want to be needed. They want to help us guys, they can't help it, they just do. The secret though is that you have to ask them to, otherwise they won't do it, and they'll be mad at you for never asking them. You have to communicate."
Around sunset we found our way back to the bike, and started the trip home.
When we pulled into the drive way and he cut the motor, the sudden quiet without the rumble of the engine was almost unnerving. I quickly covered it up with more conversation.
"So, who was the love of your life then? Was it Mom? Or Tonya? Or Kathy?"
We'd been talking about soulmates and true love before leaving Flagstaff.
He was quiet for a while. For so long I thought he didn't hear me.
"It was Kathy. But I never told her. You know, I never looked her in the eyes and said it and said I needed her. You know, it's like I told you. You've got to tell a woman things. You've got to keep surprising her with delightful little things. I hate how corny I sound, but it's true."
I nodded along to what he said, made my way down to my room completely exhausted, and fell face first onto my bed.
For the first time all summer, I slept through the whole night.