When I was twelve I thought I was cool because I learned how to ride a motorcycle. My uncle Dan, who is a few years older than me and has always been more of a cousin than an uncle, taught me. He was cool because he was in high school and had his driver’s license. Me, not so much. I was just a skinny kid with holes in the knees of her jeans and a fondness for climbing trees and building forts.
One time when I was staying at my grandparents’ house, my uncle took me for a ride on the back of his dirt bike. We went off road, to this cattle pond at the bottom of a pit. It hadn’t rained for a long time, so there wasn’t any water and the mud had dried out, leaving the surface fractured like puzzle pieces. With the engine idling on the edge of the pit, Dan asked me if I wanted to go down there. I looked at the steep incline we’d have to drive down and said no. “Okay,” he said, ignoring my protests, “Hold on.” I wrapped my arms tight around his waist and off we went. It was a whole lot of fun until we got to the middle of the pond. It wasn’t quite as dry as we thought. The first two inches were a dirt crust, and below that was a foot of mud. The bike sank, and we had to wade out, walking the bike.
We got back to solid land, hopped on the bike, and sped off toward home. The problem was the bike didn’t have fenders, so all that mud spinning off the back tire flew up at me. By the time we got to the house, my back was covered with mud, my hair plastered in filth. Grandma was mad. “How did she get so dirty?” she yelled at my uncle. I thought it was hilarious.
My grandpa let me ride the bike on my own. The only real warnings he gave me were to watch out for the tailpipe, so I didn’t burn my leg on it (I did, and one time was all it took for me to avoid it from then on) and to use the brake. Once, I panicked when the bike got going too fast and I forgot where the brake was, so I just put my feet down and let the bike go. That was a bad idea, but better than crashing. My legs got scraped up, but my head was okay. I think someone, probably my mom or dad, told me to wear a helmet. I remember putting one on, and having a hard time seeing because it was too big. I don’t think I wore it after that.
What I did wear were my grandpa’s aviators and his black, rubber irrigation boots (like galoshes but for farmers). Paired with cutoff jeans and my favorite pink shirt* (which read, Girls can do anything boys can do—better!), I made quite a picture, I’m sure. I wore the boots (several sizes too large) because the bike bled motor oil, and I wasn’t supposed to get the sneakers I wore to school oily. Instead, my chicken legs got splattered as the oil ran down into the boots. Still, there was nothing like feeling my hair flowing in the wind, growing more tangled and stringy every time I circled my grandparents’ house at a thrilling pace of 15 miles per hour.
I imagined I was a real biker, even though the dirt bike didn’t look or sound like a respectable motorcycle. Instead of a thunderous roar, the engine whined. Less Bhah—VROOM! and more Vreee, vree, vreeeeeeeee!
I think all this posturing on my part was meant to impress a cute older boy who lived down the road from Grandma’s. Tragically, I don’t think the he ever noticed. He was too busy doing whatever it is cute older boys do.
*With three brothers, two male cousins, and an uncle who was basically a cousin, I became a feminist at an early age.
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2016