The first house I lived in after moving to Arizona from California was a recently vacated rental my parents owned, plotted directly off the I-10.
My subdivision was located across from a Shell and a Chevron, and the home was situated juuuusssst right to see the freeway’s traffic out of my master bedroom window.
I was meant to live in the rental temporarily, as a quick layover space until I settled into a fresh start of my own. But when I moved out late last year, we had almost hit a full decade in that neighborhood- near prisons and a pot dispensary (with Saturday morning specials).
The location seems drab in writing, but once I was used to it, the neighborhood held what the majority of us residents wanted: kind neighbors, contentment, and easy access to the freeway.
Not only was I able to see the semi-trucks en route to various destinations from my bed, but I was close enough to hear the biker crowds too, revving their engines and forgoing their helmets, because Arizona allows that kind of thing.
I moved into this red state during the height of “Sons of Anarchy” fame, a show that appealed to me, yes because of Charlie Hunnam, but also the fact that I always fancied myself as an acceptor of bad-boys and a lover of rebels. A champion of outcasts and a cheerleader to misunderstood misfits.
Sure, I was a reformed choir girl, a rule follower and a bit of a prude, but if push came to shove (after I’d ceremoniously joined a biker-gang) I’d cut a bitch for my man or what not.
None of this true, of course, as life has led me to learn. I like structure, I like predictability, I like peace and solitude, rules and helmets.
A girl can dream though, as I did when the bikers exited toward the gas station of their choosing. I’d nod an awkward nod in their direction… first from the driver’s seat of my beat up corolla, then from my charcoal colored minivan as life progressed.
I’d long to be free enough to hop on a Harley and wrap my arms around a leather-swathed beer-belly, feeling the wind flow through my messy bun, drying the coffee that had spilled down my hoodie’s front.
Along a good stretch of road that led off of the freeway, I’d observe motorcyclists riding in either direction, motioning their “biker salute” as they passed each other by.
I’m sure I’ll be corrected on the term for this— there must be something much less boy-scoutish to refer to the motion one motorcyclist addresses to another, but I’ll stick with “salute” for now.
We’ve all witnessed it: a hand signal that initiates camaraderie and brotherhood, a pact that outsiders wouldn’t understand.
I’d see a variety of bikers journeying along that road. Some motorcyclists wore hazmat like suits, with light reflectors and oversized helmets. Others wore leather chaps and hardly anything on top, with long beards flowing while greasy hair along their scalps stayed in place. It didn’t matter what the biker heading toward them looked like, each would salute the other, a subtle gesture, but not out of sight, consistently acknowledging their kin.
Last night, as I was assembling a bed in the room of my seven year old, a knock at my front door signaled the memory of this biker salute.
My three boys were on each of their computers, “coding” on a children’s website, which is something that passes as educational but is really another form of screen time during Shelter-in-place 2020.
I was wearing a tie-dyed dress topped by an oily ponytail and had just returned from the park where I played catch and light sabers with the kids.
I had tucked my phone away and gave them my undivided attention to thank them for assisting me with the daunting task of moving a California-King-Sized mattress to the curb.
The weight of the handed down mattress had been unbearable for us, comedic really, earning grunts from my children and reprimands from me, as veins popped from all of our foreheads.
The task got incredibly hairy as we wedged my parents’ old mattress out the front door of our cozy four bedroom. It was a hefty piece with layers of heavy fabric, a retirement respite whose quality was shown through its un-liftable mass.
It had been days of upheaval-in-place. We’d rearranged the house, we homeschooled and fought and cried and laughed and ate junk and protected each other… living our own version of everyone’s current reality… me as a single working mom closing what was my 19th real estate transaction of the year, while maintaining so many roles for the family.
This position is one I chose willingly, a step I took to relinquish a marriage fraught with addiction and cyclical pain.
But, it was a choice to leave and a failure that I own. And because it is mine, I feel ashamed and don’t ask for help from anyone often: I can manage this. I can tackle it all.
We can survive and thrive with me at the helm and my kids will never know that after they’re asleep, it feels like I’m carrying the mattress alone.
And now, with the realty of the pandemic and chaos in play, this pressure is nationwide, something I need to remind myself of when I fall into a pity party. When I cry into my yogurt-covered raisins as I start another episode of Schitt’s Creek.
But not last night. Last night there was a knock on the door as I put together a bed frame, while my children’s voices lifted with exclamations of “It’s too nice! It’s just too nice!”
There had been a delivery… with dinner and toilet paper and candy and soap, paper towels and sugary drinks for the kids… with nothing to identify the giver except a swift knock and successful escape.
It was more than I was ready for, having crammed so much into one day. I bawled and collapsed to the floor, which prompted immediate nurturing from my oldest as he rubbed my back “Mom it’s too nice! It’s ok! We know it’s just so nice!” It was too late for me, the floodgates had opened and I couldn’t contain my relief.
It was a biker’s salute, a sneaky signal that represented camaraderie and sisterhood. It was a wave when I needed it most. A banker’s box filled to the brim with a gesture, acknowledging that the road we’re all traveling is more similar than not.
It was our neighbor across the street that motioned toward us… our neighbor that always greets us with a smile, a married mother with three kids, compromised herself but still doling out salutes to show that we’re all in this together. God, I needed that last night.
My well had felt dried up, my journey too long, the shield of my helmet caked with bugs and water spots and dirt.
But I could see the salute her family signaled our way.
We’re a different looking family, a crew that isn’t the same but we’re all in this club together. We’re all on this road and cruising along, and I thank God for the bikers that wave.