A Different Kind of Danger
Whenever I tell people my brother died in a motorcycle accident, I can see their wheels turning, envisioning a fiery crash or a head on collision. The reality is less dramatic, less gory. The truth is, it was a simple slip of the wheel at a mere 30 miles per hour that sent him spinning headfirst into a mailbox. But that was all it took.
My twenty two year old brother went from working, playing, riding, living, and breathing to…just breathing. In and out, the work of a machine, not even his own lungs, for a week before he was gone. I was in the room with him when they removed everything that kept him alive, or I should just say breathing, and I not only witnessed but felt the life go out of him.
I felt everything I could feel in that moment. I felt love, hatred, anger, the deepest grief I had ever experienced, and every other emotion in the world or so I thought. I felt a love so wide I thought it would be enough to fill my brothers lungs once again. I felt as if I could not feel anymore and after leaving the room, the hospital, and arriving at home, that is exactly what I felt- nothing.
I would have continued living life like this if it hadn’t been for my mother. She had me, her five, now four sons, and my dad but all of the men in our family closed up like a clam after this event. If given a task or a purpose, I am able to function under almost any circumstance. Even faced with the deepest hurt, I could stand tall knowing my mom needed me and I could at least try to be there for her.
I tried to go back to my schedule and attended EMT school, obtained a certification, and began work for an ambulance. I played it safe, working over time and caring for my mom when I had the time.
Then in 2017, my mom passed away.
This time there was nothing to bring me back to life and it felt like there was an invisible machine, just like my brothers, pumping air in and out of my chest because it surely couldn’t have been me. I felt nothing, not even the desire to breathe. Just like any sane person would have, I considered suicide. But even that didn’t bring out any emotions in me so I began to seek out anything, anything at all.
As any good story starts, I quit my job and escaped to the woods as often as I could.
I was reckless, disregarding any potential dangers, telling no one where I was going, turning my phone off, and hiking for hours with just a backpack and sleeping gear. When I finally found a spot, I would choose the highest location I could and plant my sleeping bag near the edge of the cliff line, silently hoping I might roll over in my sleep and it would be out of my control. Maybe I would feel something like fear in my last moments.
I took unnecessary risks and had countless nights of unprotected sex, no longer caring or feeling.
I cycled through the night and had homeless people throw glass bottles at the spokes in my wheels. I would pedal on, feeling a rush having just barely avoided a flat tire and be in a much worse situation.
The word danger in my mind was directly associated with motorcycles. So I took a course and began to ride until one day I was cut off and lost control. I ended up underneath the side of the motorcycle, feeling its weight and heat pinning my leg.
I laid there feeling slightly pleased at the presence of fear in my chest.
Finally, I bought a van and moved into it with little to no idea of where it would take me or why exactly I had made such a decision. I know this sounds like the beginning to a really cheesy movie where the girl strikes off on her own and Hey Soul Sister by Train plays in the background but that’s not the reality.
The real story is I just drove. I took off in the direction of the mountains in New Hampshire from Kentucky and just drove. I drove through the night to the point of hallucination despite the fact I was under no deadline or time crunch. I found myself three nights into my journey parked behind a gas station, crumbling into the back of my van from exhaustion.
I was awakened by the sound of tapping on my window followed by a deep voice.
“Miss, please? We just need five dollars, please.”
The two words that woke me fully up were Miss because clearly they had been watching me and the we indicating there was more than one person outside of my van. I jumped into the front seat, calling out a no as they knocked against my window and I drove off once more into the night. I laughed as I drove, scared shitless until I began crying at the realization I didn’t feel safe in my new home. I drove through blurry eyes and a fatigued mind, shaking at the thought of all of the dangers around me.
What else would I encounter next? The thought gave weight to my foot on the pedal and I pushed on, feeling for the first time in a while, real excitement.
I slept on the coast despite signs warning me not to and was never surprised to wake to the sound of knuckles rapping on the side of my van. I would face the police officer with sleep filled eyes and give a drowsy nod as he warned me, “You need to move your vehicle or else we will arrest you for trespassing.”
I would stare over the edge of a tall rock overlooking water and wonder on the way down if it was deep enough to catch me safely.
My brother died when he was 22 and I was 20. I never expected to make it much further after he passed so I rode as close to the edge as I could push it. When my mom passed, I was prepared to go completely over the edge.
There was no mother to worry about my well being any longer or chastise me for my wild ways and in a way these actions brought me closer to her and my brother. I would do these things hearing my brother’s voice yelling, “Do it again!” and see my mom shaking her head, telling me raising five boys had been easier than one girl.
I believe anyone can conjure fear in their heads quite easily, I think we’ve been doing it since we were kids. When I was little, my brothers would play reckless games in the neighborhood, leaving me behind. I would find myself running through our backyard, ducking behind trees, gasping for air at an imaginary pursuer, feeling delight at having just barely escaped.
But in my new life, this was real danger, the type that you could identify by the fast pace of your heartbeat, the adrenaline pumping through your veins, and the tangible dead air hanging beneath your feet on a cliff side.
Anyone with a brain can tell this lifestyle is not sustainable and so it slowly began to ebb and fade. These experiences taught me to be comfortable with fear, to coexist peacefully with it. I still live in my van and I still seek thrills and opportunities to be scared in my every day life. But I no longer seek danger. I seek fear by doing things I’m anxious about, like telling this story aloud or doing a really scary rock climb or loving someone back even when it’s terrifying.
My mom and brother would want me here and appreciate the medium I have chosen on the spectrum of living dangerously. And if given the opportunity, I still will take the leap, but now I look before I jump.