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XX Files - 7.20.05

Heaven on two wheels

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I've been thinking about dead bodies lately. Iraqi civilians. American troops. Suicide bombers in London. Their victims. I've also been thinking about deaths involving motorcycles and scooters. Thinking about war and terrorism sends me into a deep, immobilizing funk. So I've chosen to obsess about accidents instead.

This is a rich vein for me to mine, because my husband bought a Vespa this spring. I know they're chic and everyone in NYC has one. I know they are used to lend style and street cred to everything from Mann's Jewelers' catalog to the Food Network's ads. But they're dangerous. Like motorcycles, they're hard to see. And, despite a significant surge in motorcycle and scooter ownership, motorists don't look out for them.

So I worry that my husband will get killed. It wasn't always like this. I fell in love with him on the back of a motorcycle. The heat of it, the roar. Hugging him as we banked around corners. It was dangerous, sure, but back then I didn't care.

Lucky cat that he was, he walked away from his accidents. He used up at least two of his nine lives. In one accident, he slammed into a cab's rear bumper and went flying, ass over teakettle, onto the hood. He brushed himself off and wheeled his bike away as the woman in the cab, unhurt, screamed.

But all that changed. My husband -- then boyfriend --- locked up his motorcycle and enrolled in medical school. At first, I was against it. I missed his biker garb and attitude. Then I, too, grew up. I had an epiphany in the most unlikely of places: a room full of cadavers.

We were broke so instead of going to see a band or a movie, we sneaked into his dissection lab one night. His cadaver was a woman, a giant woman. We couldn't tell if she was white or black or even how old she was, because formaldehyde alters the skin.

I couldn't get over the magnitude of her. Not just her size but her gift. The gift of her body to the medical school. And she was beautiful. Not on the outside, necessarily, but on the inside. She was you, she was me --- every inch of her body was exquisitely designed. In the end, though, it was her body that failed her. She died of an aneurysm.

He peeled back the flap of skin from her chin to her clavicle. I could see one of the ropy neck tendons that stand out when you turn your head. I asked him why getting a hickey felt so good. He held a slender tool and delicately pulled things back so I could see the artery that thump-thumps when your heart beats.

"There's a nerve here somewhere." he said. "It's hair-thin." I could see his neck as he bent over hers. He was a completely different person. Suddenly, I didn't want to see that neck, his neck --- strong up close but fragile between leather jacket and motorcycle helmet --- snap in an accident.

The world shifted slightly. I stopped taunting life and started trying to preserve it. I tried to keep him --- and the kids that came later --- bathed in the disfiguring formaldehyde of maternal worry and restrictions.

The first thing I did, after we got married, was make my husband sell his motorcycle. I know: emasculating bitch. But, hey. I didn't want him to die, or worse, end up like those guys in wheelchairs at motorcycle shops. It's true that I think the human body is a miracle, and I get all teary-eyed when I think of the beauty of it. But I'm no freakin' nurse.

I can't stop thinking about those other deaths. They are happening because men who have an end-time mentality declared this war. These men believe that a better time is coming when God or a bright light or something will raise them up. They are missing the point. They are missing life.

This is rapture or Armageddon or whatever you call it. This body. This air you breathe. This life is the heaven and hell they seek. And in their hubris they are creating even more hell on earth. They are destroying this lovely planet and causing the hate and the deaths and the men with bombs getting on subway trains alongside tourists and commuters.

So why, you ask, why now that I value life so much, did I recently encourage my husband to buy a motorcycle or scooter? Because he loves riding. And because of Bush's misguided, dangerous, end-time policies. I know a little history (and, unlike Matt Lauer, I know the history of psychiatry), and I can tell you that millions of generations of people have gone before us. God didn't come down and choose them. Why us? Now?

It follows that, since I'm such a damned atheist, I can't really justify controlling someone else's life. This is the only life we get. This is it. Live fast, die pretty if you like. Or live long and live large. Buy a scooter if you must.

When I kiss my husband goodbye on the neck just below his helmet as he revs up the Vespa, I try to ignore the fact that he has a 27 times greater chance of dying on that thing than he does in a car. I hope he views me as a wise, brave wife. Little does he know I'm secretly counting on the remaining seven of his nine lives.

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