I was born once. Haven’t had the luck of being born twice. I went to a church service in Chicago where I thought I was going to go all-in and, this is true, the guest pastor talked about how homosexuals caused 9-11. Right when I was about to give in, go for it, promise to my girlfriend, a radical Christian, that I believed as well. But God has a way of making it so that some people will struggle their whole lives. Although I’ve always believed in God. Always will. It’s just that Christianity can be so much like a drive-by shooting of ideas, something so chaotic about most church services I’ve gone to, a ritual of what-in-the-heck are you talking about? A favorite church I went to (for one solitary service though, I should admit) was one taught by a young kid in Michigan who just talked to us. He didn’t lecture or thou it up or try to sway us politically, but just talked. Real.
My mother, who looks a lot like this woman in this photo, back when she was the same age as the woman in the photo, back when I lived in a town that looked a lot like the town in the photo, with my uncle who rode a motorcycle that wasn’t really very much like the motorcycle in the photo because his was more hogged up, but my mother was kind of a rebel. She told me, when I was young, that it was OK to sneak into movie theaters, which I thought was such beautiful, odd advice. It made sense though. The prices were unrealistically high. It was easy to do. It wasn’t a felony. It was learning. You’d grow from good films. So why not go for it. I never snuck into movie theaters though, only the drive-in theater, which she ended up getting a job at, so I didn’t need to sneak into it, but I did anyway and a security guard caught us, so we ran into the woods, where our bikes were, and tried to take off on them as fast as we could, but the bikes just got tangled up, destroyed, and you’d think it’d be hard to destroy a bike simply by mixing it into a pile with another bike but when metal latches onto metal and you attempt to thrust it apart you can do some serious damage and we did and couldn’t ride home, pushing these dead bikes, exhausted, thorn-bled legs, paddling our way foot-by-foot on the edge of the road with rocks making us slip and slip and boys in cars riding by and yelling curse words at us and breathing the exhaust into our asthmatic lungs, so much so that my friend/cousin’s nickname was an abbreviation of Asthma, a word I won’t write because he doesn’t like his name in print, not even his nickname, you can’t even nick his name or he gets angry, so I’ll tell you that my mother had a best friend and they both liked to sneak away to one of the countless rivers in my hometown and they’d smoke cigarettes and eat oranges, saying that nothing in the world was better than the taste of smoke and orange in your mouth at the same time and they weren’t jocks and weren’t college-bound, but were bad girls back in a day when the United States pretended so hard to be all goody-too-shoes, but she wasn’t and smiled about it, like the woman smiling in the photo, and my mother has always been friends with people who have a bit of edge to them, a bit of mischievousness, which I think made me fine with writing, in that I could write anything and it wouldn’t phase her. I just showed her a short, animated film I wrote that was shot in Romania where, in one scene, a kid goes into his sister’s bedroom with a hammer to smash her teeth out of her head and my mother roared with laughter at the ludicrousness of it, saying afterwards, “I love it, I love it!” and I think the thing that’s so amazing about having a free mother is the freedom it puts on you, the incredibly intense and awful and honest freedom that makes you have to make decisions in this world where decisions can lead you to heaven so incredibly slowly or lead you to hell so powerfully quickly.
I remember snow in May in my hometown. I remember wearing pants and long sleeves when the sun was out. The sun meant nothing in the north of northern Michigan. The wind would always beat the sun’s ass in the north of northern Michigan. You’d drink for heat. To cure boredom. To socialize. To balance on a motorcycle. To feel like a free mom. To have it match your white shirt. To fit in with the alcoholism of a town of only four thousand that miraculously somehow had seven bars. Bars that are now dead. But resurrected into other bars. How bars become bars. How I’d peek inside and see girls from high school, older, tending bar, how they’d slowly more and more look like women in music videos, how they became pretty and worn and sad and glowing and then would disappear from my life, forever.
Ron Riekki’s books include My Ancestors are Reindeer Herders and I Am Melting in Extinction (Apprentice House Press), Posttraumatic (Hoot ‘n’ Waddle), and U.P. (Ghost Road Press). Riekki co-edited Undocumented (Michigan State University Press) and The Many Lives of The Evil Dead (McFarland), and edited The Many Lives of It (McFarland), And Here (MSU Press), Here (MSU Press, Independent Publisher Book Award), and The Way North (Wayne State University Press, Michigan Notable Book). Right now, he’s listening to Enon’s “Knock That Door.”