I’m a Passenger in Life (Because I Failed a Motorcycle Class and Cried)

“Learning to ride a motorcycle was MY dream and now you stole my dream and stomped on it!” I sobbed to my flabbergasted husband.

We were young and childless. Early 20s maybe. I had just failed our motorcycle class. Badly.

I'm wearing my dad's motorcycle jacket from the 70s.

I’m wearing my dad’s motorcycle jacket from the 70s.

My dad had a motorcycle when I was kid, and it had always been my greatest hope to learn to ride one as well. I was too terrified to accept rides because I thought it would tip over going around corners – but I didn’t know how to tell him that. The words wouldn’t come out. Maybe because I never conquered that childhood fear, it morphed into some kind of daredevil I-told-you-so thing to get back at myself.

Motorcycles seemed like the logical next step for Mr. Okayest and me. We love vehicles. My husband had a 600+ horsepower racecar that he had built and I was a garage widow. He built me a car from leftover racecar parts that had a clutch so tough, I sometimes cried when a light turned red. He brought cars back to life and sold them for profit (once for ten times what he paid). He had a vested interest in anything with wheels, including four-wheeling, but had assumed I would never want him to have a motorcycle. Apparently, that’s what wives are supposed to say. (Of course, it helped that my less-than-100-pound college roommate/ best friend had a motorcycle and wanted to go for drives with us.)

When he told his friends at work that I was pressing him to take a motorcycle course with me, they were jealous. They told him how lucky he was. “My wife won’t let me have a motorcycle,” they said. (I don’t think the words “won’t let me” should appear in a marriage, but that’s a post for another day.) So we signed up for the class at the local community college.

I was so excited. It started out pretty fun. Getting on a motorcycle in the FRONT was so empowering. I learned how to make it go and stop. I learned how to turn the whole bike with my head – the bike goes where your eyes go. I learned how if I wanted to wear a 3/4 helmet, I should be prepared to live with 3/4 of a face. Anyway, we were having these awesome date nights together at the motorcycle course. So romantic – for me anyway. I was living my dream and getting to be with my hubby. Win-win.

Until the road test.

See, I have to pee when I get nervous, okay? Let’s just blame it on that, okay?

All fifteen of my classmates were lined up for the road test. We just had to use small motorcycles – almost scooters, really – to make some maneuvers around cones and road lines without putting our feet down. We had done it before in practice, but now we were standing in line for a test to determine if we got our motorcycle certification. I felt a bit nervous, but I was standing by my man who always makes me braver.

And then I had to pee. I timidly asked the instructor if I could use the bathroom, and she wasn’t happy. I had to run allllll the way across the parking lot and through the college. By the time I got back, my heart was racing… and everyone was done. Even my husband. Everyone stared at me, out of breath and flustered. All eyes were on me as I climbed on my scooter/motorcycle. Suddenly, I knew I would fail.

I put my foot down. I’m sure I did a lot of other things wrong too. But everyone was staring at me. They were all relaxing with a cigarette in the grass and watching the puny blonde girl learn that she is going to fail something for the first time in her life.

We went back to the classroom and the professors tallied up our points. Then they called out our names, one by one, to hand us our certificate or send us packing. Mr. Okayest got his state certification, with a perfect score on his road test. He was a natural. When they called my name, they said, “Fail”, and the whole class heard.

I had never failed anything in my entire life. Straight-A student, perfect attendance, cum laude, double major, blah blah blah… and now I was put in my place. Fail!

Mr. Okayest had such a sympathetic look on his face that I couldn’t look at him again until we got to the car. As soon as my butt hit that VW seat, I burst into tears. Like a toddler. Wailing. Snotting. Making no sense at all.

Like the early-20s, semi-immature, newly-married, never-failed-anything person that I was, of course I took it out on my husband.

“This was MY dream and you stole it!”… even though I had asked him to take the course with me.

“This was MY dream and you crushed it!”… even though it was in no way his fault that I had failed.

“This was MY dream and now I will never be good at anything ever again!”… even though that makes no sense at all.

The starter bike that we had purchased for pennies was so small for Mr. Okayest that it looked like his knees were in his armpits, like those men with the funny hats who ride those tiny motorcycles in the town parade. The plan had been for him to learn on it, then pass it along to me, whose frame it fit, and then save up for a bigger bike for him.


He started taking me around on the back of that bike. It wasn’t big enough to support us both, so we wobbled a lot. But I hugged his strong back and closed my eyes and leaned when his body leaned. I liked it.

And then I loved it.

I didn’t have to pay attention to anything at all. I daydreamed while snuggling my husband close. I held on tight to my beloved. I even learned that I could close my eyes around corners to avoid my childhood fear of falling over. Heck, I wasn’t driving! I let my worries seep out the back of my helmet, like how Harry Potter can steal memories out of someone’s head in a long silver stream. I smelled the creeks and the earth when the road dipped low in a hollow. I saw the great expanse of sky when we crested a mountain top. I learned not to sneeze in my helmet. I let go.

I learned that I was a passenger in life. I am not always the driver. It feels good. I wear it well.

^ Now that last sentence there would be a great ending to this post, but there’s more.

Failing this motorcycle class was before my body failed to get pregnant. It was before my body failed to carry babies to term. It was before I failed to deliver babies without kicking the bucket. It was before I learned the lesson of, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.” I fail at lots of things now. I think I failed this morning not to yell at my children. I fail and I fail every single day at so many things, but I’m okay with it. I have learned so much.

We eventually sold the tiny bike and planned to get another properly-sized one someday, when we could afford it. It was hard to let that tiny bike go because it was supposed to be mine. As we were selling it to some other newly-certified motorcycle driver, I saw that that was the final nail in the coffin of me being a driver. I would be destined to be a passenger forever. It was okay, though – I just had a few pangs as it drove away.

When we finally got pregnant with twins, my husband must have had some sort of mini-crisis, because he decided that would be the best time to get a new, bigger, stronger, tougher motorcycle. One that fit his body. One that woke up the neighbors. And one that I couldn’t ride with twins protruding from my belly.

“NOW?!” I yelped. “Are you serious? Of all times you could have chosen to buy this thing, NOW?!!!” I can’t ride it, I’m nesting, we’re saving up for the “triplet” diaper onslaught, and did I mention I’m nesting? And all these hormones make me feel like you are riding out to certain death? And I get to be jealous on top of all that, too? I get to be jealous of you riding to certain death?


Mr. Okayest is nothing if not rational. And we all know how much he loves his spreadsheets. He convinced me that it was the right thing to do because it would save on gas, and it would be a free date night anytime we had a sitter… and – wait for it – allow him to ride the HOV lanes home from work so that he would get home sooner. “Won’t you need me home an hour earlier to help with baby twins?” he said.

And he scores!

He brought that motorcycle home and it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I was drooling. Oh, and, yeah, it’ll get him home sooner or something.

I couldn’t ride it. Even if I could have fit my twin belly between us on that bike, I would never take twins on a motorcycle. They weren’t wearing helmets, you know? I had to watch him drive away as I stayed home on bedrest. And then stayed home with recovery from almost dying (not on a motorcycle, though). And then stayed home caring for newborn twins.

He was right. He got home sooner.

When the twins were a few months old, and my birth wounds were healed up just enough to allow me to not retch, my in-laws babysat one day so we could go for a quick ride. Our first ride together in years. I nuzzled into his neck. I closed my eyes around corners so I didn’t have to feel afraid. I let my body lean with his. I smelled the earth and felt the rumble of the engine and hugged him tight. I was more nervous than before, knowing that I had three small children under three years old waiting for me to come home without bodily injury, but I was so happy. My worries seeped out the back of my helmet in a silver stream.

I’m a passenger. I ride and I ride.

Bye, kids!

Bye, kids!


Oh, the passenger

How, how he rides

Oh, the passenger

He rides and he rides

He looks through his window

What does he see?

He sees the sign and hollow sky

He sees the stars come out tonight

He sees the city’s ripped backsides

He sees the winding ocean drive

And everything was made for you and me

All of it was made for you and me

‘Cause it just belongs to you and me

So let’s take a ride and see what’s mine

Singing la la la.. lala la la

“Passenger” by Iggy Pop


8 thoughts on “I’m a Passenger in Life (Because I Failed a Motorcycle Class and Cried)

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