The Biker was just what I wanted -- young, handsome, the right kind of wild -- and easy to leave when the thrill wore off.
Or so I thought.
We met at a friend's summer BBQ. I was a recently divorced mother of a five-year-old boy, and like a hothouse flower after a long cold spell, ready to be a woman again.
The problem was I didn't know how to date as a single mom. More importantly: it was tough enough for me to let someone in, and now I had a child to protect as well?
So, because I had 50-50 custody, I sidestepped the issue altogether: I'd be a mother half the week, a lover the other half.
I actually pulled it off for a while. Although I introduced the Biker and my boy Dylan to each other after a few months (carefully, and at a gathering of a dozen people), and we had lunch together now and then, I kept them at arm's length for half a year.
And why not? Dylan already had a terrific father. I wasn't looking to create a family while still grieving for the one that was gone. Neither was the Biker, also bruising from a failed marriage.
It's different after divorce. There's no map anymore, no yellow brick road.
And so I went on long, fast rides on the Harley, letting the wind rip away any doubts. I wore the biker chick costume of tight jeans, tank top and sexy braids and danced to southern rock bands under the stars. On Sundays I rushed home to don sweatpants, pack lunches and take nature walks with my son.
In the meantime, lust turned to love. Real love. Gradually, my "double life" began to wear on me. There was always someone to miss. I also began to feel the unique loneliness of the parent who parents alone. For the Biker, I was holding back an essential part of myself: being a mother. With my son, I never felt wholly present -- especially when the Biker left on a weekend ride. Worry shadowed my life.
The following summer, we finally began doing things "as a family" -- camping, going to matinees, taking day trips -- but the three of us formed a tense triangle, with me at the top, trying like a domestic juggler to make everyone happy. I let Dylan get away with too much while The Biker, who had no kids -- who'd never even dated anyone with kids -- followed my uncertain lead. It was like the blind leading the blind. What we did share was our own childhood baggage as children of divorce, which made us so cautious all we could do was stumble.
Though I blamed the tension on the Biker's lack of bonding with Dylan, it took me months to realize my own part in it all: the way I'd subtly discouraged him from coming to Dylan's t-ball practices, even though they were just down the block from his house. Six months later, I felt the same discomfort as I went alone to Dylan's school Christmas pageant.
Underneath it all, I was afraid of more heartache, more undoing. The Biker was too young, too drawn to the open highway. We were doomed ... weren't we? How could I start my son along the same twisting path of dead ends that my parents had led me along?
I hit the wall, and took a long break, which gave us both time to see what we missed, and what we wanted. Turns out what we wanted was each other, but balance too. He realized that the family time gave him a purpose he'd never felt before, but he needed direction and to feel welcome.
And so, when he asked if he could shop for Easter gifts, I said yes, and my son's joy that morning, seeing the brimming basket of toys and chocolate, is an image I won't forget. Later, they assembled kites and we watched them sail into the sky. I've learned to get out of the way so they can enjoy each other.
In my memoir, The Forest House, I wrote about the geography of divorce -- which for most is a dark, alien place where it takes months, years, to get your bearings -- only to find the world's shifted again, like a land riddled with fault lines.
What I've learned is to focus on what's in front of you: love for your child, balance of work and play, and a fierce pursuit of that which gives you peace of mind. If you insist on these things, and your lover agrees, then you can make your way forward together.
In the end, it doesn't have to be so hard. Kids love people who love them -- who take an interest in them. Why limit a child's life out of fear of the unknown? We can't predict what will happen, and thus vainly try to prepare by controlling who cares for whom and how much and for how long. It doesn't help to shut out love today out of worry that, eventually, it'll fade. Who knows -- maybe, this time, it won't.