I would ride, ride, ride.

I recently posted a thread on a travel forum, giving a general idea of my whereabouts and requesting people contact me if they are riding a motorcycle in my vicinity and wouldn’t mind a pillion for a few hours, possibly even a couple of days. It’s been a few months since I’ve been on a bike and I really miss it.

I put a link to my blog at the bottom of the thread in an attempt to weed out any respondents who wouldn’t want as a pillion someone in the throes of grief. It can be a downer, let’s face it, to spend much time with someone who is perpetually sad, no matter how adept she thinks she is at disguising this fact. So it felt like the right thing to do to be above board and just put it out there. It’s the kind of thing that wouldn’t matter on a short ride where conversation is limited, but if hours turned into days, the subject would almost certainly arise in the course of ordinary back and forth; it’s a conversation that takes a lot out of me so I avoid it if I can.

Over the next couple of weeks I received about two dozen replies and personal messages, some of which were links to potentially useful websites (a motorcycle organization by and for women, for example) or “Hey, if you’re ever in my neck of the woods let me know and I’ll show you around” type messages from as far away as Brazil. The rest were people telling me their itinerary and either inviting me outright to join them at some point, or suggesting we meet up at the Horizons Unlimited event in England in June to chat and see if we’d be compatible travel companions.

I was in Sofia when I got a reply from a man I’ll call Dave, who said he was also in Eastern Europe and would be happy to give me a ride. I envisioned him stopping by and picking me up, riding out into the countryside for a few hours, then dropping me off as he went on his way. There would be little to no conversation.

When he wrote back it was to say his route had changed and he was heading west with a view to Morocco instead. If I had no plans after the Balkans I was welcome to join him. As an aside, he mentioned that he too had lost a child.

Since leaving the U.S. in April I’ve been trying, unsuccessfully, to find an online grief mentor, someone who has also experienced the death of a child and might be able to help me with the especially difficult days. Now it seemed I might have accidentally stumbled upon just that.

We emailed. By now I was in Ohrid Macedonia and he was back in the U.K., visiting his elderly parents he said, and giving his bike some much needed maintenance before leaving for Morocco. He thought he’d make a detour, ride down to Montenegro and pick me up. We could visit Durmitor National Park, one of the places I told him I especially wanted to see, and he could give me a ride at least part of the way up to the U.K. after. He was recently retired, he said, and wasn’t tied to any particular place or time frame. What did I think?

Yes! All I’d asked for was a few hours on the back of a stranger’s bike: the scenery, scents and sounds left and right, raw, direct, unfiltered by plastic or metal; the feel of the back and forth, the grip and release, the subtle dance that is riding a motorcycle and unlike anything else; a lack of agenda, the ability to close my eyes and, for a few brief minutes, just forget. He was offering to give me that, but something much more too – the chance for awhile to be in the company of someone who had survived what I am trying to survive. There would be no need for explanations or apologies, for awkward silence or pretense. There wouldn’t even be the need for words if we didn’t want them. Just to sit in the same room, to know that he knew – I desperately wanted that.

So it seemed sorted. He’d leave at the end of the week and would arrive June 1-2. I warned him that I cry often, and sometimes without notice. He didn’t mind, he said. So there would be tears, so what? There would be laughter too. I liked his optimism. I liked the kind of person he seemed to be: respectful, serious, thoughtful, quiet, and compassionate – so much so that he would deviate from his original travel plans in order to meet me and let me ride pillion with him for a few days.

A couple of days passed and I heard nothing. Then a brief note saying his email had been compromised, and to use this new one. He was leaving soon, he said. Another few days passed during which I made my way to Montenegro and he was conspicuously absent from my inbox, though I assumed he was on his way. Then a message much like the previous one, short and cryptic, stating that he was still dealing with email problems, and giving me a UK phone number I could call. My phone still had my Bulgarian SIM so I couldn’t call him, but suggested he text me if he couldn’t email, figuring I could probably get texts. Where are you? I asked. Do you still anticipate arriving on the first? I got a text in return saying only that he expected to arrive between the first and third.

Then silence again. I wondered about the compromised email scenario, how likely that was to be true. I worried that he might have been injured or taken ill on the road. I felt a strange mix of anxiety, concern and suspicion. So I did what everyone does these days when their only contact with another human being is via the internet: I googled him.

The only link I found that looked feasible was to a Facebook page, showing a man in an embrace with a pretty woman, cheek to cheek, her arms wrapped around his neck, both of them smiling; two small children; and a motorcycle. My access was limited so I was unable to read posts, but the photos had captions under them, one stating how happy they were, awaiting the birth of their son.

I had no way of knowing for sure if this Dave was the same Dave who’d been writing to me, though his profession, age and interests fit. Nor did I know how current the photos were. It hadn’t occurred to me during our correspondence to ask him if he was married – firstly I am not ‘looking for love’, and secondly it seemed improbable a married man would invite a woman, not his wife, relative or possibly long-standing platonic friend, to ride across Europe with him. In theory his marital status is none of my business. Nevertheless I wouldn’t have felt comfortable riding pillion for any considerable distance with a married man. Maybe he was divorced, I reasoned, or at the very least separated, and he didn’t mention it because it hadn’t seemed relevant.

The only other identity breadcrumb I could find was a thread he’d posted about five years ago on the same travel forum where I’d posted three weeks ago. It read: “Tall, good looking 44 year old would like to meet a female motorcyclist or pillion for a trip through europe and beyond.”

He got a lot of flack from responders, claiming match.com was a more appropriate forum for such a post. He defended his choice to post the thread where he did, saying he was looking for a particular kind of woman, specifically one who shared his love of motorcycles.

I put this together with the Facebook page to conclude a likely scenario in which he’d been seeking a partner, found her, and subsequently lost her. Maybe he was lonely, hurting, and began responding to personal ads and threads, looking for any connection with women who might be feeling the same, and wanting to take a chance on love with someone new. Did I, as someone who touched a nerve because of a shared sorrow, get added inadvertently to the mix, in spite of the fact that neither of us so much as hinted at the idea of romance? Did he tell me he was coming this way because at that moment there was no potential lover on the horizon and he thought I’d be his good deed of the year, then someone, somewhere, popped up, so he went off in that direction instead?

I’ll probably never know. It’s been more than a week since I got that text in spite of my various attempts to contact him. His arrival window has opened and closed, and I’m left to speculate, imagine, regret and doubt. What I do know is that he appeared, reeled me in, then simply vanished, all from the comfort and security of the cyber world, leaving me not only to wonder what reason he could possibly have had to do any of it, but to question the veracity of everything he said to me: if he used his real name, and if he was in Eastern Europe when he first replied to my thread like he said; if he really did have a daughter who died, if it really was 18 years ago, if he was then and is now so devastated by her death that he can rarely bring himself to talk about her. And if he ever had any intention in the first place of meeting me, of letting me ride with him, of letting me just sit… or if that too was part of a story that he liked to tell. Unless he suffered some sort of calamity on his way here, making it impossible to let me know he wasn’t coming, this is what I fault him for: not trolling the internet for a love connection, if that’s indeed what he was doing; not for changing his mind or his plans and backing out, if that’s what he did; but for his indifference to, and willingness to exploit, the feelings of someone who admitted to being vulnerable and fragile; for his callous disregard of what it might cost someone in an emotionally precarious state – to have that hope extended and then mysteriously, abruptly rescinded.

I could be angry with him, I could feel victimized and trodden upon, and indeed I did when June third came and went and with it, that last sliver of hope I’d been clinging to that he’d show up here. But I want to turn this into a gain rather than another loss. I don’t want to use it as ammunition in an arsenal of reasons not to trust people, or not to take risks. In spite of, maybe even because of what I’ve been through in the past 3 years, I want to believe that most people are good, and that people are mostly good, so I’m continually looking for evidence of this. I have no way of knowing what Dave’s reality is, how messed up or charmed his life may be, what might have motivated him to toy with me the way he did, or if in his mind, he was actually doing me a favor by letting me believe that I was talking to someone who knew exactly what I was going through, whether or not I really was, and whether or not he ever made good his expressed intention of coming to see me. I have the power to make it a favor, and remind myself how good it felt to believe I wasn’t alone.

It’s certainly not the first time, nor will it be the last I suspect, that my powers of judgement have misled me. But I still wish we’d met, the same way I wish he’d been the person I thought he was.

If wishes were horses……

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