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I didn’t fit in with this crowd, not by the biggest long shot. Our friendship had a strange rhythm where she’d go weeks without getting in touch, and she had never come over to my house on her own, since she didn’t have a car. I was gone for a while and should have told him where. Later on we went down to the casino, a sea of Hells Angels: women dressed in tight jeans and bling, and gamblers filling up the tables, slot machines and bar. My first instinct was to go up to them and ask if they knew Pancho, or Angela or Scott. But one Saturday, he said we were going to the flower shop to pick them up. ” asked an elderly lady with 1950s-style glasses on a chain around her neck when we walked in to the small shop. He’d been mentioning a woman he met while out with friends. I saw his fist, already wearing a black motorcycle glove, so close to my face and just pushing in my nose the slightest bit. I tried to listen to my friends who told me I should be relieved. I tried to go out with friends and have fun, but it felt like I was in some kind of aftershock. For the next year, just when I would start to feel better, Jack would come back around.* * * It was a warm summer night when I heard the rocks against my window. I stood there, feeling out of place and wondering when I could make my getaway. Because it’s such a tight network, I was sure they did. In their world, it would be disrespectful and I would be thought of as a dumb groupie. ” A deep voice on the line that didn’t exactly sound friendly. “So when I get back to town, I’ll give you call,” he said. “I can finally meet the girl who likes pink gerberas so much! ” I ignored him and walked toward the far pump, where Jack was gassing up his bike. He said was “such a funny chick” but that “I had nothing to worry about.” Of course I knew right then. “You need to be a good girl.” When I told him not to go, I felt myself turn into a crazed woman who somehow couldn’t survive without him, he pushed me backwards hard into the edge of a closet. I felt frail, like I had lost my shell, which had never been that strong to begin with. I knew he was still with the same person, but he would make it sound like they were done. Every time I saw or talked to him, after months had passed, it was like crossing into a world I had left.I welcomed the sheer slice of the wind that hit my face on the back of a motorcycle as I pressed my helmeted head against John’s back as we rode across the Bay Bridge at one a.m.The lights of Oakland were like a city of brilliantly colorful beads in the distance, the air cold and wet, the speed making everything pulse with life.“Pancho thinks you’re a nerd; kind of like a librarian, but he likes you,” she said. He hadn’t ever said anything to me and I was a little scared of him. I was in my yoga pants, sweatshirt, and running shoes, ready for an afternoon of tennis. With its red-upholstered bar stools and black-and-white checked floor, a framed poster of the documentary “Hells Angels Forever,” there was typically a line of people at the bar, a band playing, and the sense that at any time, something was going to jump out and grab you. Nothing stuck — till a weekend trip Pancho and Angela invited me on to a motorcycle rally in Reno. There was no reason to go back to something that was right in front of me. All I knew was that my job wasn’t going well — in part because it was being crowded out by the other parts of my life — but also because I had never felt California cool enough to fit in. “But maybe you need to go back to Colorado to find something you’re looking for. He was seven years older than me, but it seemed like more. * * * Angela was upset that she even introduced us. ” she cried out over the phone, when I told her that he had surprised me late one night when he came out of the bedroom only wearing pajama pants and carrying a small box. “Here, why don’t you lay down,” he said after he had put my nightgown on me. If we need to go to the hospital we will.” This was the same man who took bubble baths with me, the water nearly overflowing with his weight added to mine.One afternoon, when I arrived at their house, Pancho was there and thought that maybe we were up to no good. I felt a mix of fear and exhilaration in the crush of black leather. Of course, I had never been in a pack of motorcycles before, and I rode on the back with a friend of Pancho’s who was not in the club. I wanted to run back to what I thought would be the welcoming arms of the mountains and the friends that I had left. It might be right around the corner.” It sounded wise, but I knew what I was doing was retreating. I met your girlfriend Angela at the party in Frisco a few weeks ago. He was huge standing next to me, as I’m only 5’1 and 115 pounds. His arms and chest were tattooed all over, the Death Head over his heart. And in the beginning, he made me feel safe, blind as I was to the spotlight his patch and his size cast wherever we went. “I just can’t wait till Christmas,” he had said, getting down on one knee and proposing with a gorgeous aquamarine ring, my birthstone. I knew I should break it off with him, but when I planned to, he somehow sensed it, and would pull a Dr. Hyde, offering to take me on a mellow motorcycle ride, surprising me with a picnic at the end. It was in the low-buzz frequency I always thought I could hear when I was among them back in California. “It’s not my fault.” I was putting a plate of spaghetti and sauce on the table when out of the corner of my eye I sensed something whirring towards me. He once went into Forever 21 by himself because I was obsessing over a dress I had seen.“Hey Pancho, Jill lives just a few blocks away from here in this cute little apartment,” she said. ” Pancho asked loudly, interrupting Angela mid-sentence. So we sat in awkward silence, looking down at the table full of eggs, pancakes and coffee cups.
* * * I loved my job at a publishing house in Berkeley, but over the past year my life had taken a very different turn.
It was the same feeling I got from running a hard trail in bad weather, or putting on a headlamp to navigate steep trails at night in the Oakland Hills with an ultra runner I trained with. Pushing through the smell of cologne and leather to get outside, where there was another bar, a buffet set-up, and partygoers smoking, drinking, and laughing, I would usually find Angela. But by midnight or one a.m., I was ready for bed, even though the party would still be going strong. It was surprisingly peaceful, even with all those engines and cars. I told him I was an editor and runner, here with Angela. “I mean, seriously, you’ve been smooth for a long time.” He was sixty to my forty, and bore more than a passing resemblance to Kris Kristofferson. “Maybe I can come to Alameda and take you to lunch sometime? He scribbled my number down on a cocktail napkin, ripped it off and put it in his vest pocket. That same peaceful feeling that I’d had with Pancho’s friend. At two or three, I was in the member’s room, sitting among coats and drinking a Diet Coke, waiting for Angela to get the keys to open the gate so I could drive home and dive into bed. “Listen, I’m sorry I had to go so abruptly,” he said. I didn’t think a bike would be the best idea, and Scott didn’t either. When we got to the party, I was excited that Angela would be there. One night I was in our local tavern playing pool with a girlfriend when a group of Hells Angels walked in. When I was overwhelmed with work or under the weather with a cold, he knew how to cheer me up, picking up my childhood Pippi Longstocking doll and speaking for her in a high falsetto voice. “I think you owe her an apology.” The guy turned to face Jack. We were arguing about something stupid: that we should have started the spaghetti earlier. The throbbing pain was so bad and I was so shocked that I fell to the floor with the sauce and noodles all over me, and all over the walls. The longer I knew him, the less money he seemed to have.
She would be working behind the bar and seemed to know everyone. After one weak cocktail and a bunch of sugar from the largely uneaten table of cookies and cake, I was crashed out, pining for a hot bath in my clawfoot tub. At peace like that, it’s not unusual to feel like you could easily be lulled to sleep. He told me he was separated, but I knew enough to understand it as code for “married but straying.” “So you’re married? “I’ve really enjoyed talking to you, Miss Jill.” Later, when I told Angela what happened, she rolled her eyes and laughed, as if to say . “You need to be careful.” He called a few days later, asking if I wanted to go to a party at the Oakland clubhouse. Before we pulled away, he asked over his shoulder, “You ready? But not five minutes after we walked in, he excused himself when his phone rang. When I saw Pancho sitting at a table with another member, I went over and asked him where I could find her. It was a loud Thursday night, and the music and buzz of people talking and occasional shrieks of laughter didn’t stop. I think it would be nice if you met him,” she said. It’s not like you need to date him or anything; just go for a ride.” Then one Saturday morning as I was doing laundry, my phone rang. It always made me laugh to think that he had even heard of Pippi. ” I asked, the first time he picked her up off my bookshelf. “I don’t owe her shit.” In the space of a few seconds, he was on the ground, Jack kicking him all over as he hunched himself into a ball. “Baby, baby, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Jack said as he sat down next to me. He was belligerent on job sites so often the jobs didn’t last long.
Together, we hung out at dark bars filled with biker dudes and black leather.
I began to crave the balance this new place brought to my life.
But in her tight T-shirt, red lipstick, jeans and combat boots — and lines etched around her eyes and at the sides of her mouth — she also was tough. “Here, this is for your birthday,” Angela had said, handing me a small white box the night of my birthday party in early 2006.