I love a good biker bar. Seriously, there's something comforting about it. Where else do you find a group of people, all brought together by the common love for speed, fresh air, tattoos and a good stiff drink? It's like the Cub Scouts, but for adults that just don't give a (bleep) about what you think of 'em.
But there are people out there -- maybe even you -- who see something totally different when a group of leather-clad tatted bikers (see: a couple of my brothers) walk in the door. I remember how amused I would be while pouring coffee at Mister Donut (seriously, the best job of my life), watching the public react to the loud grumble of a group of motorcycles approaching. But I had some of my best life-pondering conversations with those guys, sitting for hours sipping coffee during slow weekday afternoon hours, when I wasn't mopping floors, laughing endlessly with my "twin" Karen (who lived around the corner and was born the same day/year as I was) or flirting with the countless young guys who would come in for their afternoon coffee.
In fact, those close to me know how one of those guys became one of my most beloved friends. A friend of my brother, Henry was 36 years old (I was 18) and was one of the coolest, kindest guys I've ever known. As if I needed a 7th older brother, Henry served as a surrogate bro as well as a confidante when we would sit down and talk. The funny thing, as a parent, I would be a little concerned if my daughter spent so much time chatting with a guy twice her age, but it was Henry who would talk about how high school was small potatoes in the grand scheme of things and encourage me not to get caught up in drinking and parties. He would talk body image and how ridiculous girls were and how sad it was that we didn't all recognize how beautiful we are. It was Henry who would make me laugh, singing "On Broadway" from the gas station intercom (you know, where they used to yell things like "please pay first") as I would pass by on one of my jogs. It was Henry, the tattooed, leather-wearing biker who opened my mind and eyes and allowed me to see past senior year and even the next four years of college.
I'll never forget the night my friends and I stopped in to Mister Donut to grab a hot chocolate. We were off to spend a night in teenage wasteland and ran into Henry, who was ordering probably his fifth cup of coffee of the day. He seemed not himself and, while he was already a thin guy, he seemed weak and I could feel the concern in his eyes. I remember, in an uncomfortable state, half-joking with him and saying "Don't go dying on me." He smiled softly and said, "Don't worry, Morgan."
It was several weeks before Henry came in again. He had been undergoing treatment, and I was unclear of his prognosis. Until I saw him with my own eyes. When he walked in the door to the coffee shop, I could hardly recognize him. Without saying a word, I knew he was there to say goodbye. I pretended like everything was normal, using that high voice I get when I try to pretend I'm not upset. As he went to sit down at a table with his friend, I walked into the back room and immediately called my brother, and hysterically cried to the only person who would understand.
Two months after I graduated high school, Henry died of bone cancer.
When I think about it, it feels like not so long ago, sitting in the passenger seat of my own car as my brother drove, slowly working our way through the funeral procession. We were both so distraught, when out of the blue, I was suddenly struck by a '70s song, one that always made me think of my mom, playing from my car stereo. I've lost several people in my life -- people I care deeply about. But there's something inexplicable when you lose a friendship, especially at such an impressionable phase of your young life.
How Henry's life positively impacted mine and so many others is not the only story. The idea that someone might miss out on someone as special as he was, or disregard something powerful because it comes from a person who looks quite different from the way you do, is just so profoundly sad to me.
Maybe there's a lesson here for all of us.