By Tom Demerly.
Years ago when I had a bike shop on Mason street in West Dearborn a young lad of about twelve came in with his BMX bike. He was a tall, thin, quiet kid. He wheeled the bike in the small store and waited patiently while we finished up with other customers and our important conversations. Then we got to him.
“My bike makes a noise.”
I rode his BMX bike a few pedal strokes outside, it indeed made a noise. We tightened something. It stopped.
The next day he was back.
“My bike makes another noise.”
I rode it again but could hear no noise. I went over the various components of the bike that could make noise and demonstrated they were in good adjustment. He said, “Thank you” and left.
This process repeated every day for about two weeks. Finally I said, “Hey, would you have any interest in working here at the bike shop after school or on the weekends sometimes? I’d have to talk to your Mom but if it is OK with her it would be fine with us. You seem to like to hang out here.”
He said, “Thank you” and left.
The next day he came up to the shop with his Mom, a delightful woman whom June Cleaver could have taken tips from. She was the archetypical perfect mother.
Colin McMahon, then a young lad, started working for us that week. He was good. Quiet and focused, his shyness hid an analytical brilliance and wry wit that exceeded his young age. He was a problem solver, and he had a moral compass that locked unswervingly onto true north. He also seemed to have special reverence for our tight community of cyclists.
A man named Michael R. Rabe was working with us then, and if you don’t recognize that name I’m afraid I don’t have space here to tell you what a remarkable person he was. He is the subject of many other stories. Michael R. Rabe, or just “Rabe” for short, sort of adopted Colin as his cause in life. Rabe was a habitual bachelor and an eccentric. He was also a coach and genius having served on nuclear submarines and then writing code for a computer company. The two were perfect friends for each other. They hit it off, mentor and student, master and prodigy.
We had something rare. A community of like-minded people. People who rode bikes for fun and sport and people who shared life and friendship off the bike.
We honored the same values of friendship, sportsmanship, work and a reverence for an undefined code that goes something like, “I will always watch out for you, you will always watch out for me, we will remain friends during sunny afternoon rides and late night personal crisis. We shall always remain friends, no matter what the rigors of time may bring us.” That was our unspoken code.
Rabe was killed by a drunk driver on his bike riding home from my bike shop on the night of May 2nd, 2003.
I don’t remember much about the immediate aftermath. Zoloft does that. But I do know nothing was ever the same. Or so I thought.
Fast forward 12 years. It’s today. The wounds have scared over. They never heal. It’s been more than a decade. The worst recession in history, two wars, more people lost to the ether of time, moves across the country (twice) and around the world. I never wanted the changes thrust on us during the last 12 years. Never wanted to lose my best friend, my house, my business, my health, every cent, my belongings and even more. When people tell me they “lost everything” in the recession I silently nod. They lost their job for a while and their house in Lake of the Woods, from the $170’s, in Northville. They didn’t lose the people they loved most. They don’t have a hole in their heart closed with wire and plastic by a surgeon from Baghdad. When they look in the mirror they see about the same guy they did 12 years ago. I see his ghost.
And then I get the photo you see at the top of the page here in my Facebook feed. He is Liam Mitchell McMahon, and he was born yesterday to Colin McMahon and Bridgett McMahon. They were married a little more than a year ago. They live five blocks from me. And then I realize that after all this time, all this strife, all this distance, that I have finally found home again. Community again. Family again. This is where I started. The wound has closed. The scar is fading. Life is, as they say, going on.
Now, I am not all gushy about babies. I’ve never had kids, never yearned for them myself. But the continuation of the things that make this city, this culture, this circle of friends complete lives on, and that I am gushy about.
Liam McMahon will grow up with good parents, good grandparents, in a good neighborhood with good friends. He will continue this. It goes on.
And when I saw his photo on Facebook this morning It suddenly occurred to me, maybe everything I thought I lost isn’t really gone. It’s just reborn.