Terry Ratner RN, BS, MFA - nurse, writer, educator - click to return home
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Personal Memoir


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Personal Memoirs

Treading Water

Selling a treadmill last weekend on Craigslist didn’t go as planned. It was part of a larger project to downsize and discard all items that tend to sit and collect dust. But there was something different about the treadmill; after all these years it had become a part of my décor, an artifact attached to a memory, a piece of my heart.

The trick to using a treadmill is not to be misled by its enormous presence. The only way to be sure you’ll use it is to plant it in your living room, like a piece of fine furniture, which is what I did when my son, Sky, showed up one day with a Weslo Cadence 845 in the back of a pick-up truck. A week earlier, I’d hinted about buying an exercise machine, which is when he looked up at me with a gleam in his eyes and said, “Why don’t you buy my treadmill?”

My son, a wheeler and dealer, since the age of five, wasn’t going to let this deal pass him by. “You could just give it to me,” I suggested with a smile. “After all, I am your mother.”

He responded with his usual irresistible charm, “You’d be helping me out financially and besides that, I bought it six months ago—it’s practically new.”

Sky had recently rented a California style bungalow in central Phoenix with his girlfriend. I remembered what it was like when his father and I started out, living with the bare essentials: used furniture our parents contributed, a few dishes, never a full set, a couple of living room chairs and a large bean bag pillow to sit on. So I wrote Sky a check, paid full price, while he and a friend hoisted the monstrous piece of steel out of the truck and rolled the robot-looking statue into my living room.


I thought about past Christmases, when Sky was young and how he’d wake before dawn, tiptoe into the living room and reach into each of the three stockings, rearranging the gifts as if he was our personal Santa. He’d quietly review his options, stuffing an extra apple and orange in exchange for a Snickers bar, a Slinky, or a small bag of marbles. I’d lay in bed smiling and listening to the sounds of tiny bells attached to green velvet ribbons that hung down from the red flannel stockings.

My son became a successful business man at the age of fifteen—dealing in used bicycle parts, Ray-Ban sunglasses, Vans clothing, Swatch watches, all items in great demand by many of his fellow high school students. Sky’s charm and humor was well suited for his trade. Friends and family were drawn to him, all of us wanting more than he could give.

Five years later, at the age of twenty, he began buying and selling cars with salvaged titles. He once tried to sell me a 1996 red Honda Accord (two years old at the time), but I decided to buy my first new car from a dealership. I remember Sky’s comment, “If you buy from a dealer, you can expect a thick book of coupons for at least five years.” That time, I stuck to my guns, and purchased a new car, much to his dismay.

He didn’t speak to me for two months after I made the decision. I took the attitude, “this too shall pass” and didn’t cave in to him. But I remember missing our talks and hoping in time he might understand my thought process.

His anger and disappointment did pass, but only to make way for another screaming deal. Sky joined a gym near our house and asked me to become a member, telling me what a great bargain it was. And he was correct, the deal was, as Sky put it, ‘sweet’ but the problem was this: The gym stayed open for three months after I joined and suddenly the doors shut down and a sign posted at the front read, “CLOSED” with no further explanation.

The Memory

Sky liked to workout, but he also loved to race motorcycles. Three accidents, all resulting in minor injuries, including severe road burn, weren’t enough to break Sky of his long love-hate relationship with bikes. On the evening of March 11, 1999, he started his bike up with a push of a switch and a low sweet rumbling ran through his body like melted fudge. He adjusted the side mirrors before taking off on the asphalt road. He felt young indestructible, turning his head to admire fancy cars and good looking women. He rode like that for pedestrians, couples sitting on porches, strangers driving behind him and in front—for no one passed him. After cruising for ten minutes, he thrust the front of the bike upright like a wild horse standing on his hind legs, and rode like a cowboy, performing wheelies for an audience of onlookers. The dimming yellow streetlights glared on the handsome young star—his last hurrah.

This took place two years after he sold me the treadmill, one year after I bought my first dealership car, and six months after the gym bellied up and went under.

Funny what one remembers about the past. Four months before the fatal accident, Sky rode his Kawasaki over to the house. There I was, walking uphill on the treadmill, clearly out of breath and patting my temples with a damp towel while Sky sat patiently on a nearby couch smiling at my attempt to workout. He called me over to where he was sitting as if he had a surprise. He met me halfway and put his arms around me, gave me a huge hug, then placed a kiss on my cheek and said, “I love you Mom” for no particular reason.

Letting Go

Last weekend I helped my husband load the treadmill into a blue Chevy pick-up truck. Ironically, the same color and make of the vehicle that didn’t see or hear the soft hum of Sky’s motorcycle on the evening of his death. We hoisted the machine up carefully, brushing off a layer of dust, sliding it slowly toward the cab of the truck before locking the tailgate in place. It was difficult watching the pick-up pull out of our driveway, knowing the treadmill was leaving—taking away a part of my son’s life which stood in our living room for the past twelve years. A memory engrained in our hearts as solid as steel.