Ryan’s father hopped on his Harley Davidson and left him and his mother Dawn in Bakersfield, California when Ryan was too young to remember anything about the man. But his biker dad became a mythical figure in Ryan’s mind. While Dawn was always reticent when it came to any details about the man—she only said his father was a mistake, a man not to be trusted—Ryan would later mold the image of his father to his own creative whims: a member of Hell’s Angels, a badass biker unable to be domesticated, the executioner of his own moral code.
When Ryan turned ten, his mother—who worked various waitress jobs to make ends meet—moved them to Reno and married a floor boss in a mid-sized casino named Steve, who she met at the bar where she worked as a cocktail waitress when Steve was in town for an ambiguous “business trip”. Ryan was a chubby and introverted kid and hated living in Reno, where his middle school classmates teased him mercilessly. And Steve turned out to be a belligerent drunk, screaming at his mother late at nights, shoving her against walls as Ryan listened in stark darkness of his small bedroom, biting his bottom lip as tears streamed down his cheeks, petting their cat named Alice who slept next to him on his bed.
Steve would also take his drunken rages out on Ryan, calling him a “fat waste of space” and a “stupid slip of sperm.” By his freshman year in high school, Ryan—while still stocky—filled out his frame by lifting weights, and befriended another loner named Ben, a sophomore, who worked out with Ryan on a weight-set in Ben’s parents’ garage. Ryan then started lifting weights obsessively and listening to metal bands, like Korn, Pantera, and Sepultura. Soon Ryan insisted that people in his high school shorten his name to “Ry” and boasted that his real dad—the apocryphal Hell’s Angel—would snuff any man that messed with him. Most of his classmates—including Ben, who saw through the facade—had little interest in communicating with Ryan, who secretly read Stephen King novels in his bed until earlier hours of the morning.
Muscle-bound and angry, Ryan graduated in the middle of his senior class and got his first tattoos—a series of tribal symbols he didn’t understand from his left elbow to his bulky shoulder—starting the day he turned eighteen. Without a plan moving forward, Ryan took a job as a bar-back at a restaurant where his mother worked—hustling with his head down, working hard yet speaking to no one—and enrolled in courses at Truckee Meadows Community College where he earned an associate degree in Business Administration.
Still jacked with two sleeves of tattoos, Ryan now dates an ex-stripper in Reno named Ali, eight years his senior, and when they go to bars, they’re insular. Ryan uses his muscles and tattoos as means of false intimidation, knifing hostile glares at any man who glances at Ali. The truth is that Ryan has only been in two real fist-fights in his life and both occurred in junior high. While he loves Ali—who many people view as trashy—he would use his vast mass and muscle if anyone were to disrespect her, despite being tepid in his own abilities to throw-down. He still loves his mother yet loathes Steve, who has been diagnosed with COPD after a lifetime of cranking Menthols and watching slot machines.
He and Ali share an apartment on the outskirts of Reno with a small dog they adopted from an animal shelter, who Ryan insisted they named Harley and insists sleep in the bed between them. With his associate’s degree, Ryan works as the morning manager at an IHOP and bounces at a nightclub on weekends, saving for an engagement ring for Ali. Recently, Ryan started experiencing panic attacks while working at the IHOP, but tries to dismiss them as signs of weakness. He then goes home and weeps while holding Harley and waiting for the palpitations to stop. He’s terrified that people know that the tattooed bulk he presents is every bit the myth he created about his own father. While Ryan allows no one—including Ali—to glimpse his vulnerabilities and assiduously protects his myths, he still reads voraciously, works hard, and follows instructions. There’s an untapped, sensitive self that, with some coaxing and maturation, would make him more affable and assuage his anxiety.
Once Ryan can buy that ring—assuming Ali says yes—he sees his future as a place that can possibly seduce the truth.