‘She’s still riding with me’

Life-changing wreck leads local ‘outlaw
biker’ down new path

By Nicole Daughhetee
Staff Reporter

One of the profound blessings of my job, aside from certain liberties and freedoms afforded me in my writing, is the opportunity I have to develop and investigate feature stories.

My interest in people has been cultivating for as long as I can recall. When I was younger, my mom and I would go to Aventura Mall on Saturdays, and as much as I enjoyed the girlie-girl aspect of shopping, I equally treasured quiet time spent sitting on a bench outside the food court people-watching.
People and their stories fascinate me. They always have, and I suspect they always will.

As many of my regular readers know, my passion for people and writing has transcended the Courier, as I continue to work on a book about the various personal stories and significances of people’s tattoos.

Work on The Soul to Skin Project led me to Bruce Harrington — a local Pickens County resident and member of the Freedom Biker’s Church, where he is affectionately known as “Loose Bruce.”

It wasn’t until I was well into my interview with Bruce that I realized, by way of the Courier, that we were already connected through a few degrees of separation.

On April 20, 2011, our paper ran a story about a fatal DUI accident that left Cynthia Marie Darty Harrington, 42, dead at the scene. Recovering from a recent surgery and focusing on whatever stories I was responsible for completing by deadline, I was oblivious to the story until I did my own research over a year later.

Ours was not the only news outlet to run the story. According to every report, the driver of the truck, in which Cynthia Harrington was a passenger in the truck bed, lost control of the vehicle while traveling west on Gravely Road. The driver ran off one side of the road, overcorrected, drove off the opposite side of the road and went down into an embankment, causing the vehicle to overturn.
Many of us, I’m certain, read these stories in the newspaper and have a moment where we comment on the tragedy or feel sympathy for the parties involved, but then turn the page and move on to the next story.
Such is life.

We are not callous, unfeeling people, however, when a story — however horrendous it might be — doesn’t impact us directly, life goes on. Unchanged. This is not the case for the people who are part of the stories, whose lives have been irreparably changed by the events we are able to seemingly gloss over.
The universe, in all its infinite wisdom, unbeknownst to me, put Cynthia Harrington’s widower in my path, allowing me the opportunity to pick up where the newspaper stories ended, to delve deeper into the heart of the matter and present a rather incredible story to our readers.

I cannot help but start this tale with the following statement: “You can’t judge a book by its cover.”

A self-proclaimed “crusty old biker,” Bruce Harrington looks and dresses the part: his sun-tanned skin has the handsomely weathered look of a man who has logged thousands of miles on the open road, with windblown, pony-tailed hair never restrained by a helmet. One of the reasons Bruce migrated to South Carolina from Tampa, Fla., was because there isn’t a helmet law here.
Clad in leather and denim, Loose Bruce is a quintessential outlaw biker.
On the surface at least.

Ask him about his wife, or his relationship with God, and that crusty façade crumbles — revealing an incredibly spiritual, sensitive and sage soul on a mission to reach others for Christ through his testimony and witness.

When I met Bruce, he was at Amber Island Tattoo in Easley having some work done on a large skull piece on his stomach. Albeit an incredible work of art, what caught my attention was the tattoo located on his upper right chest. The piece depicts an urn cradled in the hollow of a dead tree, and juxtaposed with these images of death are flower blossoms, a mushroom and the essence of smoke spiraling out from the top of the urn.

The tattoo is a memorial for Bruce’s wife, Cynthia Marie Darty Harrison, killed in that tragic April 2011 accident.

“That represents that with death you have life. Her spirit is going to Heaven via the smoke coming out of the urn. Then you have flowers and the mushroom growing out of the dead tree, see?,” Bruce explained. “That’s to represent the new life that comes with that death.

“And to me, in my way of thinking, she’ll ride with me, you see? She’ll ride with me forever via that memorial.”

The way the story goes, Bruce came to Pickens County from Tampa Bay with a suitcase in one hand and a TV in the other. He landed a job in a local sawmill, where he met a guy he described as a rough fellow.

Since this co-worker didn’t have a car, Bruce offered to give him a lift home from work. There Bruce met Cindy, and the rest was history. The way Bruce tells it, “his wife was my wife, only he didn’t know it yet. She was from Alabama and I was from Tampa, and we met and fell in love in the Carolinas.”
When they first met, for Bruce, it was like love at first sight.

“She had them spandex bicycle shorts on, and I thought, ‘Man, who’s this foxy woman?’ Then she jumped over the table and punched her man in the head for some infraction,” Bruce recalled. “And I said ‘Boy, that’s my kind of woman. You know, back up. Living the biker lifestyle, you want your old lady to be able to back you up in case someone brings a chair over your back. You know?”
Cindy wasn’t as fond of Bruce. He says she couldn’t stand him, but that his deep-seated sensitive soul eventually won her over.

On Christmas Eve, the two went to see some light displays. Bruce looked at Cindy and said: “You know, these lights are beautiful. But not as beautiful as you.”

“That changed her way of thinking about me,” said Bruce. “And we got to know one another.”

Bruce grew up in an era where a man’s word was his bond. Cindy was a married woman, but eventually her husband ran into trouble with the law. Cindy had three children, ages 5, 6 and 7. After fate stepped in and took Cindy’s husband out of the picture, Bruce stepped up and made his move.

“I told her, ‘Well, Cindy, you know I love you. I’ll take the whole package — kids and all,” he said. “So we moved in together. I was born in a time when your kids are your kids, regardless. They were my children, and we raised them the best we could.”

Bruce and Cindy Harrington were married for 17 years.

There are times when I feel disadvantaged as a writer because I cannot capture in words, try as I might, the emotions people display when they are talking about someone they love. The hint of tears in his eyes, coupled with raw warmth of his voice, overwhelmed me with the infinite love Bruce continues to feel at the very mention of his wife’s name.

Listening to him talk was like watching Love Story, Out of Africa or countless other versions of Hollywood love stories — only this story is true, and while it might not have been without flaw, it was genuine and tangible. I couldn’t help but feel tears well up in my own eyes and say a silent prayer that somehow, some day, someone would — could love me like that.

“We had our ups and downs, but every couple does. She knew what I was thinking before I’d say it. And she loved to ride — just like I did. Her motorcycle name was Hippie Chick. She always wore fancy flowered shirts and beads,” said Bruce. “We’d ride around. We’d go to the flea market. We’d come back, and you couldn’t see the bike for all the stuff. And she was back there. My passion. My soulmate. She was special.”

And in an instant, like a snap of the fingers, Bruce’s life was forever changed in April 2011.

Bruce, Cindy and friends of theirs were at a bike show that evening, and everyone had been drinking.

“We had a little argument about this, that and the other, and I said I’m going home. She said well I’m going with (a friend and neighbor). I went home and went to bed. I didn’t think nothing about it. Sleep it off, you know?” said Bruce.
“Policeman woke me up and told me she was dead. I didn’t believe it. He just kind of threw her rings on the kitchen table. I bawled my eyes out. I cried. I asked God why. Then I loaded a gun and was fixing to go kill (the driver) and his whole family.”

As he walked out into the sunlight of his front yard, Bruce, loaded rifle in hand, heard a voice.

“It said, ‘Son, go put that rifle up. I’ve got things for you to do.’ And it didn’t come from my mind — it came from my heart.
“I went and hung it up. I walked back out into the yard and I fell to my knees. And I prayed for God’s help,” Bruce recalled.

“He sent one of the brothers from my church over to my house the next morning. I came out looking like 30 miles of bad road — hung over. Hurting. In pain. The woman I loved dearly is gone now.”

The church member, Billy, hugged Bruce and told him God loved him. Invited him to church that Sunday. Bruce hasn’t missed a Sunday service since.
“Soon as I walked in that door, God was like ‘Son, I got this,’” he said. “I get a little teary over it still. I know in my heart that it’s going to be all right. I miss her. I’ve got a lot of fond memories.

“The rose that’s tattooed there,” Bruce said, pointing to his upper right arm, “was on the back of her vest. Very same rose. She’s still riding with me.”
Bruce believes he has touched a lot of people with his story. I don’t doubt it. His story certainly spoke volumes to my heart.

“This has changed my whole life. I think of myself as a child of God. The way I used to think — I’d cut your throat in a minute. Screw with me and we’re gonna fight,” Bruce chuckled. “But now I think ‘Lord help them, see, they know not why they do it.’ God has called me to witness to folks. To tell them what He has done in my life.

“They look at a cat like me, and when they first see me, they think ‘Good Lord! Outlaw biker.’ But they feel that presence when I’m there. That joy. They see the joy in my heart and want to see where I’m getting it. See, that’s what God wants me to do. I like to hear myself talk. So I might as well talk about God.”
Bruce affectionately refers to himself as a crusty old biker, and in many ways he is. The label suits him.

It would be easy to look at the leathered, crusty Harley exterior and make any number of stereotypical assumptions about the soul housed in the interior. I’m not a gambler, but I would be willing to bet that the majority of those would be misconceptions.

“Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a beautiful butterfly.”

I’ve always loved this quote and I’ve never found it more applicable to any circumstances before meeting Bruce. In April 2011, Bruce thought his world was over, and in many ways it was. He lost his wife — the love of his life and his best friend.

He was in a place of darkness until he says the Lord lightened his burden and gave Bruce the wings he needed to fly. Bruce travels all over Pickens County sharing his testimony and showing people how God blessed him with Cynthia in life and also in death. Out of her tragic death, Bruce sincerely believes that God is using him to share with the world that nothing is impossible with God, and He never gives us more than we can handle.