Like Riding A Bike

January 1, 2012 § 1 Comment

By Jacqueline Austin

Street lights in Märkischer Kreis, by Pro2, via Wikimedia Commons

For ten years, I yearned for a bicycle.  I’d been ill.  It turned out, among other things, that I’d never had 3-D vision.  I’d fixed that–against all predictions; it took years–but found myself terrified.  Of all kinds of things–not just bicycles.  Walking.  People.  Cars.  I’d only recently begun to drive again.  And not only my vision had gone soft.  My once sharp body–I’d done martial arts and yoga and training–had forgotten its abilities.  I didn’t know what I could still do–if I could still do anything.  I didn’t even know what I wanted to do.  Or even if.

I wanted to go to the gym, maybe, but I had no way to get there.  Or was that true?  My favorite time of day is the transition from darkness to light.  I wanted a bicycle for one purpose only: to ride to the gym at dawn.  At dawn, one can see what’s true.

Last week, at our holiday party, in our living room, my husband brought in a small, beautifully wrapped gift.  He disappeared into another room, while I opened it.

I’d just gotten the beautiful wrapping paper off the box, and was trying to figure out what was in the hard plastic shell within, when I heard a whirring noise and hilarious laughter.  My husband was riding it, a new bike, my new bike, into our living room.  It was the bicycle my new bell belonged to.  I got the plastic shell off the bell, and rang the bell.  Everyone was laughing and cheering like from now on, life was going to be good.

It’s a beach cruiser, a turquoise one-speed Huffy, very much like the bikes I rode as a child.  Love at first sight.  But so far, my love is unrequited.  I love my bike, but it doesn’t love me.  Either it is laughing at me, or it doesn’t care–I know it.  In any case, though it’s the bike I remember from childhood, I’m not the me I remember from then.

Yesterday I woke up at dawn, thrilled as I usually am not, on waking.  I leaped out of bed.  I haven’t done that in a while.  Without even changing from pajamas to day clothes, without brushing my teeth or wiping the sleep from my eyes, I ran into the front hallway, where my new guy was standing proudly, leaning charmingly, with a devil may care attitude, toward his lowly kickstand.

Gazing at him, though I felt scared, fat, stiff, inadequate and ungainly, I immediately sensed some chemistry.

But I knew if I brought him outside, even at 5:30 AM, even on a holiday when people would be sleeping late, someone would be out in their garden, some cheery Californian, hoeing weeds or sweeping, and they would see me and laugh at me.  The worst thing would be if it was a child.  My heart started to beat wildly as I turned the bicycle around, then opened the door with him, facing the dawn, he with his handlebars and little bell, me with my heart practically naked and throbbing on my dirty pajama shirt, and morning breath, probably.

There was no one outside.  Not even a car.  It was still almost dark, with a smell of fog and rosemary.  A few birds chirped, and a crow cawed derisively, invisibly, from a nearby tree.  I picked up the bike–come on, it’s not a guy–and, heart still hammering, carried it down our three tile steps, wheeling it out and down the cracked tile pathway, in front of our house, happy my husband was not yet awake to see my shame.

There I was, on the sidewalk, a big grown-up in a stranger’s body, next to the big, turquoise bike of my childhood.  My grown-up neighbor has a big, new truck, which he keeps parked on the street.  So now I’m wheeling the bike next to the almost safe looking truck, and standing with the bike between me and the truck wall of safety, remembering the feeling from childhood, of swinging my leg over and onto the foot pedal, all one motion, and taking off, taking off, taking off, into my day of tomorrows.

And in the first moment that my body is clumsily getting on and off the bike, over and over, and considering some more rational, time-bound, patient, running along, without using the pedals, my fear that I am not the person I was in childhood, has shifted.  I don’t know that person really, and she doesn’t know me.  But that person and I are in the same place.  And neither of us knows how to ride yet.

That is a feeling I will never forget, and it’s a good one.

Copyright 2012 by Jacqueline Austin.  All rights reserved.

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§ One Response to Like Riding A Bike

  • Chris Danes says:

    I just love it. Being there with you. My first bike, when we lived in CA was also a “surprise”. I had wanted one badly for a year or so. All my friends had bikes. Christmas came, I also, was given a bell, and I was sort of happy, because it was for the bike that I really wanted, but it was only a bell. So.. “thanks”, kinda… trying to be polite, and not too disappointed, and then, the surprise- HERE is the bike! Wheeled out from the garage. Which was wonderful, such freedom, but I never forgot the disappointment, short as it was, either. Oh- and time for me to start riding again too!

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