My recollection doesn’t begin here, but like all stories, I will begin at the beginning. My very first 2 wheeled bike was dark green, and it had the sort of brakes that you had to pedal backwards to make work. It wasn’t any particular bike, it was dinged and bent, with no basket or streamers from the handle bars. I spent the entire summer I was 7 learning to ride it – my father running up and down the median in front of my house, telling me to pedal and not turn my head before I alas, crashed and fell off, again.
During my 8th spring my friend Lisa announced that she was going to bike to school, so I decided I would too. I wheeled my bike out of the garage, hopped on it, and pedaled down the back alley, missing the pot holes, the ruts and the cracks in old paving. I turned around on the Embrey’s drive way, and pedaled back to my garage, my father gaping in astonishment.
That bicycle was my very first taste of freedom – a hint of life bigger than my 8 year old self – a hint of adult life. Bike and I spent spring, summer and fall together for 3 more years, until I got a pale turquoise Norco. It had gears and proper breaks and a seat free of cracked leather, and I honestly didn’t like it. It wasn’t the bike I wanted – I wanted someone to make my old bike last longer. The chain stuck forcing the pedals to keep spinning, sometimes into oncoming traffic; It was too small for me and the handlebars themselves were so rusted that the left side was in imminent danger of falling off.
It’s astonishing, even still, how we can so desperately need something and not at all want it. I got past the change in my body’s alignment, the brakes on the handle bars and the height difference. I saw the virtue in having a bag that strapped to the handle bars, large enough to hold a juice box and perhaps $2 in quarters (carefully stolen from the mug of laundry change) and whatever secret things a 12year old might need. The turquoise bike moved with me, when the bank foreclosed on the house after my father left my mother, when the van was repossessed and we became the not so proud owners of a 1976 Dodge Omni, and the bike no longer fit in the back. It moved to a tiny apartment over a freeway, with most of our things in storage, and it stayed with me when friends from my old neighbourhood were unwilling to cross that freeway, unable to navigate our sudden and fearful poverty.
On that bike I explored my new neighbourhood. I remember often being lonely, and often actually being alone, but I don’t remember the urge to make friends. Instead I remember biking around, using the apartment as a sort of bare home base, around as little as possible while the day light lasted. The bike and I were gone for hours, forging a sort of relationship on our own. I remember some of the places we went, although not the when or the why.
The turquoise bike was stolen, the lock cut right off, and there went that. In the post divorce world I inhabited, there was no extra money for bikes. Or rather the insurance payout went for something useful: food or clothes or rent.
More recently, when I began the discussion of buying a bike, a discussion that you would think would be so straightforward and is not, Mr. Spit asked me what sort of bike I wanted. I told him about the Norco bike. I had this bike, I said, and it was turquoise and made by Norco and I loved it with all my heart. You would not think a person could love an object, but it was Auden’s stream engine, loved every bit as much as thee. I have a perfectly serviceable bike in the basement, one of Mr. Spit’s old bikes, a very, very good bike, too good for a casual rider such as me. I had ridden it a few times before we were married, but it was not the bike of my memories
The Norco and I rode in the age before bike helmets, we felt the wind in our hair in those less enlightened times when no one wore seat belts and babies feasted on lead paint and every toddler gorged on peanut butter. I was before adult angst, and while given to melancholy and too much thinking, life did not seem simpler then, it actually was simpler.
And if I was going to have a bike, that’s what I wanted. I wanted the wind in my hair and a bike full of limitless possibilities. It’s not a reasonable want, but it was what I longed for. It was what the bike in the basement, with a very straight front bar, solid frame, nubby tires and shocks up to here was never going to give me. Perhaps that explains more clearly why I would go to the bike store for a new helmet and walk out with a new bike.
I looked at the ladies’ cruisers, before wandering over to the turquoise Giant, the bike I bought, the bike I call Lois, the bike which lives in my living room – at least for the moment. As I was standing in front of the display, looking at the bikes. Not the details mind you, just the whole bike all at once, and while I was doing that, a little boy went whizzing past me.
His mother, called out “Gabriel.” His mother, the mother of a 2 and a half year old baby – a mother with her arms full of an 8 month old baby, went past me as well. And I watched, mesmerized by this little sketch in front of me. Mesmerized by a mother, a father, a son and a daughter, an entire family, not so unlike us at all, really. A little boy, holding a cap in his hand, standing in front of bikes, looking. A baby sitting on the floor. A father consulting about mountain bikes. A mother, organizing. I stood, with my hand up to my heart,and I just watched.
I closed my eyes and I remembered what I had forgotten, that first feeling on the green bike. The entire summer spent falling off, and the day when I got one and started riding. The days when I took corners quickly, pumping my legs, and the feeling of sadness when growing up meant new and not better.
I decided to buy Lois, walked downstairs with her, paid and left. They were getting into their car as I took my first round of the parking lot. Mind and body wobbling, not sure how this went together. A few tentative rounds on the pedals and I was suddenly 8, then 12, then just married, and finally in the present, the wind a little bit in my hair, and only somewhat free.
You can pedal slowly or fast, change gears or try spinning your pedals backward to brake, but you’ll never feel the wind in your hair with a bike helmet.