Escape

Down the hill on the way to school, negativity trails me. It builds a dark cloud over every thought, and this depressing-as-fuck audiobook in my ears doesn’t help. And it’s like I’m invisible because he doesn’t see me.

He turns left anyway, and my brakes aren’t strong enough or my reaction isn’t fast enough or my will isn’t there enough, and I feel my wheel hitting the side of his car and then everything flies. My backpack jumps out of its basket. My Mason jar of iced coffee shatters in its side pocket, dripping its sweet caffeine on the pavement. My AirPods disappear from my ears and my thoughts. My wheel gets twisted. My U-lock is somewhere in the crosswalk. Its cable lies like an impotent snake beside it. My elbow sails down through the sky and onto the ground, as bruised and swollen as my bright blue bike.

My head hurts and someone is shouting, “Call an ambulance!”

I start to move. I stand in slow motion, lifting first my bruised elbow, then each leg, foot, toe.

Nothing really hurts. The adrenaline has kicked in, and I hear the driver asking me if I’m OK, and I hear the white man in the luxury car shouting about the ambulance again, and I take off my helmet to see if my head is broken, and I move my arm and nod my head, and the driver twists my wheel back into place, and the white man commands that we exchange phone numbers, and my hands are shaking but my phone is OK, and my U-lock is scraped up and my coffee is gone and my computer is protected in its padded pocket and the driver is wearing a painter’s uniform, the white streaks and drips covering his legs and arms, and I know I will never call him.

And the white man asks for my phone number so he can send me a picture he took of his license plate, so he can be a witness, and I stand on the sidewalk and accept the text and put my phone back in its pocket and my helmet back on my head and take a selfie to send to the girls and to Fabian. The selfie includes the bruised elbow which could just have easily been a bruised brain, and I want them to see it.

“Your life is more important than your hair. Wear a helmet.”

Even in an emergency, I am still a mom, and I still have four teenagers who want to risk everything at every moment and scoff at safety and rules and regulations.

“Why are you smiling like a crazy person?” is the girls’ response. “Yes, today I will wear one,” is his.

Oh, my girls. Oh, my boy.

I start to ride away and feel the absence of sound in my ears, the awful audiobook not plaguing me, and look down into the street where multiple cars have largely ignored our small accident, and there they are: my smashed AirPods, run over again and again while I watch, before the traffic stops and I have a moment to hold their beautiful lack of sound in my palm.

And only then do the tears reach my eyes, but only the corners of my eyes.

Because I listen to books when I walk my dog, when I paddle-board, when I put together puzzles, when I drive, when I sit at camp, when I sit in my living room, when I cook dinner, when I ride my bike.

And I realize that I hit his car so hard that both flew far from me, my source of escape, my sound, my stories, and I almost forgot, and I almost left them on the street, and now they’re gone anyway, and I still know… I still know that I won’t call him and ask him to pay for them. Because he had an accent and paint on his pants and I just can’t do it. I never will because this is a minor inconvenience for me but it could mean something worse for him.

Instead I send a pic to Bruce of my broken AirPods and remind him that he has a pair at home he can’t wear because they were hurting his ears, and I ride two more miles with a golf-ball-sized bump on my elbow and beg the school secretary for ice and watch all the kids and all the teachers do the slack line, knowing I will fail if I try until Muluta, behind his long eyelashes and his red hood and his Congolese accent, says upon responding to my question, “Did you like it?”:

“I would like it more if you did it, Miss.”

And it’s like that dark shadow of negativity that trailed me on the path and hid me from the driver and knocked me on my ass is just.

Gone.

And Fabian holds my hand and I straighten my back and I walk that slack line. And this day, this life, is as bright as any other.

Even without my source of escape. Because what am I escaping from?

Self-Directed

Just look at the flashing light. Put your feet on the pedals. Focus on the sign that says Colorado. Do not focus on every other thought that has entered your brain this evening. Do not stand staring at your garden, your half-dead peach tree, wishing for a different story.

Because this is your story.

Whatever words were exchanged in that beautiful garden of yours, that hand-weeded, hundreds-of-dollars-of-soil-and-plants garden in the midst of the steppe that is Denver, whatever sprouted from the peony that won’t quite bloom or the poppy you accidentally ripped out or the lupine that isn’t ready yet?

They are not your words.

They are his and hers, and you will never know nor understand.

Will they follow you across this intersection? Will they be at the back of your brain when you run that stop sign in front of the giant F250, thinking, “I dare you” thinking about that Denver Post-Washington Post-Colorado-New-York-Times article about the 47-year-old professional cyclist who got hit by a car and died instantly, thinking, “Now that’s the way to go”?

Will they take back everything you’ve said? Will they flash in front of him in front of you, like this imperfect sunset on the half-dead tree?

Will they tell the truth about the constant brutality of raising teenagers? Why don’t we continue to post graduation pics and scholarship offers and art shows and prom nights and not act like behind every moment is a harsh word, a lack of respect, a total disregard of your humanity?

Did I do everything wrong?

Did I do nothing right?

It’s all in this sunset that I can’t quite capture. In the words that I will never hear. In the betrayal that I will never understand.

It’s in my pedals, in this flashing light, as I stand staring at my garden and thinking, Maybe I should have stuck with plants and pups.

But I can’t even raise a peach tree.

And who’s going to raise me?

I’m Sorry

Dear Bike Thieves,

I hope that you love this bike as much as I do. I hope that when you text your husband at 12:20 a.m. from the Middle of Nowhere, Arizona, and he doesn’t respond till ten hours later, reading your pathetic apology for being so stupid, his words will have an equal measure of love.

I’m sorry you lost your bike. That does suck since you’ve had that one for so long and rode so far on it. Sorry babe. 😓

He will never say, “I told you so” or, “Why didn’t you…”

He will be right there with you at 12:20 a.m. when your dog barks and you hear voices and you step out of the hotel room into the Dark Sky Universe and all that your blurry-without-glasses eyes can see is… the absence of tires.

Because he was there when you got that bike, nine years ago. When you went to the spring extravaganza under-the-tent bike sale with $1000 in your pocket from that year’s tax return–the only expendable money we had for a year–placed upon its pedals, teacher’s salary, three kids at home, him not working, “Can I buy it?”

“Of course.”

Of course you can set your alarm for 4:16 a.m. and pedal uphill in your new click-in shoes, before the sun rises, before you can even afford a light, before the world is awake, to put that bike along that endless road for thousands upon thousands of miles.

Of course you can register, pay for, and race a train up and down a mountain with this bike, this bike, these tires, this set of wings.

Of course you can buy a bike box and bring this bike to Spain, wrapped in bubble paper and soul tissue, and ride it to school, to twenty tutoring jobs a week, to the end of the road where the mountains meet the Mar.

Of course you can drive down I-25 on a 90-degree Sunday, new tent in the trunk, and watch your bike fly off its flawed bike rack into six lanes of Denver traffic, and watch your husband, afraid of nothing when it comes to his love for you, stand on the shoulder and wait for the right car to allow him to dash into the middle of an INTERSTATE and save that Baby Number Four.

Of course you will never feel the FEEL of the Sun Road in Glacier National Park without this bike vibrating under your palms.

But it is dark. I have driven 500 miles in a day only to be told by my boy, “I told you so” and “I don’t need to waste a photo on a pile of rocks” when looking at the GRAND CANYON, and…

Thieves. Boys. Oppressed.

You have my bike.

I hope you fix the red handlebar tape that was flapping for 500 miles to Arizona.

I hope you ride it to the edge of the reservation and demand that our government give you running water and a better chance at a decent life.

I hope that you sell it and feed your family for a month.

I hope that you love it as much as I have loved it. That you feel the wind in your hair, the beauty in 600 million years of piled-up rocks, and the words of my husband.

“I’m sorry.”

It’s so fucking simple. And so goddamn hard to say.