I bike three and a half miles to work each day, three and a half back. In the morning, though it is California, I still don scarf and gloves, a jacket atop my cardigan. I secure lights to the handlebars and underneath my seat, I slip keys into the front pocket of my aqua backpack. And with the intake of cool morning air, with pump of my legs, with eyes watering from uncensored sun and sharp wind, I sometimes remember I am alive. Alive and young and with a body that is moving me from Point A to Point B. I am the one getting myself where I need to go. On this bicycle, I am free. After a year of this route, my thighs are strong, my calves defined, you could not catch me.
I am, as they say, invincible.
A few months ago I woke up with a very sore butt. At first I thought perhaps my new pilates regimen was doings its work, but then I remembered the night before I had gone on a group bike ride. We stopped at a couple museums, at a taco truck, and then ended the evening at a bar. One guy biking ahead of me had a drink holder attached to his bike, and he passed me his beer, resting in a cozy, as we cycled. (I think everything hip inside of me exploded in that moment, biking through the streets and drinking PBR and hitting up the free night at the art museum.) I was lonely that evening, all of my romantic options disintegrating to nothings the week before, and I wanted to drink.
At the bar, I flirted with a blond guy called Buddy, and I don’t remember anything that we talked about (except a little Jesus, of course), but I remember thinking how I was probably smarter than him but how I was ready and willing to make out with him anyway. And I was sad when he left with the guy he came with, his ride, for he had not been out biking with us. I think he was sad, too, though only for the same base reason that I winced at our parting. He was attractive in a way I’d associate with surfers – sporting shaggy hair and perfect teeth and some dumb kind of carpe diem sentiment. I was not his type. He asked for my number, and I gave it with the knowledge that it would never be used. We could’ve had a drunken moment, but that was all our personhoods were compatible for.
I biked home in solitude, in darkness, with labored pedaling and occasional pangs of dissatisfaction, self-loathing, a night of my life maybe spent having fun, maybe wasted in debauchery. More than half-way up the hill that stretches across Sierra Bonita, I lost my footing and fell over. I wriggled as I tipped, but my ass still hit the street with a thud, and my back light was a goner. I sat underneath my bicycle for a moment, revolted by the thought of having to bike some more, desperate for water and sleep, desperate for someone to pick me up and tuck me into bed.
Somehow I got home, bitterly brushed the beer out of my teeth, and promptly forgot about the fall. My ass did not forget, though. My ass, aching as I biked to work the next day, reminded me that I am not immune.
A couple of my favorite films this past year were Short Term Twelve and Drinking Buddies. Both featured female protagonists who rode bicycles. These women, played by Brie Larson and Olivia Wilde, respectively, are tough chicks. They have good jobs, they have men, they have strong beautiful youthful bodies and sharp minds. Independent. Whole. Reckless only in the most thoughtful, intelligent of ways.
But as both movies progress, the lives of these women are opened up. We see that as lovely and competent as these women are, they bear wounds not yet healed. They exist with unmedicated pain. Men try to love them but are pushed away. And oh, they are fine, they are making it, they are having fun and doing good work and will be alright. But my heart broke for them as their stories played out onscreen, for the dead-ends they reached because their brokenness went adamantly unresolved.
And we are all possessors of hurt. Those characters were not unique in that respect. But what struck me was that in the beginning of the films, they were women who I identified with. Riding their bikes, forging their own ways, desiring and chasing after the richness of life. But the films end, and they are exposed as hurting, as self-sabotaging. Their bodies strong but their spirits damaged.
I worry sometimes that I don’t see myself with the clarity that I should. I wonder if I am more fragile than my toned legs and strong immune system would let on. Is this bicycle a symbol of my strength and independence, or am I using it to hide?
I had dinner with a man last week. He cares for me in a way that few men have romantically, but we are not in love. We are keeping each other company. We are overlapping. It is not picturesque. Not approximating anything from the romantic comedies I was raised on. But I am grateful for the overlapping. He is a good man. I like him. Yet when he took me to dinner, he said that I haven’t been very nice to him. I have been taking without giving. I have remained cold, detached. I clutched the table at the restaurant, looked into my wine glass with woozy revelation. I thought I would be one to love freely. I thought I would expose myself without fear. But I realized I had been greatly holding back. For myriad reasons. Self-preservation. Maintaining power and control. I didn’t know just how much I liked this man, how many risks he warranted. And so I wasn’t risking anything.
Maybe I am afraid to hurt. Maybe I am already hurting and haven’t realized.