The first time you get on a bike is an exhilarating and debilitating experience, and in this
regard so is your first real relationship—which does not include sitting next to your crush at
lunch in the 6th grade and sharing a bag of Vinegar Lays, which you abhor. It’s the
obnoxious giggly conversations about classes and professors you don’t care about and
movies that you saw that one time, vaguely, maybe only half of it—this is you placing
your feet on the pedals and kicking off for the first time. Once you kick off, you’re
conscious that this is the one and only time you can feel the thrill of your first bike ride—
and the terror that follows as you realize you can’t keep rehashing the same conversations.
You know you need to ask him to watch a movie with you—because, let’s face it, he’s too
dense to ask you himself.
This is you letting go, letting go of the total control you have on the flat, safe earth in
exchange for the sensation of gliding—no, soaring!—down hills, over dirt paths, and
in places bikes ought not to be. When your heart leaps into your throat as you hit
your first big hill, as he leans in to kiss you outside of the ice cream parlor after the
movie, you seek comfort with the butterflies in the pit of your stomach. He’s faster
than you, but chooses to stay at your side. He looks back, smiling, and says, “Let me
know if we need to slow down, okay?” His black road bike links with your banana
yellow cruiser, bikes from two different worlds, and yet he chooses to ride next
to you for the companionship you both crave.
The sun casts a cheerful glow as you explore Boston together, both the tourist-filled
sections, like Newbury Street, and the places that only city-dwellers share, like the bike path
around Jamaica Pond, where you once snuck away together for a quickie in the woods. The
exhilarating feeling takes hold as the wind plays with your hair the same way he does. You
laugh at his pink winded face and he laughs at your winded sex-hair.
In your excitement over first love, you tell yourself that your hands “fit perfectly together”
like books say, but really you quietly deal with the awkward wrist-cramp you suffer in the
name of books and romance. You smile because you’re happy to keep up with him;
secretly, as other girls fail to maintain the speed you ride at, you think it means you’ve
won, that you deserve to share the bike path with him over anyone. Soon you can keep
up with him quite easily, occasional burning muscles aside, and the relationship plateaus
as you leisurely travel with one another, content with the silence that only the engines of
cars and trains can break through.
The others have long since dropped off the path, too tired or slow to keep up, and you
think that it means you’re perfectly paired off. But the silence now permeates even the
moments when you aren’t immersed in the rush of the ride. Perhaps you are sitting by
the water, quietly reading books next to one another during the pit-stops in your journey.
Your bikes lay in a heap on the browning grass. The only sound you can distinguish from
the incoherent sounds of the world is the crisp turning of pages in the book he bought you,
one that you don’t even particularly enjoy and are reading just to be polite. It’s in this
moment between the sounds of page-turns and the wind’s bitter lullaby that you realize
the silence isn’t the peaceful, comfortable silence you thought you had. The strain slowly
creeps in, sinking into your bones and stealing into your mind. This is just how
committed relationships work, you tell yourself. Uncomfortable silence doesn’t mean
But it does. And you know it. You know it by the way you start to tell him a funny story
and he cuts you off to say, “You’ve told me this before.” You know it by the way you no
longer find his stories interesting, but you pretend you do. You know it by the way he
treats you like his little brother, patting you on the head when you say something silly
that should warrant a laugh instead of a sigh. You know it by the way he starts pushing
you away slowly, and you pretend it’s normal in a long-term relationship. You know it
by the way he’s lying to himself when he looks right through you and says, “I love you,”
and the way you lie to yourself that he means it. You know it by the way you say “I love
you” back, eyes on his forehead, and feel the pang of guilt.
You’re riding in the dark now, in the middle of Boston, in the pouring rain, and you chide
yourself for forgetting your helmet just as you’re entering an intersection. In a moment too
quick for your brain to register, your tires skid over a rain-filled pothole and your body—
still on that damned yellow bike—is suddenly horizontal, sliding through the intersection,
bloodying and bruising your hand, elbow, and thigh as you scrape against the pavement,
still straddling the bike. Your mind freezes, blacks out, thinks of nothing else besides the
cold rain, and you’re not even sure if you’re breathing. Fear pins you to the ground, your
ripped pants soaking up the puddle you lie in. Once the blaring car horns and the worried
pedestrians get you off the road, you phone him, choking back hysterical sobs, and tell
him about your near-death experience.
“Wow, that’s too bad,” he says. He says he’s riding to your apartment now and will meet
you there. When you don’t say anything, he sighs and asks if you need him to get you.
Hurt by his blunt tone—something you thought you loved about him—you mutter, “No,
I’m fine,” and end the call. It isn’t until you’re home and wearing shorts that he notices
the bruises and blood and realizes you weren’t being overdramatic. He asks, with too
little concern, “You’re okay, right?” and you smile, nod, and tend to your wounds.
When you’re alone in your room, the tears come, hot and sudden, and you mourn
something you still have, because the pain is fresh and you’re bleeding now, and he
can’t see it.
It’s the way you both start drinking more, because drunken conversations are easier than
sober ones. It’s the way you “hang out” by playing videogames or reading independently
in the same room. It’s the way everyone says, “You are the cutest couple!” that taught
you how to perfect your fake smile. It’s the way you even fooled yourself. It’s the way
you realize your destination doesn’t have to be determined by him, your bikes chained
together, out of convenience and not love. It’s the way you start to shed pieces of him
from your life. You throw away the pile of penguin-themed presents he kept giving you,
even though you’d told him your favorite animal is a giraffe. You remove the littlest
pieces, like the ring with the super-glued stone that always fell off, or the embroidery
thread bracelets you made yourself while you were dating, something that had nothing
and everything to do with him. But you keep some of the pieces, like the Hufflepuff scarf
and the Doctor Who sweatshirt, because the memories they hold don’t hurt and aren’t
strong enough to matter.
It’s the way he starts pedaling faster, with no concern for you. It’s the way you shout,
“Slow down!” that he fails to hear—or ignores. It’s the way you know you’ve held on to
hope for too long. It’s the way you realize that letting him ride off without you feels right.
It’s the way you take a sudden left down a street you don’t know. It’s the way it doesn’t
occur to you to look back.